Coaching is a Management Obligation


Managers have an obligation to coach employees to help employees obtain better performance. However, managers choose when and whom to coach. Managers also have an obligation to provide feedback — which is not a choice. Every employee deserves feedback about his/her work on a frequent (weekly) basis. I've never met a manager who didn't have some employee who needed coaching about something. Coaching is a “management” skill you can learn. (I believe that on Agile teams, everyone needs to learn to coach.) In fact, I'll be talking about how to coach at the NZ/Aus Software Development conference. (Esther and I show how to do it in the management book.)

Here's the essence of coaching:

  1. Verify the other person wants help.
  2. Generate options with the other person.
  3. Walk through consequences of those options. Wait for the coachee to choose an option (unless other people's safety is at stake).
  4. Create an action plan to implement those chosen options.

In the previous blog entry, I suggested that Rich may have to coach people who aren't sure of their skills as technical leads. Coaching isn't easy and it takes time. But without coaching, it's harder to learn new skills. Coaching can jump-start people into working in a new and different way. In my experience, coaching all levels of managers (and a teenager who's learning to drive 🙂 is that coaching on new and specific technical skills (“Try turning the wheel that way”) is fast and easy. Coaching to change long-term behaviors or more generic skills is much harder.

I tried to coach a project manager into not growling when she received bad news. I suggested, “Look interested. Look concerned. Try to keep that look of concern, not sounds of dismay.” She was unable to do so. I suggested we generate other alternatives, and she decided a sign that said, “The lion is in,” might work. She explained her growling was a reaction and she was trying to change it but hadn't been able to yet. After the explosion of laughter, the project staff understood what the growling meant, and were able to give her bad news.

The longer you hold a particular position in the organization, the more you need to consider coaching other people. If you become indispensable, you need to fire yourself from your current position and obtain a new one (in the same company is fine). This is true whether you're a manager or not. Without coaching other people, you're not planning for succession, nor are you working to increase capacity of your group, certainly parts of what managers do.

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