Coaching Employees for Success

Apr 25, 2012

Coaching plays a critical role in the learning process of employees who are developing their skills, knowledge and self-confidence.

Your employees don’t learn effectively when you simply tell them what to do. In fact, they usually don’t learn at all.

As a university professor and aftermarket veteran for 30-plus years, I frequently utilize some of the following examples when helping direct young people. If you can relate, chances are you encountered one or more of your own coaches along the way-whether they were athletic coaches or people who mentored you from a business perspective.

With the proper knowledge, experience and attitude, anyone can be a good coach. And there will always be a need for good coaches in the aftermarket, where small shop environments must make the most of every player on their roster in order to succeed.

Serving as Manager & Coach

Let’s assume you’re a good manager with an innate understanding of the role you play-does that mean you’re also a good coach?

A coach is a colleague, counselor and cheerleader, all rolled into one. You can see this from NASCAR to the SEMA Show floor, where there is an active buzz around the crew chief who steers the team or business toward success.

So, can you combine those roles as colleague, counselor and cheerleader? How about your boss? Or your boss’s boss? Why or why not?

I’m sure you’re familiar with the roles of athletic coaches at all levels. Often having been a successful player, the coach’s job is to conduct team workouts, find the best position for each player, assign roles and schedules, and guide and encourage the players to do their best and try to win every time.

When you think about it, these responsibilities aren’t all that different from those of an aftermarket shop manager.

Coaching a team of individuals isn’t easy, and certain characteristics make some coaches better than others. Fortunately, as with most other business skills, you can discover, practice and improve the traits of good coaches.

There is always room for improvement, and good coaches are the first to admit it. The following are key characteristics and tasks for coaches:

Coaches set goals. Whether your shop or aftermarket business is aiming to become the leading provider of exhaust systems on the planet or to increase revenues by 20 percent a year-or simply to get the break room walls painted this year-coaches work with their employees to set goals with deadlines for completion. They then go away and allow their employees to accomplish those goals, directing from the sidelines as needed.

Coaches support and encourage. Employees, even the best and most experienced, can easily become discouraged from time to time. When employees are learning new tasks, when a long-term account is lost, or when business is down, coaches are there, ready to step in and help the team members through the worst of it.

Coaches emphasize team success over individual success. The team’s overall performance is the most important concern, not the stellar abilities of a particular team member. Coaches know that no one person can carry an entire team to success; winning takes the combined efforts of all team members. The development of teamwork skills is a vital step in an employee’s progress in an organization.

Coaches quickly assess talents and shortfalls. The most successful coaches can quickly determine their team members’ strengths and weaknesses and, as a result, tailor their approach to each. For example, if a team member has strong analytical skills but poor presentation skills, a coach can concentrate on providing support and guidance to increase the employee’s aptitude at social interaction and self-expression.

Coaches inspire their team members. Through support and guidance, coaches are skilled at inspiring their team members to the highest levels of performance. Teams of inspired individuals are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their company’s goals.

Coaches create environments for success. Great coaches ensure that their workplaces are structured to allow team members to take risks and stretch their limits without fear of retribution if they fail.

Coaches provide feedback & encourage dialogue. Communication and feedback between coach and employee is a critical element of the coaching process. Employees must know where they stand in the organization, what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Equally important, employees must let their coaches know when they need help or assistance. And both parties need this dialogue in a timely manner on an ongoing basis-not just once a year in a performance review.

Identifying a Coach’s Tools

Coaching is not a one- dimensional activity. Because every person is different, the best coaches tailor their approach to their team members’ specific, individualized needs.

If one team member is independent and needs only occasional guidance, recognize where they stand and provide that level of support. This support may consist of an occasional, informal progress check while making a lap around the shop or office.

On the other hand, if another team member is insecure and needs more guidance, the coach must recognize this employee’s position and assist as needed. In this case, support may consist of frequent, formal meetings with the employee to assess progress and provide advice, direction and encouragement as needed.

Although every coach has his or her own style, there are certain universal techniques that have been shown to elicit the greatest performance from team members:

Make time for team members. Managing is primarily a people job. Part of being a good manager and coach is being available to your employees when they need your help. If you’re not available, your employees may seek out other avenues to meet their needs or simply stop trying to work with you. Always keep your door open to your employees and remember that they are your first priority. Manage by walking about. Regularly get out of your office and visit your employees at their workstations. This is a cruise that should be done regularly with compassion.

Provide context and vision. Instead of simply telling employees what to do, effective coaches explain the “why.” Coaches provide their employees with context and a big-picture perspective. Instead of spouting long lists of do’s and don’ts, they explain how a system or procedure works and then define their employees’ parts in the scheme of things.

Transfer knowledge and perspective. From an employee’s point of view, a great benefit of having a good coach is the opportunity to learn from someone who has more experience than you do. In response to the unique needs of each team member, coaches transfer their personal knowledge and perspective.

Be a sounding board. Coaches’ talk through new ideas and approaches to solving problems with their employees. Coaches and employees can consider the implications of different approaches to solving a problem and role-play customer or client reactions before trying them out in real working conditions.

Obtain needed resources. Sometimes coaches can help their employees make the jump from marginal to outstanding performance simply by providing the resources those employees need. Resources can take many forms: money, time staff, equipment or other tangible assets.

Offer a helping hand. For an employee who is learning a new job and is still responsible for performing other tasks, the total workload can be overwhelming. Coaches can help workers through this transitional phase by reassigning current duties to other employees, authorizing overtime or taking measures to relieve the pressure.

As a manger, when you’re offering this support, make sure you are getting some as well-whether it is self-provided, or from your boss, owner or another in a position of authority.

Remember, the best coaches provide a mix of tangible (direction, experience) and intangible (moral encouragement, team spirit) support to help employees be their best.

Finally, the best coaches get their team to the top and then keep it there. Cheers ‘n gears.