“I feel like I never catch up.”
“Caleb is constantly throwing a wrench in things. It seems the team can never
move beyond his objections.”
“We always meet our milestones, but then Lori’s department changes the specs, and we have to make
adjustments with no extra time or resources.”
At one time or another, we all grapple with something that moves out of the realm of mild frustration and into gridlock. Managing time, building consensus, clarifying communication—whatever may be handicapping performance—is fertile ground for coaching.
The coaching process begins with defining a dilemma and then articulating a goal that will resolve it. Easier said than done, you may say. Often the dilemma itself is tough to identify. We may speak specifically about this or that frustration, but not see how they are related. A manager who listens carefully may discern patterns and threads in what her coachee says. She can then frame questions that help shine a light on these themes, helping the individual understand how a missed deadline, complaints about workloads, or an in-box full of unanswered e-mail all relate to her difficulty with managing time.
Once we define a dilemma, such as a need to better manage time, we can consider what we must change to resolve the dilemma. This is the time to establish a goal. Coaches often talk about SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
For example, a SMART goal might be to find five extra hours per week by the next fiscal quarter, and to allocate that “found” time to reducing the pile of work that hasn’t been getting attention. This goal is specific (find five extra hours a week), measurable (we can track the time, and allocate it to other tasks), relevant (more time to meet responsibilities), time-based (the next quarter is the deadline). Achievable is another matter: the coachee needs to consider how she currently uses her time, what tasks she performs, which ones should be priorities, and which can be delegated.
Most importantly, she then needs to commit to making the changes required to meet the goal. Most likely, a careful analysis of these factors will reveal that the goal is achievable.
Because even a SMART goal can seem too big and daunting, a manager can coach his charge to break down her goals into smaller tasks—stepping stones to the big goal. He might see that an element of the weekly meeting agenda might be better dealt with as a summary report. This could save 20-30 minutes a week…a nice steppingstone. Realizing each task is reinforcing. Appreciating how each step is building to the big payoff renders the entire effort achievable.
It’s a process, with the manager/coach as a guide and the person being coached providing the content and doing the “work”—self-assessing, thinking more deeply, stepping out of the weeds and looking at solutions.
Once the coachee has reached her goal, she must decide how she can maintain the change. The coach can also help here, with an occasional touch-base to explore how things are working and keep the coachee accountable.
It’s easy to make a wish list or fantasize a perfect situation. We often make an attempt, but then strike out. It’s entirely another matter to set a clear goal, decide how to reach it, and commit to getting there. Coaching can help make the process SMART…and deliver a win.
What has helped you set — and achieve — a clear goal in response to a difficult challenge?
If you found this post helpful, check out “About the Book” on this blog, and order yourself a copy of “What could happen if you do nothing?” A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.