How to Coach: Focus on Staff Strengths
By Katherine Maloney
There is a saying that wherever you focus your attention determines your reality and results. As a leader, if you focus on poor worker performance, you will surely find it. It follows that feedback to workers will likely emphasize their gaps, not strengths. Constructive feedback may motivate people in the short-term, but if you want to engage employees over the long haul, consider shining light on strong performance.
Gallup organization research shows workers who know and focus on their strengths at work are six times more likely to be engaged. Okay, good. So how do you find and coach to these worker strengths day-to-day? Focusing on your workers' strengths, not gaps, may require a shift in focus, but following these four steps will help:
1. Observe Daily Performance
Observe worker performance daily and "catch them doing something right" - a leadership technique practiced by Disney and other successful companies. You may need to do more leadership-by-walking-around than you are accustomed to. If you have virtual employees, you'll need to be creative, checking in by phone, email, and/or Skype.
2. Set Up Coaching Conversations
Set up coaching conversations with each employee. These can be brief; in fact, spending a few minutes providing quality, real-time feedback can take just a few minutes and is received just as positively as a long meeting, especially if you follow step three...
3. Provide Feedback
Provide specific and timely feedback. Rather than, "Great job, Sheila," tell Sheila what she did that was great within 24 hours. "Sheila, I see that you caught the math error in the slide deck before it got to senior leaders. Kudos." Further, you may mention the benefit to the organization: "Your attention to detail made our group look good and saved time for the assistants upstairs."
If appropriate, recognize workers publicly, e.g. at a staff meeting, to inspire pride and broaden the impact. Be mindful that some people may prefer private recognitions, so honor that.
4. Record Good Performance
Record good performance for review time. Even the best leaders forget workers' daily successes and strengths used, so keep a record of them using a simple online grid, or jot down notes in Outlook or other online calendar. The benefit to you will come at performance review time; the dreaded activity of writing reviews is simplified!
Results and Additional Tools
How will your people respond to this approach? Studies of a mining company published in Positive Psychology News showed that when leaders mindfully gave employees positive feedback, results increased by 40 percent. So, focusing on strengths not only leads to more engaged workers, but to productivity.