top of page

Want better performance? Coach your people

Want better performance? Coach your people

There is a constant struggle, isn't there, between the need to get faster results, and the need to develop our people. Ultimately, performance wins out and we end up telling them what to do, we end up resolving the problem, than we take the time to develop our people. After all, we rationalise, time is of the essence, and we cannot "waste" it by waiting for them to come up with the solution. And, at any rate, they are not ready to step up.

Sounds familiar? The fact of the matter is, as managers, we are stretched in opposite directions, and while we hope that our people can grow into the position, and be able to solve their problems, we don't have the luxury of time. Waiting for them to get to the point where they can manage their own problems independently might well impact our ability to meet the bottomline, and that cannot be accepted. Anyway, there will be other opportunities to develop them.

It seems that at every turn, we are rationalising to ourselves that we don't really need to spend the time to develop our people, and that there will be a time and a place for everything. And that is certainly not when it is mission-critical time, and it always is mission-critical! So day after day, week after week, month after month, perhaps even year after year, our people are none the wiser in how to improve their performance because you, their leader, always steps in for them, and solves their problem. Very soon, you have a bunch of people who cannot think for themselves, and who cannot solve their own problems, and who cannot improve their performance. Now who do you think is at fault here, you, the leader, or they? I hope it is obvious to you that you are the cause of their laid back performance, and if you want them to improve, then you will need to give them space to do so. You will need to coach your people into better performance. In this article, we will discuss the importance of coaching for performance, the benefits you get out of it, and I share three methods of coaching that even the most hard-press executive for time can apply it. There is now no excuse for the leader not to manage performance by coaching!

Dispelling myths

Before we move on, let us first dispel some myths about performance coaching...

(1) they are not ready

Well, the truth of the matter is, they are not. But it is a self fulfilling prophecy - the more they are not ready, the more we don't coach; the more we don't coach, the more they are not ready. Soon, they will be too far behind the curve to catch up, and it would be easier to replace them with someone performing at the correct level - the level that you could have gotten if only you paid attention to it! Not a particularly good position to be in, don't you think? As leaders, we need to get them ready, and not wait for them to be ready! And if that means that we have to invest in them, then so be it. It is better to do this sooner than later.

(2) we are always fire-fighting

Yes, I know; everything is mission-critical, right? You are always jumping from one fire to another. There seldom is enough time in one day to handle all the urgent stuff, much less to handle staff stuff! It is like a battlefield; as each day dawns, there is another mission, another fight, another manoeuvre. But have you ever stopped to wonder if indeed all the fire-fighting can be pre-empted by proper staff development? Perhaps if one was not so preoccupied with the urgent but maybe not so important tasks of fire-fighting, one can spend a little more time in the important tasks of staff development?

(3) coaching is time consuming

Many managers think that coaching takes time, and we have to lead our staff to first identify the problem, and then let them uncover the solution, and finally, have them try things out on their own, only to come to the conclusion that we now have. It seems like a very convoluted way to get people to do what we can simply tell them to. Well, contrary to popular belief, coaching need NOT be time consuming, and we can take these evolving situations as coaching moments. Simply leading staff down a cognitive path, of uncovering options, choosing a course of action, and allowing them to implement them, and of seeing the outcomes, have a more powerful developmental element than simply telling them what to do. And it does not take too much time!

(4) we cannot accept failure

So, which is a better teacher - success or failure? And how do YOU become a better leader; by continuous successes, or by falling down, picking yourself up, and moving on again? If you learn better through failure, wouldn't your staff learn better through failure too? Yes, I know - mission critical, right? So they cannot fail, right? So that means you don't allow them to learn too, right? And let's be honest, would you rather them fail in your midst or fail without you knowing about it? At least when you are around, you can pre-empt the matter and mitigate the impact of the failure. But if they are always sheltered from failure in the name of performance and objectives, they are also sheltered from learning, from developing themselves, and from making the right decisions in the future. Would you prefer to keep doing the same things for the next 20 years simply because your people cannot, and all due to you not allowing them fail in the small stuff?

Benefits of coaching

And what will you see by adopting a greater developmental mindset? Apart from the fact that your people learn more, and apply their own thinking onto situations at work more, here are other positive outcomes to applying coaching at work...

Opens channels of communication

I am sure this is one thing that goes without saying, right? The key tool to coaching is verbal communication, and the more that coaching is being applied at work, the greater the communication lines are opened. This allows people to work better with you and with one another. There is an altogether win-win-win situation when there is greater freedom of communication.

Builds greater trust

When leaders share their knowledge with their staff, it creates a stronger bond of trust. Trust is the glue that binds people to their leader, their team, their mission. Since business is a risky endeavour, to get people to undertake the risk with you requires trust. Coaching can achieve that for you.

Increases accountability

Many companies complain that their people are not being held accountable for their actions. Well, one way to do that is through coaching. In a more formal coaching process, your staff will be held to account for his/her actions at each touchpoint. This imbues accountability in them, and also shows that you are serious about them achieving their targets and objectives. It is also not a once or twice a year affair, but a continuous process of action and accountability. A much more powerful way to meet performance targets than the cursory performance appraisal system, don't you think?

Course correct early

When there is a bond, free flow of communication and trust between staff and leader, there are no barriers to truth. If a mistake is identified, there is no finger-pointing and blaming; they simply work on a solution and course-correct. This pre-empts any unravelling further down the road, pivoting early to meet operational as well as business goals.

Enhances cohesion and collaboration

When coachees come together and work on projects together, collaboration between team members, and later, with other teams, is enhanced. This firms up team cohesion which is so important in pulling off the all-nighters to meet a particularly demanding deadline when the time comes.

How to coach

With all the benefits of coaching, I hope I have piqued your interest a little to wanting to find out how to apply coaching at work too, especially to meet the needs of the busy executive! Well, there are many coaching models, and many of them are effective for the specific needs that they were developed for. But here, I would like to share three of my favourite models to develop performance, and I present them in ascending order of time commitment...

A. Spot coaching

Spot coaching is a method I use when there is a "coaching moment" and where there are mindsets that I need to change. It is important to do this at the point of coachability, and not wait until the event has passed. This is because, according to learning pedagogy, you should put the learning closest to the point of learning, and not wait until the context has all but disappeared. How to do spot coaching? Here are the main steps:

(a) Get your staff to state the intent

(b) Lay out the constraints

(c) Identify inconsistencies

(d) Commit to a better solution

All this is done in one sitting. Let's see a coaching conversation between a new salesman and you that follow the spot coaching format:

Staff: I am so happy to be in this team. I am pumped! I intend to earn $100,000 this year.

You: Wow! That is great to hear. Can you share your $100,000 income route?

Staff: Well, I am on 10% comm. So, I figure that if I can get $1,000,000 revenue by the end of the year, I can make the $100,000.

You: And how many widgets do you need to sell to get $1,000,000?

Staff: Well, if I divided 1,000,000 by 12, I will be able to get $83,333 per month.

You: So how many widgets is that?

Staff: Seeing that we sell each widget at $1200, that would be about 70 widgets

You: And what does that mean?

Staff: Well, it means that I will have to sell between 17 to 18 widgets a week. I think I can do that!

You: And how many people do you need to speak to to make the 17 to 18 widgets a week?

Staff: Well, as many as it takes.

You: And who are you going to sell it to?

Staff: Anyone who has a need for the widget, and frankly, who doesn't?

You: OK, I think you need to redo your numbers. I commend you for having this goal, but you need to understand conversion rates and the sales funnel. You need to know how many of the people who come to speak with you will turn into a lead. And from that lead, how many of them will become a marketing qualified lead. From the marketing qualified lead, you then need to know how many will convert to becoming a sales qualified lead. And then from that, you will need to know who will become an opportunity, and from the opportunity, who will finally become your customer. So, for simplicity sake, let's assume that the conversion rate for each stage is 50%; that is, one out of every two will move on in the sales funnel. This is actually a really a high number. So, to get 18 customers, you will need to have 36 opportunities. For 36 opportunities, you will need 72 sales qualifies leads. For 72 SQLs, you will need 144 MQLs. And for 144 MQLs, you will need 288 leads, and for 288 leads, you need to reach out to 576 people!! A week! For 52 weeks! Does this seem logical to you?

Staff: I suppose not. So, does it mean I will not be able to make $100,000 a year?

You: You can, but you need to work smart. Why don't you do this... talk to your fellow sales people and get a sense of the conversions. Then map out your funnel, speaking with marketing on how they can bring in more leads for you. And then, come to my office next week, and let's go through the numbers. How does that sound to you?

Staff: That sounds very supportive.

You: Yes, I want to support you on your goal. So when we meet, we can then map it together to see how far you can get with your sales. Okay?

Staff: Okay. Thanks boss!

You: No... thank you! Thanks for your enthusiasm. We need that around here! Let's keep it up!

All in one sitting! Spot coaching is a great way to realign thinking and empower your staff. Remember that you need to identify inconsistencies and get the staff to commit to a new solution; and then they have to act on it. Use this whenever you can because it is fast and effective!

B. Solution-Focused Coaching

This one is used when there is a solution to be found. This is a very powerful method because it does not look at how a person has come to the predicament that he/she is in; it accepts that as the reality and looks to move forward. Because of its forward-looking stance, it does not do any finger pointing, it does not seek to "understand why this has happened", it does not do any "root cause analysis". Instead, it seeks to acknowledge the positive actions already done, and use that to move to the next step.

A key component of the solution-focus coaching method is the scale of achievement. All we do in a SF coaching session is to ask, "On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is the absolutely worst position in your situation, and 10 is the absolutely best position, where are you now?" When your staff answers, you don't need to dive in and ask, "Why so low?" or "Why so high?" You simply accept it, and also give some words of encouragement by saying, "Well, I can see that you have already achieved some way to getting to where you want to go!" This gives your staff some confidence. Then follow up with this MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION:

"What does it take to get to <say the next position>?"

So, if the initial position was "3", then ask, "So what would it take to make it to 4?" Then get your staff to articulate.

It does not matter that the idea can work or not, all it matters is that the person sees a way out, and takes that. This will kick start some momentum, and get him/her on the way to 10! And when the person has articulated what he/she could do, then encourage him/her to do it as soon as possible, and then schedule a review of the results short time later. And when you review, you then ascertain what level he/she is in now, and then repeat the process, until the person makes it to 10, or as close to 10 as he/she needs.

The solution-focused method is very useful when your staff is stuck and you don't want to offer any solution, preferring that the person comes up with it. After a while, your staff will know how to do this himself/herself, and this will give greater performance, and self-confidence. It will also free up your precious time to focus on the bigger things.

C. GROW Model

The last model which I like to use is GROW, which is the acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way-forward. The GROW model is more committed, and it does look into context and constraints. While it also does not dive into the wherefores of the situation, it can allude to some of them when looking at the Reality portion. The power of GROW is not in the Options, as many people wrongly assume, it is in Reality. In fact, when we use this method, we try to stay on the Reality part for as long as possible, thereby uncovering perspectives that may be hindering a person from actually appreciating the situation for what it really is.

Another element of the GROW model is its iterativeness; while many people think that it is linear; i.e., Goal leads to Reality, leads to Options, and leads to Way-forward, the actual coaching session is seldom so straight-forward, and so linear. In fact, as one uncovers the Reality of the situation, one might be inclined to reword his/her Goal, thereby setting off the whole process once again. This element of going back and forwards creates greater clarity for the staff.

To make this model work, we first ask the coachee to explain the situation, uncovering all the events or drivers to what we see is happening at the moment. Don't try to solve the problem then and there; don't even try to dig deep. Just map out the situation so that you have a feel of the context. Once you are sufficiently clear about the surrounding facts, you will then ask your staff to identify his/her Goal, i.e. what he/she really wants to see out of that. Don't question the validity of the Goal.

Next, uncover all the Realities. These Realities must be linked to the Goal. For example, when a person's Goal is to earn $100,000 a year, then the Realities could be the person's lack of knowledge of conversion rates, or the sales funnel, or the like. There may be other realities like "No one has ever been able to make 18 sales a month (although this does not mean it cannot be done, and it must be acknowledged so.)"

As coach, you must try to stay on the Reality stage for as long as you can, asking the question like, "So, what else do you see that are impacting or influencing your situation?" Continue this until your staff cannot come up with anything else. You can also prompt your own ideas into the Reality stage to allow the person to see new perspectives, although you cannot be too direct about it.

Once you are done with the Reality, then brainstorm the Options. These are possible solutions to attaining the Goal, bearing in mind the Realities. In fact, if done right, the Reality stage will uncover one key factor that is limiting the situation, and that will be the focal point of the solution. But as coach, you should always encourage your staff not simply to give one option as the solution, but to come up with several.

Finally, the Way-forward is where your staff will converge on the one option, and commit to putting it in place to achieve the Goal.

For the purposes of this blog, we are unable to dive deeper into these models but I hope that with this, you can start on our coaching journey. If, however, you want to dive deeper into these models, these are taught at our leadership advancement programme called Coaching for GROWth. You can find out more about this programme by clicking on the link below...

It is easier said than done

One thing I know as a busy senior executive torn between having to achieve business objectives and developing people, this is not easy. In fact, even as a Certified Master Coach, I have failed to coach some people at times; and in many more instances than I care to admit. This constant tension between speed of execution and pace of development, has caused me to let down some pretty good staff in my inability - or more likely, refusal - to coach people who were obviously struggling. Setting aside my bias that they were not the right people for the job, and that they were either hired wrongly or promoted wrongly before I got there, as their superior I had to help them through their struggles no matter what. The fact that I had not shows some dereliction on my part. I am not proud of that. But that just goes to show that as a leader, we need to be mindful of what is important, even if that can slow us down in our march towards achieving business goals. After all, if we don't take care of the people in the organisation, there will be no organisation left to take care of in time to come. So, yes, it is easier said than done. But that is why you are the leader, and you need to overcome your personal biases, your performance objectives, to slow down and pick your people up by the hand. This builds trust; this builds loyalty; this builds commitment. And you need all these going into the future!


Coaching is a very important leadership skill because of all that it achieves as outlined above. It is a very direct method of performance development, and the results are more immediate than training. Sure, there are some limitations, and because we do not dive deeper into situations, we may still be addressing situations on a symptomatic level, rather than on a deeper one. Yet, for the purposes of leadership, this is more than enough. If we can get a group of people to respond to words of encouragement that develop them more, we would be get the performance that we need, time and time again.

And this is what a great leader like you will do. Coaching delivers results.

Ian Dyason is the former Chief Operating Officer of a medium sized training company in Singapore, and a Certified Master Coach with the International Coaching Council. He has taught many leaders in many companies, in many different industries the skills of leadership coaching for the past 10 years.

You may also be interested in...
bottom of page