If you are fortunate enough to be part of an organization’s team that helps provide the executive coaching program, you most likely will hear the question, “What should I budget for an executive coaching program?” And in the next breath, there may be a lament about having to pay for executive coaching at all. But one-on-one coaching, especially at the executive level, is worth the price tag. Many do not realize that bulking up leadership, management, and communication skills for those in the C-suite can have far-reaching positive effects throughout the organization, and often can “save” a team or a career.
But what about at other levels in the organization? Many leaders hesitate to use this type of coaching for middle managers, questioning whether there is a sufficient return on the investment. Fortunately, there are coaching practices that organizations can implement at multiple levels that provide positive effects with a drastically reduced cost.
In order to develop managers as coaches, with the skills and finesse to consistently deliver useful feedback, it is important to implement such programs. The regular and documented use of feedback can drastically curtail coaching costs at the manager level. However, many organizations struggle with developing managers who have the capability and stomach to provide practical feedback that helps both the individual and the company.
There are many reasons managers avoid giving honest feedback. Providing candid observations can be, well, uncomfortable, and managers may feel anxious about sharing constructive feedback with employees. They may not know exactly how to address problem areas or may not have ideas for improving performance. Managers also may shy away from providing feedback to maintain harmony. They don’t want to alter the collegiality of the team, or disrupt the manager/employee working relationship. They also may genuinely like a person and not want to hurt feelings, or they may be afraid it will affect their employees financially if negative feedback appears in their performance review. In these cases, managers ignore the red flags in employee performance and hope it goes away on its own.
Regrettably, most of the time, these problems just fester and grow. Avoiding giving feedback doesn’t serve the individual or the company in the long run. In fact, it prolongs and perpetuates the problem. Often, the issue goes on so long that the person becomes frustrated. He or she is continually passed over for promotions and never comprehends the reason. Or the person may be promoted and his or her direct reports have to bear the brunt of the management or work style flaw. The issue often comes to a head later on, and the individual is faced with an ultimatum: Fix your problem or leave. Typically, the person has grown accustomed to working in a particular way (without knowing it was a problem), and finds it more difficult to change. At this late stage, the need for costly coaching becomes more likely, and the chances of success are slim.
Fixing the Leaks
The costs to the organization can be more than just that of coaching, however. Providing constructive feedback to all employees addresses issues as they occur. It is similar to fixing a dripping pipe as soon as you identify the leak. Organizations without a procedure for constructive, documented feedback can look like a system of pipes with multiple leaks. They eventually may explode (too late for coaching), but even if they don’t, those small leaks can add up.
Here’s how organizations can implement feedback in a way that is productive:
• Put it in writing. Feedback needs to be official and should be documented in performance reviews, along with the individual’s successes. This way it can serve as a base point for improvements and interventions. If opportunities are identified, employees then can begin to work on them.
• Make it developmental (vs. remedial). Feedback does not need to be negative. Managers should be taught how to focus feedback on developmental goals with opportunities and strategies for improvement, versus punishment for doing something “wrong.”
• Develop managers to be coaches. HR professionals should never assume managers know how to give feedback or to coach. Managers need to understand the value of feedback and practical strategies for providing it in an effective manner. HR leaders need to give managers the support they need to become “feedback fearless” and the resources they need to help employees improve.
• Start early. Feedback should not be reserved for those in management positions, but should be encouraged at all levels within the organization. This practice not only reduces the cost of coaching in the future, it makes giving and getting feedback an integral part of the company culture.
• Give feedback often and in many formats. Feedback should be written in formal performance reviews, but managers also can provide feedback in more informal or conversational settings. This can take the fear out of annual performance reviews because frequent communication leaves employees knowing what to expect.
Managers should be able to identify “learning moments” to show people real workday situations where they can improve, take chances, or challenge themselves professionally.
What does feedback cost? Possibly some initial anxiety on the part of the manager, but the payoff can be huge. Developing managers to become coaches and provide feedback to employees can maintain the use of coaching for developmental issues within the organization, improve individual performance, and benefit the company as a whole. An organization is only as good as its employees.