Finding Your Framework for Field Coaching
Feature Story – by James Boyd
A conceptual framework allows leaders to work smarter, not harder.
One of the most powerful and influential tools field leaders have in their tool belts is the ability to deliver effective coaching and feedback in the workflow of their direct reports. However, separation by time and distance can add a few challenging wrinkles in the delivery and overall adoption of coaching given by territory managers to field teams.
Coaching is at its best when designed and delivered consistently to the styles and strengths of the individuals of the team. Teams expect you to be prepared to make the most of their time; if the leader is not prepared, the team will underperform. To be effective in the role of a coach and mentor, one needs to find a conceptual framework that allows leaders to work smarter and not harder. Cliché as it sounds, it is true.
Find Your Framework
When coaching in the field, remember that time is of the essence, maximize your opportunities with the teams and lean into what is important to them. Listen more than speaking, and take note of when there are changes in body language, energy and tone of voice. Ask clarifying questions to uncover the real needs and wants of the team.
A great exercise for any coach to show curiosity of their teams is to practice the “5 Whys” and ask five questions that start with “Why” before offering advice or counsel. Questions like “Why is this important to you today?” or “Why do you see this as an obstacle to achieving your targets this month?” will help build rapport and trust for the bigger conversations for skill development and behavioral change in the future.
Keep the approach grounded in simple frameworks that fit into the day-to-day of the employee’s role and responsibilities. Creating a complex system of excessive checks and balances takes away from the goal of coaching, which is to help your employees improve. Burdensome checklists and conflicting expectations will set everyone up for failure, increase stress, and decrease morale and productivity long-term.
A simple and time-tested framework for effective coaching in the moment is the GROW model for coaching. Created in the 1980s, the GROW model for coaching allows for interactions that are focused on behaviors that drive positive results. GROW is an acronym that stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Will.
- G – Discuss what success looks like and what measurables are in place for your employees.
- R – Have candid and transparent conversations as to how their performance is aligning with their goals.
- O – Lean in and lead your employees to identify what needs to happen to align their behaviors with achieving their goals.
- W – Here you are gaining a commitment to your call to action from the coaching conversation. Quite frankly, ask “What will you do in the next X weeks to meet your goals?”
For this model to be effective, candor and transparency are key to setting clear and understood expectations for future performance. Once an agreement is reached on the action plan, document it. This ensures accurate assessment of progress of the employees and, more importantly, the ability to celebrate victories in real time.
This model wins time and again as it provides the structure to have a complete coaching conversation in five minutes or less. Simple, effective and easily repeatable, it is a win-win strategy for in-the-moment coaching and employee development. It becomes as easy as wash, rinse and repeat.
The Trust Factor
Trust is a cornerstone for all performance coaching to be implemented successfully. Once a leader gains trust of employees and operates out of a framework that is comfortable and easily repeatable, increased success through behavior change soon follows.
Most coaches fail because they do not stay engaged with the coaching commitments from their conversations. Checking in with a quick text, email or Teams message ensures that the commitments made are front of mind. This creates a safe space for the employee to be vulnerable and share successes or obstacles to implementing changes. Checking in builds trust in the process and your commitment to the teams’ successes.
One other area that is important and overlooked is effective engagement in followup conversations with employees. Use the commitments from the last coaching session to set the tone for the next interaction. Ask how it’s going, uncover pain points and obstacles, challenge assumptions and seek alternative approaches that build equity in the relationships with employees.
Effectiveness in setting expectations and engaging in follow-up conversations makes coaching less intrusive in the day-to-day actions. Coaching becomes a routine and welcome addition to the leadership skillset.
Great coaching is like a favorite pair of jeans or a lucky sweatshirt. At first it feels a little rigid, slightly uncomfortable; the more it is worn, the easier it fits, the better it feels and the more you look forward to wearing it.
Coaching is a struggle at first. With practice, a simple process and constant transparency, finding the approach that works the best will come. The best field coaching happens when leaders are their most authentic selves. Be true to who you are and transparent with those being coached, and great things will come to you and your teams in the field.
James Boyd, ACC, is manager, learning & development, for Root Insurance. Email James at firstname.lastname@example.org.