Big business buzz these days is the (long overdue) overhaul of performance management from being a yearly onerous event to one consisting of continuous coaching and feedback. My colleagues and I are rolling our eyes, having been promoting this concept for years. It is good to see such a sensible idea finally get some traction.

Implementing continuous coaching as a corporate practice can be challenging. Most managers I coach have difficulty practicing continuous feedback. As one shared with me recently, “I am a firm believer in staff development and it is with great chagrin that I confess that I don’t practice what I preach. I know my direct reports need coaching to develop their skills. I schedule an hour a week to meet with each one of them to discuss the strengths and areas for improvement. Inevitably, these coaching sessions get sidetracked into discussion about equipment, ornery customers, everything but coaching. I’ve just about given up on trying to coach and develop my team.”

I told this manager to not give up but rather to change strategy. Here are my suggestions for getting coaching to work:

  • If the feedback is a change in behavior, move the sessions from weekly to once a month. I think weekly coaching sessions are too frequent. People need time to absorb the feedback, change behavior, then see if the behavior change resulted in positive change. Weekly meetings do not allow enough time to learn from the feedback you are providing.
  • Shorten the meeting time to 30 minutes rather than one hour. Less time will allow you to focus the agenda more tightly and avoid distractions.
  • Use a simple, repeatable agenda such as Start, Stop, Continue. Start items are behaviors and actions they are not currently doing, Stop items are those that are not working and need to stop, and Continue items are those that are successful and need to stay. Limit yourself to only one per category and 30 minutes should be ample time.
  • Use a Parking Lot for issues that come up that are not part of the coaching agenda and roll them into your regular work-related one-on-one sessions.

Most folks are anxious about meeting with the boss for feedback. I suspect that they are consciously or unconsciously hijacking your coaching session by deflecting the talk away from them to the safer areas of work and job. You can alleviate some of their apprehension by asking your employee to identify those areas for which they need your guidance. Let them start the conversation and then steer them to the issues you would like addressed. If they can take an active role in the focus of the coaching conversation, they will be less likely to let business issues hijack the discussion.