Your job as a manager is to achieve successful results. To do so you must maximize the effectiveness of your resources -- inputs like materials and machinery and, it goes without saying, people. Yet in many organizations making the most of human resources ends with basic instruction on the technical aspects of their jobs. Great managers, on the other hand, go the next mile -- they improve the personal abilities of their employees to do their jobs. In effect, these managers become coaches.

Coaching great John Wooden, whose teams won a record ten national basketball championships, saw technical skills as the heart of success. The ability to dribble, shoot, and defend quickly and at the right time was essential to winning. But his Pyramid of Success listed 25 other attributes in which his players must excel. Among those were Confidence, Cooperation, Patience, Self-Control, and Initiative, all personal traits unrelated to basic basketball skills. Great coaches and managers strive to build those character traits in their employees.

The real aim of coaching is not to ensure that standard operating processes are followed. SOPs are part of the basic training process of an employee and help him learn a logical way to attack an essential, repetitive task. They provide a foundation on which the worker can make fast decisions under stress. However you can never have an SOP in your toolkit for every potential situation. Coaching is about working one-on-one with a worker to improve his ability to collaborate with others, solve problems, manage his time, correct bad behavior, improvise, and break the rules if necessary to achieve the desired objective(s).

Such coaching obviously requires an action initiative plan that goes beyond your company’s basic technical training program. All of your direct reports could possibly benefit from the personal support that sound coaching can provide. Perhaps you can share what you know about solving bad behavior or building teams. But chances are your time is limited. Where then do you start?

Your first step is identifying those employees who will benefit most from your one-on-one attention. While you as a busy manager may abhor formal performance appraisals, most experts agree that such a process is the perfect launching pad for a well-designed coaching program. A sound appraisal enables a detailed discussion of how an employee performed against previously-set goals, what performance gaps exist, and what are the root causes of these gaps. If the root causes are shortcomings of the employee and not of the company’s training program, that worker may be a candidate for coaching.

Performance review

If your company does not conduct a formal performance review, you must rely on your relationship with those who report to you and the knowledge of their positives and negatives. Make a list of those direct reports who have easily recognizable shortcomings and would benefit from one-on-one coaching. Then prioritize the list by considering the impact their shortcomings have on the achievement of company goals and the performance of your area of responsibility.

At the end of your review - formal or informal, select the top candidate for coaching attention. Two questions are helpful in making that choice. Will that person’s improvement, first, most benefit your area’s performance or, second, better prepare him for promotion? Often an employee’s shortcomings are only hindering his advancement. However, remember that developing your successor is a key responsibility of a good manager and critical to your own move up the org chart. Can you truthfully say that one of your direct reports is ready to assume your position?

Next you must ensure that the chosen employee acknowledges their shortcomings and connects their failures to their impact on their personal and company performance. The employee’s admission that he needs help is critical. Little, if any, improvement can be expected otherwise.

From that recognition you must develop an action plan for that employee. The plan should be a result of collaboration with the employee. Ask him to suggest a sound solution to the problems. As with all plans, milestones, a timeline, and expected outcomes must be clearly stated.

A key part of the action plan is specifying who will provide the coaching. Especially when behavioral change is required, the intervention of an outside coach is often warranted. In these cases the match between the coach and the employee is critical. You should look for someone with excellent interpersonal skills plus the abilities to be frank about the problems and be confidential. In all cases, you must check a prospective coach’s references.

Benefits of coaching

One-on-one coaching in business has many of the same benefits found in sports:

Increases Labor Productivity. People who work smarter, meet deadlines, and cooperate well with others get better results from themselves and their co-workers.

Reduces Capital Investment. People working smarter can replace the need for expensive machinery. A plant with mediocre equipment and a great workforce can often outperform one with high tech machinery manned by mediocre workers.

Prepares Your Workers for Leadership. Creating employees to whom you can delegate frees you to think and plan and prepares them for advancement. You can become known for getting the most from your direct reports.

Decreases Turnover. Taking the time to improve a worker’s personal skills creates better job satisfaction and thus increases retention. People like to achieve all of their personal capabilities. Your company can become an employer of choice in your community.

Bottom Line: As Peter Drucker said, “Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” Employees deserve more from their managers than simple instruction on the technical aspects of their jobs. Great managers take personal responsibility for a nurturing process that develops a worker’s full potential and stretches his capabilities beyond the mundane elements of the job.

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