Motivating people to develop and grow professionally while advancing organizational objectives is the age-old challenge of management, or leadership. If you are struggling to get your people to achieve what you hope for, this blog is for you.
“Management” and “manager” are evil words today. Instead, the paradigm shift is toward leaders and leadership. If you’ve noticed this trend, managers tell and enforce. Leaders empower and motivate. Managers direct and punish. Leaders coach and provide accountability.
Some in Agile circles will say with a focus on self-organizing teams, you should not even want or need “managers.” Since it takes a bit of coaching and leadership to reach a viable self-organizing ideal, let us proceed with the assumption that you and your organization still have a management layer. Let us also assume that you are trying to be more of a leader than a manager. This approach moves you away from command and control and more into coaching.
The 4 Keys to Coaching People
The topic of coaching more than covers an entire book. Having just launched a book, I am not prepared to go that far just yet, but I can quickly cover four keys you can consider today to improve your approach to people and team development.
There are many keys to coaching people, but in this blog, I draw on some parallel themes from a booklet I wrote a few years ago regarding coaching youth sports. It really does not matter if it is youth sports or business, the coach almost always wants something more than, or different, than the players. Results, however, are much better when the coach and players are aligned.
Understand your player/team
The first thing I recommend is to assess your player, or team, and understand what you have to work with. You will start, and progress, much more effectively if you start from where you are. That may sound silly, but it is not all that uncommon to see people trying to start from a place they are not. Both coach and player(s) need an honest self-assessment and accept it for what it is.
It should be no secret that people will perform better driven by their own commitments than someone else’s. Frustration usually drops in when the coach or leader/manager is pushing for something that the player (team member) is not committed to.
When you and your team member understand their starting point, and have an agreed upon commitment for the objective to achieve, setting properly aligned expectations is vital. What will it take to achieve the objective? What should the coach expect from the team member? What should the team member expect from the coach? What should either expect to happen if commitments fall off?
Holding each other accountable for the commitments made is crucial. What agreed upon process will you follow to check in with each other and push forward? Holding someone accountable for something they committed to on their own volition is far more effective than holding them accountable for meeting your expectations of them.
Since these 4 keys parallel coaching youth sports, I’ll summarize how this worked with a youth football team I coached.
On day one, I talked with the kids about the options for how we could run the season, one of which was to do whatever it took to win every game we played. They chose to be champions. I stressed that to do so, it would require them to work harder than they had ever worked before. I asked them for permission to push them and hold them accountable for the goal they were about to commit to. They committed, we aligned our expectations for the season, and we had an accountability agreement in place.
Understanding my players and the competition they would face, I created a development plan that lived up to its promise — to work them harder than they had ever worked before. When they slacked off, I used their own commitment to hold them accountable and to motivate them. Success along the way also kept them motivated, but we were always working toward the same goal, for the same reason.
Leading Your Team
Helping each person, and team, develop professionally is the job of leadership, of coaches. It is good for the team, it is good for each individual, and it is good for the organizational as a whole. To do that, you need to understand what they want, what they are willing to commit to, and why. The why is the critical piece that keeps people motivated when the going gets tough. This, however, is not a guarantee that what you hope for will match their commitment or desire.
We can argue the merits of firing people that do not meet expectations, but that is not always an option, and sometimes not the desired approach. A good coach (leader) makes the most of what they have. They help people achieve more than they otherwise would. In my experience, I have gotten the most from people when they are bought into what we are trying to achieve together.
Start by going to your teams, or an individual team member, and discuss some viable objectives to pursue. Agree on the whatand why, and then discuss how that will be achieved. Discuss the starting point, the gaps, and the commitment required to fill those gaps. More importantly, agree on the accountability part of this process. This is the permission your team member gives you (and you to them) to help them stay on track with their commitments.