Tuesday 15 October 2019

Alan O’Neill: 'Why the good manager should be a coach and mentor too'

Coaching your staff to take on some of your tasks is a win-win for you, your business and the employee — but you need to set aside the time to do it properly

Stock image
Stock image

Alan O’Neill

To set the context this week, I’m going to describe three fictional scenarios that share the same management challenge.

The first scenario involves a business where the founder has always multi-tasked and taken on most of the key responsibilities.

 Like most entrepreneurs, founders have to take care of all disciplines themselves to make the business tick, such as operations, sales and marketing, HR, IT, financial control, purchasing and so on. However, there comes a time when they need to delegate so the business can grow.

In another scenario, John founded his business 30 years ago. The business has grown successfully over the years and his daughter is now being groomed to take over the business. She has been in the business now for five years and all her business knowledge has been acquired in an unstructured way. For better or worse, she’s learning simply by watching her father. And there are lots of key tasks not even on her radar yet.

In my third example, Helen is the food and beverage manager in a leading hotel. She has been tasked with developing a new team of young people to wait on tables in her restaurant. She needs to ensure all activities are done to a defined high standard of excellence.

The common denominator in all three scenarios is that the manager should formally set time aside to transfer the skills they have themselves honed through the years to a willing learner. That’s coaching.

The Downside of not Coaching your People

If managers don’t delegate, there are all sorts of negative implications. Their own time management will forever be a problem as they continue to do everything themselves.

The stress which comes with that workload is onerous. Quality can suffer too, performance and efficiencies will be at risk and it may even spill over to impact badly on customer experience and sales. Growth is likely to be slow.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they are possibly demotivating their own people and putting a cap on their personal development.

The psychology of why managers neglect to delegate is a study in itself, but I want to focus on one main reason. It may be that they haven’t prioritised it. Sometimes it’s because they don’t believe or trust that others can do it as well as they can — and perhaps they can’t. But there is one sure way of addressing that, and that is to give them a break and to coach them.

Coaching Tips

Why should the learner bother with this new task and possibly have more work to do, or maybe risk failure? What is the best structure to ensure the learning is paced and absorbed?

1 Set the context. Start by sitting down with the learner and explaining where this activity fits into the big picture. For example, why is it so important to set this restaurant table to a high standard?

2 Incentivise the learner. Explain how they will personally benefit from learning this new task. It may be career progression or just less stress. Build them up and encourage them. Collaborate with them for maximum engagement.

3 Break the task into bite-size chunks. The pace of learning is obviously slower than if you were to do it under normal conditions. If you expect the learner to grasp the whole task in one go, they won’t and may feel like a failure. Teach a chunk at a time and check the learning before you move on to the next.

4 You do it first, then get the learner to do it. Complete the full task first at normal speed to show the end result. Then do each bite-size chunk at a slower pace. Let the learner then try that chunk with your guidance.

5 Give feedback and encouragement throughout the process. It’s natural that the learner will make mistakes, even in this controlled environment. To build confidence, let them know how they’re doing and positively encourage them.

6 Reward and motivate at the end. When you have finished the coaching activity, congratulate the learner and send them away feeling good about themselves and with a reminder of the benefits.

The Last Word

To coach another person is a hugely rewarding experience for both parties. Developing your team is a good leadership trait. It shows a positive culture and is also a retention tool. It’s win-win for you, the learner and the business.

To take this a stage further, it would be worth your while making a list of all of the key tasks required for the effective running of your department or business. Build a matrix of learning opportunities and decide who needs coaching, when and why. You might also get the input of your team and ask them to nominate their own learning needs.

Alan O’Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to sundaybusiness@independent.ie

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