Using coaching techniques to increase employee engagement

Employee engagement is what every manager wants from their teams.  Engagement means a fierce individual loyalty to the organisation, its mission and purpose, feeling that you are contributing ideas and skills, seeing where your own job fits in and being willing to make significantly more effort to satisfy the needs of customers than is strictly necessary.

Using coaching techniques to increase employee engagement

Using coaching techniques to increase employee engagement

Our natural instincts are towards the self-fulfilment that satisfies our needs for autonomy, connectedness with others and the opportunity to develop competence.  By practising coaching as the way to achieve all of this, a manager can facilitate the team member’s learning and release a whole lot of much-needed time for getting on with his or her own job.  When engaged in this way, people work hard without being prodded.  The evidence shows strong and direct links between this behaviour and bottom line success.  Coaching works as a way of creating engagement because it links to everything we know about what motivates us to work.

As your coachee’s line manager you have daily opportunities to observe the person in action and endless chances to discuss their behaviour, working with them to fine-tune it where necessary.  Unlike some forms of training, coaching is not a quick fix which is just as quickly forgotten.  It is about sustainability and long term impact on both the individual and the organization.

As a line-manager coach your role is to work with your coachees to establish what they want to achieve, to nail whatever they believe is stopping them from achieving it, to identify the options and then to take action.

Coaching in action: an example

Carl works for a food technology company which specialises in flavourings for fast-food brands.  He is a scientist by background and is in his first managerial role.  Here is his account of how his behaviour changes as his understanding about coaching is revolutionized:

I learnt about coaching on a course.  Originally I was highly sceptical and I didn’t want to spend time away from work.  But I became a convert.  Previously I thought I was already coaching my staff but when I remember what I did, the conversations would go a bit like this:

Team Member:  Can I have 5 minutes?

Me (frowning): Of course, come in.

Team Member: I’ve got this problem with the work we’re doing for Betsy’s Burgers.  It’s all coming in too expensive and I don’t think the client will like the extra costs.

Me (feeling annoyed and probably showing it): <Asks a few questions about the project, establishes the potential overspend> Yes, I don’t think the client will like that, we need to find a way of reining in the costs.

Team Member (timidly): No, I know, that’s why I thought you’d know what to do.

Me: Have you thought of doing ‘x’?

Team Member: Oh no, I haven’t – that’s a good idea!

Me: Or ‘y’ might also work <Describes y in some detail>

Team Member (exits as quickly as possible): Great – I’ll try those – thanks, Boss!

I honestly thought this was coaching and that I was being helpful.  I was certainly pleased with myself for generously granting the team member a few minutes of my time.  In fact after the training I quickly realised that what I was actually doing was undermining him because I had done every bit of the thinking and he’d done none.  Also I hadn’t really listened to him at all – I was too wrapped up in my own anxiety about the cost overrun and how this might reflect badly on me.  I felt stressed and irritable because I didn’t really want to be interrupted and it’s exhausting thinking through other people’s problems for them all the time.  In my new guise as a manager-coach, I now assume that the team member is perfectly capable of thinking it through for themselves, so the conversation takes a different tack

Team Member: Can I have 5 minutes?  Is now a good time?

Me (smiling): Of course, come in.

Team Member: I’ve got this problem with the work we’re doing for Betsy’s Burgers.  It’s all coming in too expensive and I don’t think the client will like the extra costs.

Me (patiently): Tell me where things currently stand…

Team Member: <describes the potential overspend; sounds alarmed>

Me (calmly): You sound worried about this but I’m sure it’s sortable.  What help do you need from me in this conversation?

Team Member (hesitant): I’ve got a few ideas about what we might do, but I’m not sure whether they’re go-ers or not.

Me: So – you need from me…?

Team Member: Just discuss with me whether you think I’m on the right lines or not then I can get on with it

Me (aware I need to summarise what he wanted): So you’d like me to review your ideas with you?

Team Member: Yes.

Me: OK – let’s get into it: tell me what your thoughts are about how to solve it.  What are the various options as you see them?

Essentially this guy already knew the answers and all I did was ask at each stage, ‘So what are the choices and what would be the pluses and minuses of each of those choices do you think?’  Once he’d described them and we’d briefly discussed them, I said, ‘OK so which do you think is the best option?’  Actually my own view was that there was nothing much to choose between them, so I just agreed that his choice was the one we’d follow.  He left the room beaming and telling me he’d report back in two days.  He did and he got the project back on track.  The conversation did take longer – about 20 minutes instead of 5, but what I noticed was that his confidence increased hugely and from that point on he began to come to me less and less on that kind of problem and only with the really major stuff so in the long run I saved a huge amount of time.

Notice that the critical differences in Carl’s accounts of the two conversations are that first, he understood that it was not his role to solve the problem because the team member was perfectly capable of solving it himself, and that secondly he asked the powerful question, What help do you need from me in this conversation?  This allowed the team member to set the goal for the discussion and then to take the major part in how it ran.

This is why the skills of line-management coaching are about creating empathy and trust, listening more than you talk, setting clear goals, asking powerful questions, giving and receiving feedback and staying non-judgemental.  This kind of conversation is rare, because as a boss it can feel as if there is enormous pressure to find the solutions for the people we manage.  It can come from a genuine desire to help, but it is help of an unhelpful kind, leading to unconfident staff, too timid to think for themselves.  It results in managers who are doing too much of the work of their team members as well as desperately trying to find the time to do their own.

Excerpt from Manager As Coach: The New Way to Get Results (2012) by Jenny Rogers, Andrew Gilbert and Karen Whittleworth.


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