Why coaching, not gadgets, is key to getting the most out of employees

The dean of the Sydney Business School at the University of Wollongong explains the virtues of coaching rather than commanding. Research shows this leadership style can improve productivity, engagement and customer service.

Forget the gadgets and “lifehacks” to increase productivity, my research with Julia Milner shows that managers need to become coaches to get the best out of their employees.

Coaching means many things, from simply listening to staff, to helping them set personal goals or understand the company’s objectives. When employees understand the business goals, they can make their own decisions and not wait for someone to tell them what to do.

When employees are listened to, they feel valued and empowered. They have greater ownership and commitment to actions that they themselves have identified as necessary. As one manager in our study noted:

When you coach people rather than command people, you almost always win their hearts and minds, so loyalty, trust and confidence are built.

Our research shows manager coaching led to improvements in productivity, engagement and customer service. One manager reported that coaching led to an increase in output from 35% of the target to greater than 100% within 12 months. One organisation improved customer service by 450% within five months of introducing manager coaching.

Coaching also transformed some underachievers into star performers. For example, one employee who was described as “very lacking in self-confidence” developed enough confidence to apply for a promotion and became a highly effective manager. Coaching had helped the employee to identify solutions, by providing advice and expertise when needed.

Coaching in practice

Coaching is a conversation between two or more people to find a way forward together. The participants reflect on the current situation, agree on a goal, and identify options and actions for moving toward the goal.

In practice there are four things mangers should do during coaching:

  1. Genuinely listen to their employees, allowing time to think out loud and come up with their own ideas.
  2. Ask questions that help employees develop their thinking. If an employee identifies a problem the manager can ask what solutions they can think of.
  3. Work with employees to set goals. Create an energising dialogue to make this task more than ticking boxes.
  4. Give constructive feedback to help employees align with organisational goals and develop professionally.

Read more: Why coaching, not gadgets, is key to getting the most out of employees | The Mandarin

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