Executive Coaching: Just Ten Minutes A Week Makes for Happier Employees

Unicorns, fairies and dragons are all mythical, but good jobs shouldn’t be. Attaining a job that pays well, comes with a decent paycheck and offers security isn’t some fairy-tale concept, and, these days, it seems that more and more people are setting off in search of it.

According to Jim Clifton, the Chairman and CEO of Gallup, finding that job is not unlike the quest for the Holy Grail. In many ways, finding gainful employment – one that provides the worker with a sense of purpose, as well as a living wage and benefits to boot – has become their primary meaning in life. But in this new millennium, actually finding this unicorn has been hindered by just one thing: the manager leading it.

In a 2019 book titled “It’s the Manager” – penned by Clifton and Jim Harter, the Chief Scientist for Gallup’s well-being practices and workplace management division – the authors outline a collection of studies performed by Gallup and reveal the results to the readers. The results are unambiguous. Only 15 percent of people actually feel engaged with their workplace, and a staggering 70 percent of the reason why they lack this engagement can be traced back to the management behind it.

Far too many leaders are stuck in an antiquated mindset, doing things the same way they have always done them, and completely oblivious to the changing tides. And, Clifton points out, that’s just not going to cut it any longer. These outdated managerial practices have failed to keep up with the speed of change around us, and it’s simply no longer viable for the new realities of the modern workforce. The solution? A long-overdue change. Ultimately, what employees need are coaches that mentor them… and not bosses that micromanage them.

Five Coaching Sessions Will Do The Job

One thing that can help re-engage staff is opening up the lines of communication. Routine dialogue with team members can have a huge impact on a team’s performance. After all, most managers talk to people all the time in various settings. However, most of the conversations about the employees and their ongoing development are nothing more than part of a structured annual process.

In the framework of today’s workplace, an annual or quarterly review just isn’t going to be sufficient. Managers need to do more than just set some arbitrary goals then give their staff a proverbial pat on the head and let them figure out how to achieve them on their own. Rather, people need ongoing support and guidance throughout the year, on a daily or weekly basis, not just during their annual review. Rather than being blindsided by negative feedback once a year, they instead need to hear from their managers about their strengths and weaknesses.

They need to be told where they’re succeeded and where they have room for improvement, and they need to hear it from their manager. And in this post-pandemic world, this is more vital than ever. With employees being forced into socially distanced environments and hybrid settings, the chasm between themselves and the leadership is only growing wider. Regular conversation – even if it’s a “Great job on that TPS report,” from their manager at the end of the day – can go far in bridging the communication gap caused by the pandemic.

More frequent communication, combined with a concerted effort to help staff adapt to the changes brought on by the “new normal,” can help facilitate their adjustment to these changes. As people change and adapt, this form of communication is even more important. Now more than ever, managers need to bridge the physical distance created by the pandemic by communicating even more frequently with their teams. And making sure they are helping them adjust to changes.

“It’s the Manager” offers an employee coaching routine, highlighting five different types of conversations that need to be had:

1. The Foundation – Defining Roles and Relationships

First and foremost, managers should be familiar with each employee’s strengths and build upon those existing strengths to better facilitate their progress toward achieving the business’s goals. Conversely, the employee should also be made aware of the current expectations of themself, including their weaknesses and the areas where they’re falling short.

While this can seem somewhat similar to the annual review process, where the manager outlines the employee’s successes and setbacks and provides them a roadmap to achieving goals, there are a few key differences. Namely:

  • A sense of purpose. This is about understanding why employees do what they do.
  • An understanding of goals. Here’s where the employer will define what the employee should strive for while under the corporate roof, and explain how achieving this goal better aligns with the company.
  • Clear progress indicators. It’s vital to track an employee’s progress, not only to stay abreast of their accomplishments, but to also better understand how they work with the rest of their team in delivering a quantifiable value to the customer.
  • Plans for development. The employee should be encouraged to share their hopes for their future with the company, and then be given unbridled permission to take chances to allow them to grow and succeed.
  • Strategies for success. Once the goals are defined, the manager should brainstorm alongside the employee a plan to achieve those goals and reach that optimal growth that they desire.
  • A support team. The employee should be invited to work with other team members to help foster a sense of partnership as they work on their development.
  • Ongoing wellbeing checks. Finally, the manager should be able to see the “human” side of their employee, and open lines of communication about their own lives, such as their health, family, and personal and financial hopes and dreams.

2. The Routine – Effective Quick Communication

Instead of only engaging with employees on a monthly or yearly basis, managers should instead find ways to connect with them on a daily and weekly basis. While this routine was certainly important before, its value has grown exponentially in this hybrid workforce. With more and more people working from home – and out from underneath the watchful eye of their managers – it’s far too easy to slip into complacency and feel that much-needed sense of validation in the workplace.

Instead, the manager should make a point to regularly talk to their employees, as this can help impart them with a sense of inclusion and importance, as though their thoughts and beliefs and opinions actually mattered. An effective manager should build the habit of reaching out to their staff regularly, including:

  • Routine email correspondence
  • Ongoing virtual meetings
  • Brief phone calls

Ideally, they should commit no less than ten minutes a week to staying on top of this communication. However, the amount of feedback needed can vary depending on the employee themselves and their own strengths and weaknesses, but making a habit of keeping those lines of communication open can help assure them that they’re on the right path and they have the tools on hand to continue to make progress.

3. The Evaluation – Check-In Calls

Check-in calls are slightly more comprehensive than the more brief means of correspondence. In these check-in calls, the manager and employee need to discuss the future expectations of the employee, as well as their current progress, existing workload, and ongoing needs. These conversations help to ensure that the alignment between the manager and their employee regarding successes and challenges and the resulting priorities stays in balance.

No doubt, this step is crucial, especially in light of the blurring boundaries between work and home. These check-in calls are an opportunity to examine how things are working out, what needs to change, and – if necessary – define the new normal. Depending on the employee and their current responsibilities, these calls should be made at least once a month, and they should ideally last up to a half-hour per call.

4. The Core – Developmental Coaching

Sometimes, as a manager, a development opportunity can arise unexpectedly. This can be due to a new opportunity or project or task making itself known. Or it can occur when the employee themself seeks out the manager for guidance or advice on an existing project, or they may want feedback on something they’re doing outside of the workplace. Regardless of the reason for it, these moments are the perfect time to take advantage of a chance at developmental coaching.

Now, the key takeaway here is that there’s no set time limit on these conversations. They can be extremely short – just ten minutes long – or much longer, up to a half-hour or more. What matters here is using this chance to connect with the employee and the opportunity in question. However, unless there’s already a foundation of trust and open communication between the employee and the manager, it’s going to be highly unlikely that such an opportunity may ever arise.

If the relationship does exist, though, there is no better time to use this chance to personalize any opportunities, tasks, and projects. Ideally, such a conversation can help the manager develop and refine their employee’s skills and talents. It can also be used as a launching point to curate a plan for growth. Ultimately, though, developmental coaching should always focus on the strengths of the employee… and never their weaknesses, lest it discourages them and shut them down from ever broaching such a conversation again in the future.

5. The Feedback – Progress Review

And finally, employees need regular feedback. Just because performance reviews can leave a bad taste in many mouths, it doesn’t mean that they’re entirely unnecessary and should be outright banned. Instead, it just means that when it comes to career conversations between an employee and their manager, feedback is just one facet that should be covered. It should be bundled up with the foundation, the quick communication, the check-in calls, and the developmental coaching.

During the progress review, the employee should be reminded of all of their accomplishments throughout the year. This includes their overall performance, any successes (which should undoubtedly be celebrated), and any growth opportunities which may have recently arisen. It should also include plans for future goals, as well as touching on expectations, especially if the employee fell short or showed any areas of weakness leading up to the review.

And more importantly, it shouldn’t wait until the end of the year to occur. Instead, these feedback reviews should occur at least twice a year, if not quarterly. They should last for at least an hour, and longer is always better. During these progress reviews, the manager should circle back to the foundation to help determine what has changed since the last review and what needs additional work to be improved.

Finding The Time For This

 Just like knights in shining armor and fairies and wicked stepmothers can all be common themes in a fairy tale, so can trying to find the time needed to actually become the right kind of leader. After all, it’s one thing to say that X, Y, and Z goalposts need to be met. It’s another one entirely to actually carve out the time to accomplish them. Ten minutes here, a half-hour there, an entire hour during this conversation? Is it even possible?

In a word, yes. The truth is, not every coaching session needs to take an hour or even a half-hour to accomplish. Even a brief conversation, ten minutes here and there, can save a considerable amount of time in the long run. Those ten minutes can seem hard to set aside, but following these steps can have a bounty of benefits. Not only can it help set an employee’s mind at ease, but it can also help prevent future issues and problems and misunderstandings from arising.

The bottom line here is that employees want to know how they’re doing at their job. They don’t want to be left in the dark about their value to the company and how they’re performing. At a “good job,” the employee sincerely wants to do their very best and make their managers happy while they also continue to grow in their current position. However, without a healthy relationship with their managers, it simply won’t happen. And without coaching, a job that may seem great on paper can just be another means to pass their time while they continue their ever-valiant hunt for a better job.

At the end of the day, the employee needs to know how they’re doing, just as a manager needs to enlighten them about their performance. They want to grow, they want to flourish, they want to help the company thrive and succeed – and they want their managers to care about their growth with the company, as well. In doing so, the employee can become empowered and get the satisfaction they crave, knowing that they’re contributing and their hard work is paying off.

Ultimately, it gives them the opportunity to use their strengths every single day in a fresh and novel situation and environment. And in turn, both the employee and the manager can live happily ever after, secure in the knowledge that they’ve each done everything they can to facilitate the success of the company.

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Nirit Cohen

Nirit leads an innovative conversation on the future of work and the strategies required to transform careers, organizations, management as well as broader economic and social systems such as education and civil service.

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