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 by
Chuck Reynolds
 As originally publi
shed in HR Reporter. All rights reserved

Wanted: Managers who Coach well in Crisis

Leaders can have biggest emotional impact on employees

Never before has it been so important for managers at all levels to really engage in coaching their staff. With the economic crisis and its continuing impact on organizations, many organizations are trimming costs, including head count. The recent suicides of formerly successful financial players, such as German billionaire Adolph Merkle, serve to demonstrate the severity of concern in this economy.

It is often said that worry about a potentially adverse outcome is worse than the outcome itself. Global studies are documenting the increase of stress levels on the job. A recent UK study in collaboration with staffing firm Robert Half revealed that 45% of respondents suffered from work-related stress. Respondents also highlighted several causes including unachievable targets (33%), poor management (38%), and poor work/life balance (41%).

The questions we need to be asking now are, “what impact is this having on productivity” and, “what can managers and organizations do to coach through the impact?”

What managers must understand

To be better coaches through these times, there are a few things that managers must understand.  

First, emotions are contagious, as documented by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence.  Since people watch managers, it is indeed the “boss” who has the biggest emotional impact. Does he or she appear stressed, worried, and fearful, or energized, relaxed and confident in this economic climate? One observation often made of Barrack Obama throughout his campaign was that he appeared calm and confident in the face of opposition, and that he inspired these emotions in the electorate.

Secondly, managers must recognize how important it is for them to Coach. Before expanding on this, I’ll offer a definition of Coaching, since it often means different things to different people. Think of “coach” as it is used in the term “stage coach”. This early form of horse-drawn transportation picked people up and transported them to their desired destination. Likewise coaching, as a strategic questioning-based dialogue, assists people in getting from where they are to where they want or need to be in terms of goals and accomplishment.

5 Ways to coach effectively

So what can be done to coach staff through these challenging times? Here are 5 things that managers can do to coach more effectively:

Listen to understand: Acknowledge your staff’s concerns. Some may carry a heavy load as job demands increase along with demands at home – from busy children’s schedules, to ailing parents. Some may even be experiencing financial troubles due to the job loss of a spouse or partner.

Give affirmation: At the end of the day, organizations don’t achieve results, people do. Let them know that you’re all in the same boat, that you appreciate their efforts and are confident in their ability to work through organizational challenges.

Engage them: Ask what they think they could be doing to be more effective (i.e. supporting productivity with less stress). This represents an important start to creative/ innovative thinking. Sometimes it might be helpful to ask them to come back to you tomorrow with a list of 10-20 possible actions. Encourage them to be creative and produce a quantity of ideas that you can later look at together and evaluate for quality.

Asking which goals  and
actions employees will commit
to is important, because it
helps them focus on things within their control.

 Help them make a plan: From the list of
 possibilities, ask them which 2 or 3 of the most
 practical actions they would like to commit to. These
 could be new habits at work or beyond.  Managers
 with strong relationships and good coaching skills can
 help a staff member make some personal changes
 that translate to less stress in their lives overall, and
 consequently greater productivity at work.

I know of a manager who coached one individual through some issues of significant personal debt at the employee’s request. The manager simply asked him to consider possible options, which they evaluated together. The employee chose to sell his vehicle and rent out his basement, allowing him to retire substantial credit card debt and avoid looming bankruptcy. Was he happier and more productive at work? You bet.

Asking which goals and actions employees will commit to is important, because it helps them to focus on things that are within their control. Psychologists document that when we focus on the “external locus of control” (things beyond our control) we experience more stress and feelings of helplessness. When we focus on the “internal locus of control” (things within our control) we feel empowered and less stressed. Essentially, as a coach, you engage them as you guide them to focus on solutions (goals) vs. problems.

In some cases, some of their action goals may require you to offer support where available. For example, a slight change to some flex time to accommodate daycare drop-off in the mornings can go a long way. I also know of a manager who gave a staff member, who was a single mom, gift certificates for a home maid service during a busy quarter at work.

Think holistically: The best coaches are creative and consider the whole person.  Encourage staff to try and develop a regular exercise schedule they enjoy. From morning walks to gym visits, consistent exercise goes a long way towards reducing stress and enhancing productivity.

The next several years will be tough on organizations. Keep in mind that the best leaders cannot make a chair, computer or desk appreciate in value over time. However, a great leader can enhance the value of their people by coaching them to be more effective, engaged and productive through times of change. Organizations that develop superior coaching talent will not only survive, but thrive.


All rights reserved. Article reproduced from original publication in HR Reporter, February 9th 2009.
Chuck Reynolds is President and chief performance officer of Excel Group Development in Toronto.




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