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Lessons in Leadership

The New Manager's Coaching Guide

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No one is born knowing how to be a manager. And whatever your previous job, it did not prepare you for management work. So if you’ve just become a supervisor, you must quickly start learning some new skills. The most important of these is performance management.

Delivering results through other people is the greatest challenge for most new supervisors. Before, you only had to worry about your own results – but now you must motivate others to do their best work. The guidelines below can help you succeed at this complex task.

1. Start by learning from your employees.
Meet individually with each person who reports to you to learn about their job. Your goal is to understand the work they do, how they feel about it, and what they need from you. Even if you were promoted in the same department, you need to have these meetings, because you are now in a totally different role.

2. Then find out how their work is perceived.
Once you fully understand your department from the employees’ point of view, then you need to determine how their work is viewed by internal or external customers. Meet with people who are the recipients of your department’s products or services and ask for feedback. Make note of departmental strengths and weaknesses. Share this information with your employees.

3. Figure out what you expect. Tell your staff.
As the one who will be doing their performance appraisals, you must let employees know what “good performance” means to you. What results do you expect? Also, clarify expectations about work habits. Do you like frequent updates? Expect everyone to be very punctual? Prefer face-to-face communication over email? If you knew the previous manager, describe how your expectations may be different.

4. Recognize that your way is not the only way.
People have different work styles. Your own approach to tasks, problems, and decisions is just one of many ways to get things done. Now that you are supervising others, you must determine when another style is just as good as, or even better than, your own.

5. Stay up-to-date with employees’ activities.
Having established expectations and goals, you need to know whether they’re being met. Set up regular reports, reviews, or meetings to track progress and problems. Try to determine the appropriate amount of feedback, because you don’t want to be either a micromanager or completely clueless.

6. Don’t practice “psychic management”.
For some reason, managers seem to believe that people should know what they’re thinking. They often expect employees to correct problems that have never been discussed. Conversely, they may be quite pleased with someone’s performance, but never say so. Do not expect employees to read your mind.

7. Appreciate good work. Recognize outstanding accomplishments.
People need to hear what they’re doing well. For everyday tasks that are a normal part of the job description, express appreciation for ongoing good work. Don’t ever take it for granted. But if an employee goes above and beyond expectations, recognize this special performance in a special way.

8. Help employees meet their career goals.
The best managers enjoy helping people develop and succeed. If you understand employees’ career goals, you can expose them to helpful opportunities and experiences. In the process, they’re more likely to be motivated to do their best work for you.

9. Nip problems in the bud.
When work or work habits start to head in the wrong direction, address the problem before it becomes a major issue. If deadlines are suddenly being missed or errors have begun to increase, simply mention what you have observed. For example, “I noticed that the last two reports were completed several days late. You’re usually right on schedule. What happened?”

10. Coach, don’t criticize.
Managers often delay performance discussions because they fear being critical. But it’s important to realize that your role is to be a coach, not a judge. When problems arise, you should describe the situation, explain why it concerns you, ask for the employee’s input, and agree on a solution. (You will find more specific coaching suggestions at the link below.)

11. Treat serious problems seriously.
Most performance issues call for coaching, but when a serious violation occurs, corrective action may be in order. You must make it very clear that if the unacceptable behavior ever happens again, serious consequences will follow. (Corrective actions steps can be found at the link below.)

12. Don’t keep non-performers.
The vast majority of employees can succeed with the help of an effective coach, role model, and mentor. But a few people are never going to make it, because they lack either motivation or ability. Once you have definitely determined that someone can’t or won’t perform acceptably, then you need to let them go. Otherwise, their presence will harm your results and de-motivate your good performers.

13. Hire the right people.
The best way to prevent performance problems is to hire the right people in the first place. When filling a position, clearly define your requirements and screen applicants carefully. If you hire in haste, you may be living with your mistake for a long time.

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