Now more than ever before, a down economy is demanding more be done by fewer people on tighter deadlines for less money. And while expectations keep getting higher, companies are offering less support to managers struggling to coach their teams to make them more efficient and productive.
Many of us talk about coaching, take courses on it, read books about it, practice it, and even consider ourselves "experts" on the subject. But the more complicated we make coaching, the less effective it is. Coaching needs to be easy and useable, like rolling out of bed or tying your shoelaces. So why are so many HR professionals making this critical skill so hard to execute?
Coaching is hot, But over-engineered
Over lunch the other day, Karen, a finance director at a major technology company, told me about a recent three-day coaching workshop she attended. Her experience illustrated how coaching skills are made difficult for managers to internalize and implement. "It was intense," she explained, "we studied models, observed coaching sessions by experts, and tried to practice on each other."
"Wow," I said, "sounds like you really got a good foundation on how to coach your people."
"Well," she countered, her tone changing imperceptibly, "to tell you the truth, while interesting at the moment, it happened three weeks ago and I can't really remember some of the complex models. I think it was a 10-Step model, and each step seemed more complicated than the one before. On top of that, even though the demos by the workshop leader were great, I knew I could never do it like her."
"She was a Ph.D. psychologist," Karen continued. "Is that what I need to be to coach my people? So I spent three days locked up in a hotel with other participants, trying to learn a coaching system I will never use! And it cost my company $10,000—not to mention the time I lost on the job."
Like many leaders I consult with regularly, Karen was merely expressing what most feel: coaching is "hot" right now, but over-engineered. It is more style than substance, more buzz than bonus, more sizzle than steak.
With more needing to be accomplished, and fewer resources at their disposal, managers have little time to practice communications models and, as we saw with Karen, after learning them in multi-day experiential workshops, these newly-acquired skills soon fade. Karen is far from alone. In our research, we found that, after three months, 73 percent of participants in these types of workshops can't remember the basic coaching concepts, let alone implement them in daily coaching sessions.
According to research from the Conference Board, "too many HR [departments] are trying to make the easy stuff hard. Managers want basic coaching skills that can be learned quickly, [are] practical, and can be used immediately."
20 minutes to a top performer
Many managers think coaching conversations need to last an hour or at least a half-hour to be effective. But my research over the past two decades shows you can achieve genuine, effective, and productive results in 20 minutes or less if you engage in carefully planned, focused conversations. The results were equally valid at large corporations, small companies, non-profit institutions, and government agencies.
Research by others supports this finding.
Writing in The National Teaching & Learning Forum, authors Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish contend that, "adults can keep tuned in to a lecture for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time." Carmine Gallo, author of "10 Simple Secrets of the World's Greatest Business Communicators," adds that "research shows that after 15 to 20 minutes, our attention drops dramatically."
An October 2008 Wall Street Journal article cites research by the Hay Group detailing what managers need to do to manage more effectively, especially if they tend to micromanage. Their findings support the following three principles of quick, focused conversations that are at the heart of "20-Minute Coaching Conversations."
1. State clear expectations: this saves time and helps people know what success looks like.
2. Encourage questions and suggestions: this gets all parties involved in solutions.
3. Offer constructive feedback: this ensures employees can hit the target.
So—first and foremost, the tone of your 20 Minute Coaching Conversation must be clear and to the point. The leader is demonstrating how coaching communication should be done—leading by example, so to speak. In my work, I have found leaders do set the tone for the kind of communications people have with each other. The entire team will pick up on the mind-set of the manager. Teams act and communicate as they experience how their manager interacts with them. Managers who set clear goals, and invite openness in their conversations, set a great example that ripples throughout the work group.
At the end of the day, coaching needs to be easy for you AND those you lead; 20 Minute Conversations can help you achieve that critical objective.
Alan Vengel is the founder of Vengel Consulting Group. His latest book, "20 Minutes to a Top Performer," will be published in November. He also is the author of "The Influence Edge," and "Sprout!" Vengel leads workshops and Webinars at Fortune 1000 companies and speaks on the topics of influence, leadership, and improving talent engagement.