5 Tips to Coach Through the Pandemic
Never before has it been so important for managers at all levels to fully engage in coaching their staff. With the pandemic and accompanying global economic crisis continuing to impact organizations, many are trimming costs, including headcount. Research indicates high levels of employee stress and concern for the future, both of which are likely to escalate. Global studies have documented an increase in on-the-job stress levels relating to unachievable targets, poor management, and poor work-life balance—especially for those now working from home.
Two significant questions for leaders to ask today are, “What impact is this having on productivity?” and “What can managers and organizations do to coach through the impact?”
What managers must understand about coaching
There are a few things that managers must understand to coach more effectively through these times.
First, emotions are contagious—as documented by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. Since people watch their managers, the boss has an outsized emotional impact. Does she appear stressed, worried, and fearful? Or is she energized, relaxed, and confident in this economic climate? Observers often noted that former US President Barack Obama, throughout both his campaigns, always appeared calm and confident in the face of opposition and so inspired these same emotions in the electorate.
Second, coaching is crucial. It’s not just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. Before expanding on this, let’s define coaching since it often means different things to different people. To answer the question, “What is coaching?” I like to use the analogy of a stagecoach. This early form of horse-drawn transportation picked people up and transported them to their desired destination. Likewise, coaching can be a virtual vehicle of sorts. Through strategic, questioning-based dialogue, it can help people get from where they are to where they want or need to be in terms of goals and accomplishment.
5 ways to coach effectively
So what can be done to help staff through these challenging times? Here are five ways managers can coach more effectively:
1. Listen to understand: Keep in mind that each team member has a unique behavioural/communication style (perhaps different from yours) and how they respond to current uncertainty/changes . Acknowledge staff concerns. Some may be carrying a heavy load as their job demands increase along with demands at home—from busy children’s schedules to ailing parents. Some may even be experiencing financial troubles due to a spouse’s job loss.
2. Give affirmation: At the end of the day, organizations don’t achieve results; people do. Let staff know you’re all in the same boat, you appreciate their efforts, and you are confident in their abilities to work through organizational challenges.
3. Engage them: Ask what they think they could be doing to be more effective. Questions like this can be a catalyst for innovative thinking. Sometimes it is helpful to ask them to provide a list of 10 to 20 possible actions. Encourage your staff to be creative and produce a quantity of ideas you can later look at together and evaluate for quality.
4. Think holistically: The best coaches are creative and consider the whole person. Encourage staff to try and develop a regular exercise schedule they enjoy. From morning walks to gym visits, consistent activity goes a long way towards reducing stress and enhancing productivity.
5. Help them make a plan: From the list of possibilities, ask them which two or three of the most practical actions they would like to commit to. These could be new habits at work or beyond. Managers with strong relationships and good coaching skills can help employees make personal changes that translate to less stress in their lives overall and, consequently, greater productivity at work. I know of a manager who was called on to coach an individual through some issues of significant personal debt at the employee’s request. These issues were causing a great deal of personal stress, which in turn was impacting professional performance. The manager began simply by asking him to suggest possible options and solutions, which they then evaluated together. The employee chose to sell his vehicle and rent out his basement, providing much-needed cash flow and allowing him to retire substantial credit card debt and avoid looming bankruptcy. Was he happier and more productive at work? You bet.
Asking which goals and actions employees will commit to is important because it helps them focus on things within their control. Psychologists document that when we focus on the “external locus of control” (things beyond our control) we experience more stress and feelings of helplessness. When we focus on the “internal locus of control” (things within our control) we feel empowered and less stressed. Essentially, as a coach, you work to guide them in focusing on solutions versus problems. In some cases, some of your employees’ goals may require your support, where possible. For example, a change to flex time to accommodate daycare drop-off in the mornings can go a long way. I also know of a manager who gave an employee, a busy single mom, gift certificates for a maid service during a demanding quarter at work.
The next few years will be challenging for organizations and their people. Keep in mind that leaders with who a great coaching can enhance their people's performance by coaching them to be more effective, engaged, and productive through times of change. Organizations that develop superior coaching talent will not merely survive; they will thrive.
In the Spirit of Growth,
Chuck Reynolds is President and Chief Performance Officer of Excel Group Development in Toronto. He can be reached at (416) 481- 4802 or visit www.XLTeamwork.com for more information.
** Adapted from an article originally published by Thomson Reuters Canada in HR Reporter. WANTED; Managers Who Coach Well in a Crisis, February 9, 2009.
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