Ask a coach: ‘How do I coach my team members to take action?’

This question often comes up when I work with managers; it may be that a) they’ve delegated something and the team member just didn’t get to complete (or even start) the job; or b) they’ve been applying their newly-learned coaching skills and their team members are mostly really responding well to this approach, but some just aren’t getting to the start point. The conversation needs to be different for each situation.

a) They just haven’t done it

Don’t beat yourself up too much if this is your situation; it’s something I get asked about pretty often. Yes, I know it may be baffling to you (and it is to me) but it happens. If the person simply hasn’t got to the task, there needs to be a conversation to establish what’s prevented them from doing so and what action they’ll take to remedy the situation. Don’t beat about the bush; simply and calmly ask them a question along these lines, “Where’s the [task]? When will it be ready?; It’s vital that you keep this short, then pause and let them speak; carry on talking and you could easily end up on a rant. Listen carefully to the person’s response and watch the body language; which will tell you heaps about how they feel right now.

They may give you a litany of all the jobs that have been heaped on them (by you and others), that have meant this task has slipped. In which case you both need to have an honest conversation about what the priorities are. You can help here by showing them some tools to aid prioritising, such as the Urgent / Important grid (based on former US President Eisenhower’s approach, explained here by Mind Tools).

They may have valid reasons why the task you delegated has dropped down their to-do list, in which case you need to give them some feedback on the impact of not keeping you informed that their priorities have changed, for example the rest of a project’s timings are now off track, a client is going to be unhappy, etc. (check out these feedback tips). You’ll then need to discuss and agree a) how they’ll keep you updated on such changes in future, and b) what the new deadline is for completion.

If late or non-completion of tasks becomes a recurring pattern for this person, you’ll need to do more than give feedback; it will have become a performance management issue. Time to speak to your manager (and probably HR) to raise the issue and clarify the right steps to take.

b) Coaching is appreciated, but they don’t get started

Your team members are loving your new coaching approach to managing people, which you could sum up as shifting from ‘tell’ mode to ‘ask’ much more of the time. They relish the opportunity to talk about their progress and development with you. And yet they don’t get started. What’s going on? Could be you’re spending most of the time in coaching conversations going over what the person’s goals are, or how they think and feel, or maybe helping them reflect on what they learned from that last experience. These are all valid points to cover in coaching conversations; just remember they need to end in a commitment to act. Here&’s a selection of coaching questions to help achieve a committed response.

  • “When will you deliver this?
  • “What are the steps you’ll take to get this done on time?
  • “Between now and [specified deadline], when will you schedule time to do this?
  • “How can you simplify the job to complete it within the time?
  • “What’s the mini deadline you can commit to for this element of the job, so we hit the overall deadline?
  • “Which of your strengths and skills will you bring to bear?
  • “How will you respond if you get stuck?
  • “On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is not very committed, how committed are you to finishing the job by [deadline]?
    1. If answer is less than 7, “What needs to be true for you to score higher on the scale?
    2. “What support do you need from me to hit the deadline?

Be sure to have a short coaching conversation to review and compare the person’s performance next time.

You may also find this blog post useful: Ask a coach: I’m a manager, and now I’m being told to coach; just when am I supposed to find the time?

Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work – available now on Amazon and ‘The Feedback Book

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