Objective observer can help highlight improvement areas

Often I am asked to help coach a key employee in a work group. Usually the employee I am hired to coach is valued but demonstrates a behavior or behaviors that limit him or her. Let me tell you a story about one of these coaching processes with a manager I will call Tony (not his real name).

My procedure is to interview six to eight people who work with the person to be coached whom I call the target person. In one-on-one interviews I ask questions about the target person’s communication, listening, conflict, and delegation skills. I also ask about his strengths, his trustworthiness, ability to trust, and how well he passes on needed information along with other questions customized for the individual.

After compiling Tony’s data, I found that the interviewees focused on seven issues for improvement as well as several strengths. I explained the list of issues and strengths to Tony and asked him to choose two of the development areas on which we could work. Tony felt that the areas of prioritization and writing were connected so he selected them. People said that he seemed to have trouble managing priorities. He appeared pressured from deadlines and had difficulty with follow-up.

Prioritization is increasingly important for all employees in today’s environment of scarcer resources. Jointly we created some action plans. First, I asked Tony to create a priority list of his typical work. I suggested that he validate that list with his immediate supervisor to make sure that the two of them were in alignment. Second we agreed that he should take each of the high priority tasks and break them down into the individual subtasks that would be necessary to be successful. I asked him to start with his deadline and distribute the subtasks chronologically from the present extending to the deadline. In addition, he was to place each subtask on his calendar.

One of the tasks for which he was criticized was lateness on his monthly and project reports. I recommended that he spend 10 minutes every week capturing the events to be included in the monthly report. He also placed on his calendar time to do the updates and time to consolidate the information into the monthly report. A similar process was suggested for his project reports.

I called him one month later, three months later, and six months later. I also talked about his progress with his supervisor and a couple of peers. Tony and all the other people I talked to agreed that he was no longer late on the monthly reports or other priorities. It wasn’t that Tony and his supervisor had never talked about his areas for improvement. However, the organizational focus of having an outsider come in to work on these issue elevated them to a higher level of importance. Also, the simple structure that we developed enabled Tony to get the tasks done to meet deadlines. Big tasks are always easier if we can see and work on the small pieces that make up the whole.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.