No More a Workaholic: 5 Tips to Work Less and Still Get Ahead

Much to the detriment of our health and well-being, many societies celebrate obsessive work habits. Being a "workaholic" has become a badge of honor, one that unfortunately describes too many of today’s working people.

In 2014, Gallup reported that the average hours worked by full-time U.S. Workers was 47 hours, and 21% of respondents worked 50-59 hours, and 18% worked 60+ hours.

Since that survey was conducted, 25% of survey respondents reported working 45 – 59 hours/week, and 17% reported 60+. These figures show that half of people work over 40 hours a week.

But the number of hours worked is not necessarily an indicator of a workaholic. The term is used to refer to a negative behavioral pattern characterized by excessive time working, an inner compulsion to work hard, and a neglect of family and other social relations.

Workaholics often strain their personal relationships. If you’re married to your work, how much attention can you give your partner? Instead of quality time with family and friends, workaholics constantly obsess about business, emails, phone calls and reports carried home. They end up not getting enough caring support, recreation, exercise, good meals, and sleep.

Research shows how damaging overworking and obsessing about work is to health. Why, then, do we do it? Is there another way to get the work done, get ahead, and avoid the health risks of heart attacks, anxiety, burnout, weight gain, and cigarette and alcohol consumption?

From Workaholic to Balanced

Michael Grothhaus of FastCompany writes about Lucy Kirkness, a confessed ex-workaholic and founder of her own SEO and digital marketing consultancy, Little Digitalist. Kirkness bought into the typical fears that pervade the entrepreneur and startup worlds, including the myth that you have to work day and night just to get ahead.

Along with three other workaholics, Kirkness decided to shift priorities in order to find a way to thrive in professional life by setting work/life boundaries. Here is some advice from these ex-workaholics on how to work less and still get ahead:

  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” to clients
  • Trust that taking time to switch off completely will ultimately benefit you
  • Talk to your friends and family about your feelings regarding work
  • Learn to delegate tasks to others

When the Boss Asks You…

Here is another example. Let’s say that you’re already doing the work of two – or more – employees. What do you do when your supervisor starts to ask, "Oh, just one more thing…"?

Robert DiGiacomo of suggests five ways to cope with the extra items on your list, without losing your cool or sense of well-being. 

  1. Ask the Right Questions

    Even if your work plate is full already, you want to avoid saying "no" when the boss approaches you with additional duties. Instead, engage in a dialogue about the specifics of the situation, asking questions about how long the new assignment will be and what is expected. Ask which of your other responsibilities should be assigned a lower priority because of the new task. 

  2. Prioritize and Organize

    Once you understand the scope of your expanded job description, ask the boss to help prioritize what must get done on a daily basis – and which projects can be deferred – and organize accordingly.

  3. Be Your Own Publicist

    Be sure to speak up as you identify ways to streamline your department’s practices or improve the overall efficiency of operations. Do not be shy about how your contributions save time or money.

  4. Learn from Experiences

    Share what you’ve learned taking on a new task or assignment. Ask for training if certain skills or a specialized certification can ease your ability to complete unfamiliar assignments, thereby demonstrating your commitment. The new skill set will help with job security if there is a round of job cuts.

  5. Take a Break

    As you find yourself logging more hours, you need to take more – not fewer – breaks. Every 90 minutes or so, you should at least get up from your desk and stretch. Or better yet, take a 10-minute walk or grab coffee with a friend.

Ultimately, it is up to you to learn how to cope. You will be challenged to set boundaries, but nothing is more important if you want a career where you can grow and thrive. This is a key reason many people hire a coach as a guide to find the balance that is just right for their goals and purpose. What about you?

“Some people live where they work. Others just visit.”  ~ Seanan McGuire, author

The Changing Face of Employee Engagement: 7 Trends

With so many organizations focusing on engaging their employees, why aren’t engagement levels across the world increasing? According to Gallup’s January 2016 article, The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis, with low engagement in the workforce, there are serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy.

According to Gallup’s latest poll, employee engagement has been pretty stagnant. Only 32% of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2015, compared to 31.5% the previous year.

Defining Employee Engagement

Wikipedia defines an “engaged employee” as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about his/her work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.

An organization with “high” employee engagement might therefore be expected to outperform those with “low” employee engagement, all else being equal. However, there isn’t always a shared meaning of what engagement means, nor is there a universally understood method of developing it.

In The Best of Gallup Management Journal 2001-2007, Jerry Krueger and Emily Killham describe three types of employees:

  • Engaged employees work with passion, and they feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
  • Not-Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time—but not energy or passion—into their work.
  • Actively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

David Mizne of defines employee engagement as “proactively and passionately adding value while aligning with the company mission.” In his opinion, this can be hard to quantify. “An engaged employee wears it on their face, demonstrates it in their work and in their workplace communication.”

Mizne feels that the exact definition of employee engagement remains elusive, and becomes even more problematic when one considers Gallup’s seemingly ambiguous subcategories (above) of “not engaged” and “actively disengaged.” He prefers to define employee engagement as “proactively and passionately adding value while aligning with the company mission.”

Companies and leaders worldwide certainly recognize the advantages of engaging employees, and many have instituted surveys to measure engagement. Yet, employee engagement has barely budged in well over a decade.

Faulty Engagement Surveys

Gallup sees a clear divide emerging within the engagement industry. On one end of the spectrum are scientifically and experientially validated approaches that lead to changes in individual and business performance, supported by strategic and tactical development and performance solutions that transform organizational cultures. These approaches require more intention and investment, and companies that use them are more likely to see increases in employee engagement.

At the other end of the spectrum are invalidated, unfocused annual surveys. Much like a traditional employee satisfaction survey, this type of survey usually measures a multitude of workplace dimensions that often have limited alignment with other business objectives and can be difficult to take action upon after receiving results.

Technology also makes it easy to create an “employee survey” and call it an engagement program, which allows a company to fulfill an apparent organizational need and “check a box.” But metrics on their own don’t drive change or increase performance. Many of these survey-only approaches measure employee perceptions and provide metrics instead of improving workplaces and business outcomes.

According to Gallup, when companies focus exclusively on measuring engagement rather than on improving engagement, they often fail to make necessary changes that will engage employees or meet employees’ workplace needs. These shortcomings include:

  • Viewing engagement as a survey or program instead of as an ongoing, disciplined method to achieve higher performance.
  • Focusing more heavily on survey data or reports than on developing managers and employees.
  • Defining engagement as a percentage of employees who are not dissatisfied or are merely content with their employer instead of a state of strong employee involvement, commitment and enthusiasm.
  • Relying on measures that tell leaders and managers what they want to hear—“We’re doing great!”— rather than research-based metrics that set a high bar and uncover organizational or management problems that are hindering engagement and performance.
  • “Feeding the bears,” or measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels and catering to their wants, instead of treating employees as stakeholders of their future and their company’s future.

7 Future Trends in Engagement

In his blog, 7 Fascinating Employee Engagement Trends for 2016, Mizne lists the following engagement trends for the coming year, and writes about how to create a more engaged workforce:

  1. Engagement will go up (but just a little).

    According to Gallup’s latest poll, employee engagement has been pretty stagnant. Only 32% of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2015, compared to 31.5% the previous year. Given the other trends below, and the fact that engagement has risen from 29% in 2011, we can expect to see the needle move in 2016. But probably not more than a point or two.

  2. Millennials will (still) provide a challenge.

    In 2015, millennials became the largest generation in the US workforce. That number is expected to rise dramatically as more boomers retire and more graduates start their careers.

    Whatever the specific number, Millenials are now the majority. Businesses seeking to engage employees in their work will now have to tailor their approaches to this younger group. Research suggests that they are driven by open communication, a great company culture, involvement with causes, and achieving purpose and fulfillment.

  3. More compassionate leadership.

    People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. It turns out that the opposite is also true. An inspiring manager creates more engaged teams. According to research by leadership development experts Dr. Brad Shuck and Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott, “higher levels of engagement come from employees who work for a compassionate leader—one who is authentic, present, has a sense of dignity, holds others accountable, leads with integrity and shows empathy.”

  4. More employee feedback more often.

    In 2014, Mizne conducted an employee engagement study and found that the vast majority of employees who received little or no feedback were actively disengaged. Engagement went up dramatically when employees received feedback about their weaknesses, and even more so when they received feedback about strengths.

  5. Work/Life Balance will become Work/Life Blend.

    The Society for Human Resource Management found that the best companies are embracing flexibility. For many job functions, it is no longer a necessity to require people to come into the office between 9am and 5pm. More companies will continue to provide job flex-time as long as the numbers prove it’s working.

  6. People analytics will grow.

    In his article The Two Sides of Employee Engagement, published in Harvard Business Review last month, Sean Graber argues that it’s important to look at employees’ perceptions and behaviors and their impact on performance. Managers can then decide how to shift things to increase engagement.

    Josh Bersin writes in The Geeks Arrive In HR: People Analytics Is Here, about the shift towards “big data in HR” which began in 2011 and exploded rapidly. He predicts that people analytics will be its own department that will look at productivity, turnover, and the people-issues that drive customer retention and satisfaction.

  7. Technology will focus on the employee.

    One of the biggest trends we are seeing is the arrival of a “new breed of pulse tools, feedback apps, and anonymous social networking tools.” These advanced methods for having regular check-ins with employees to understand where they are being challenged will eventually replace annual performance reviews.

Hope for the Future

In 2016, leadership has more tools at its disposal to predict and improve employee engagement. Perhaps in 2017, Gallup’s survey will report a positive radical shift in how people show up to work.

  • Jiordin Castle of Appirio writes that, in May of 2015, Fortune reported that a record 86% of employees were happy with their jobs — the highest percentage in over a decade.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management reported that employees felt respected, trusted senior management, got along with their bosses, and felt motivated at work.
  • But in a survey by that reported similar positive findings, 73% of employees polled also said that they were “thinking about another job”; 43% even said they were more likely to consider a new job than they were a year earlier.

Castle writes, “While there are several factors for the uptick in employee happiness and attrition, the following predictions about the year ahead shed light on 3 things: What employees want, why they leave, and what you can do to get them to stick around.” These predictions include:

  • Employee engagement will become a key HR objective.
  • Gamification will drive corporate goals and planning (at its core, gamification is the use of gaming components to accelerate learning).
  • The despised annual performance review will finally die.
  • Peer-to-peer recognition will increase.
  • A new attrition risk will emerge: low-commitment employees.

Gallup writers Annamarie Mann and Jim Harter sum up the employee engagement crises with this thought:

“Creating a culture of engagement requires more than completing an annual employee survey and then leaving managers on their own, hoping they will learn something from the survey results that will change their daily behavior. It requires a company to take a close look at the critical engagement elements that align with performance and with the organization’s human capital strategy. Managers and leaders should keep employee engagement top of mind — because every interaction with employees can have an impact on engagement and organizational performance.”

Overall, studies have shown that in just about every business, the more attention given to employee engagement and employee well-being, the better the business performance.

“Business is more about emotions than most businesspeople care to admit.”
~ Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D, Nobel Prize Laureate and Behavioral Economist

A Coaching Conversation Checklist for Smart Managers

In spite of wide-spread coach training, most of the time managers aren’t using coaching skills to grow and develop their people. Instead, many managers still believe in their role as a problem solver, cutting short conversations with employees by providing solutions, advice, and answers.

Yet managers with a coaching style usually find that their employees are more committed, willing to put in greater effort, and are less likely to leave.

“Clearly, the benefits of building a coaching culture and increasing the effectiveness of coaching are great. There are both tangible benefits (increased employee engagement and productivity) and intangible benefits (improved culture and finding meaning and purpose in work).”
~ John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett, The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow, McGraw-Hill, 2010

In spite of learning coaching skills, many managers struggle to have effective coaching conversations that lead to insights and change. A checklist for coaching conversations can help.

Zenger and Stinnett suggest using the FUEL model in The Extraordinary Coach:

  • F = Frame the Conversation. Set the context by agreeing on the discussion’s purpose, process, and desired outcome.
  • U = Understand the Current State. Explore the current state from the coachee’s point of view. Expand the coachee’s awareness of the situation to determine the real coaching issue.
  • E = Explore the Desired State. Help the coachee to articulate a vision of success in this scenario. Explore multiple alternative paths before prioritizing methods of achieving this vision.
  • L = Lay Out a Success Plan. Identify the specific, time-bounded action steps to be taken to achieve the desired results. Determine milestones for follow-up and accountability.

Step 1: Frame the Coaching Conversation

It’s not always that managers don’t know how to coach; it’s that conversations with employees often turn into project task updates instead of furthering their growth and development.

In spite of good intentions, managers don’t use a checklist to remind them how to set up a coaching dialogue. From the book by Zenger and Stinnett, The Extraordinary Coach, there are three steps that work well for initiating a developmental dialogue.

  1. Identify the behavior or issue to discuss. “I’d like to talk about [the issue]…”
  2. Determine the purpose or outcomes of the conversation. “By the end of this conversation, I would like to accomplish…” “What else would you like to make sure that we address?”
  3. Agree on the process for the conversation. “Here’s how I thought we could proceed…” “How does that sound?”

This sounds almost too simple to bother with, but without it, employees aren’t clear about what the issues are and how they can use them to grow and develop. Whether the manager or the coachee initiates the conversation and brings up the topic isn’t as important as setting up the conversation and clarifying what’s going to be discussed, what outcomes are intended, and how the conversation will proceed. These three steps will save the manager from needing to have the same conversation twice.

Step 2: Understanding Leads to Insights

The next step in a coaching conversation is to address the “meat” of the issue. Managers need to understand what’s going on. This part can be tricky because of our natural tendency to assume we understand what the issues are. We fill in the blanks and automatically judge–usually prematurely.

Instead, a manager needs to listen well and encourage the coachee to talk. Explore what the real challenge is for her. Be curious about what is said or merely implied. Follow emotional cues.

Here are some great pointers from the Zenger and Stinnett book.


  • Ask open-ended, non-leading questions
  • Act as a mirror, observe, and say what you hear and see
  • Follow up on emotionally charged words or expressions
  • Explore what the real issue or challenge is
  • Discuss consequences in the event things don’t change


  • Assume anything
  • Judge, criticize, or categorize
  • Ask for too many details or focus on other people
  • Let the person obsess or ruminate; rather let her explore possibilities
  • Offer your perspective or advice until the person has explored options
  • Find an answer for the person; let him discover insight and awareness

People won’t change until they experience a need to change, and if a manager is too helpful, the coachee won’t feel enough tension to be motivated to change. Keep the focus on them and what they need—and are willing–to do differently.

Step 3: Explore Desired Outcomes

Typically in most companies, managers are excellent problem-fixers and advice-givers. They want to jump in at Step 3. Many tend to skip over Steps 1 and 2, because managers have a bias for action. They may be more comfortable when they solve a problem quickly and influence action from others.

But that is a big trap. Instead of pouncing on the first viable solution, it’s worthwhile to explore alternatives. Managers can show their people how to think things through so that the right target becomes the objective. It’s important to let the coachee do most of the talking to find what matters most to her. If the employee’s vision is too small, the manager can help her explore broader objectives.

Here are some tips on this part of the coaching conversation:

  • Don’t rush into problem solving; create the ideal vision and generate more alternatives for achieving that vision.
  • Resist the tendency to go with the first option.
  • As the manager, you can negotiate and influence what the measures of success must include.
  • If the coachee comes up with at least three alternatives to consider, the coachee will end up with a more robust and effective solution.
  • If the coachee gets stuck, offer to become a brainstorming partner.
  • Explore possible barriers and look for alternatives.

Step 4: Lay Out a Success Plan

This is the home stretch in a coaching conversation and, like the previous steps, should not be rushed or skimmed over. Presumably, by now you have outlined the desired vision of success as well as several alternatives for getting there. You’ve prioritized the options that will work best. Now you are ready to dive into the specific detailed action steps with a follow-up plan.

The role of the manager is critical here, as a guide. You help the coachee identify the specific actions to be taken. You help the coachee enlist the support of others. You need to hear the coachee articulate exactly how he or she will proceed to increase the likelihood that it will happen. Also, you help the coachee commit to timelines for important milestones.

By assigning accountability, you will help your coachee change faster than without it. Even if 85 percent of coachees complete their assignments on the day or morning before their next coaching meeting, it is still effective.

Here are the three sub steps of this final coaching conversation:

  • Develop and agree on an action plan with timelines.
  • Enlist support from others.
  • Set milestones for follow-up and accountability.

The key role of the manager is to ask for details, clarity, and commitment. This is how managers add value to the coaching conversation. Accountability works, and it works better when there is consistent follow-up.

Managers Also Ask for Feedback

Research suggests that when the coachee can provide feedback to the manager on the value of the session, the quality and relevance of the session is significantly increased. But few managers remember to ask for feedback. One possible way to conclude a coaching conversation would be like this:

“On a scale of one to five, how valuable was this conversation with regard to providing relevant help for you?”  

Why Bother with Coaching Conversations?

Without going in to all the statistical ROI studies on the benefits of coaching, let’s look at the benefits of coaching as a managerial style. Why bother with coaching conversations?

  1. Coaching gives new meaning to work. When people feel that they are engaged in a useful cause and not merely performing menial tasks, they have more energy and motivation and will go beyond minimal requirements. Coaching provides managers opportunities to link each person’s job to the overall mission of the business.
  2. Coaching leads to more engaged and committed employees. Managerial coaching shows strong evidence of boosting engagement.
  3. Higher productivity outcomes. Coaching refocuses people on the most important objectives and lets them know that their manager is paying attention to them. Peter Drucker hypothesized that if an organization could increase productivity by only ten percent, profits would double. The bottom-line impact of coaching is hard to ignore.
  4. Coaching leads to a stronger culture. An organization’s culture has a big impact on performance and productivity. Leaders influence culture by the example they set and the behavior they reward or curb in their daily conversations with people.
  5. Coaching strengthens relationships between supervisor and employee. When managers coach, they are expressing their personal commitment to the development of an employee.
  6. Coaching promotes healthier individuals. When leaders take the time to coach someone, they contribute to that person’s self-esteem and confidence.
  7. Resilience. Coaching encourages resilience for when problems arise and mistakes are made. Managers can help people learn to think for themselves, create their own energy, and meet challenges without the need for micromanaging.
  8. Heightened creativity and innovative thinking. Coaching is a mutual exploration of better ways to approach challenging situations, thus encouraging people to have their own ideas.
  9. Increased risk taking and exploring.  Coaching encourages people to pursue projects and provides a safety net and support.
  10. Mindset of an owner instead of a hired hand. Coaching helps people take responsibility and ownership of problems and solutions.

The Coaching Conversation Checklist

There is a strong case for using a checklist to ensure success in many professions. Airline pilots have used them for years. Surgeons are now using them to lower rates of infection and death, thus saving millions in hospital expenses.

Having a guide to follow reduces stress and uncertainty. It also increases a manager’s confidence that nothing important will be forgotten. Smart managers use a coaching conversation checklist to see breakthrough results.

Face the Coaching FACTS

I’ve been writing about why more managers don’t use coaching skills to guide and develop their people. When managers don’t have clear framework for initiating coaching conversations, they revert to managing in more traditional ways, without coaching. Here is another framework and some powerful questions that work for coaching.

People enjoy receiving their managers’ support, yet they also want to be challenged, note John Blakey and Ian Day in Challenging Coaching: Going Beyond Traditional Coaching to Face the FACTS (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2012).

Blakey and Day developed the FACTS coaching model from frontline observations:

  • F = Feedback: How can coaches provide challenging feedback that informs and inspires? How can we ensure that praise and recognition for a job well done are balanced with honest feedback on mistakes, learning and failures?
  • A = Accountability: How does a coach hold people accountable for commitments without blame or shame? How can accountability be extended from personal commitments to alignment with the values, strategy and ethos of the wider organization?
  • C = Courageous Goals: How does a coach move beyond incremental goal-setting models to those that engage the right-brain attributes of courage, excitement, inspiration and transformation? Which models and concepts help structure coaching conversations and provide a practical road map?
  • T = Tension: When is tension constructive? How can coaches practice creating and holding tension without risking burnout in key performers? How can the tension in a conversation be calibrated and dynamically adjusted to ensure peak performance? When does tension go too far and damage the underlying relationships?
  • S = Systems Thinking: How can a coach stay sensitive to “big-picture” issues like ethics, diversity and the environment without losing focus on bottom-line results? What can be learned from the world of systems thinking that enables the coach to be a positive agent of change for the wider organization? What is the role of intuition in guiding interventions that reach beyond the immediate coachee and touch on deeper organizational change?

The FACTS approach requires you to master core coaching skills (intent listening, asking vital questions). You must also achieve a firm foundation of trust and respect with your employees. The FACTS approach is a launch pad for high performance and change.

Powerful Questions

Managers who avoid coaching often struggle with initiating coaching conversations. In the absence of deep, hour-long coaching sessions, you can use key questions to realize change and growth.

Michael Bungay Stanier shares seven core questions to open coaching conversations in The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever (Box of Crayons Press, 2016):

  • What’s on your mind?
  • What else?
  • What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • What do you want?
  • How can I help?
  • If you’re saying “yes” to this, to what are you saying “no”?
  • What was most useful for you?

Managers who effectively use their coaching skills will boost team performance and foster employee growth and development. You can achieve stellar results if you lose your fear of initiating coaching conversations. With a simple coaching framework and powerful questions, you’ll enjoy coaching conversations that are short, simple and provocative.

What do you think about using coaching conversations for managing? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Key Frameworks for Coaching Conversations

I’ve been writing about why more managers don’t use coaching skills to guide and develop their people. Some managers don’t have clear framework for initiating coaching conversations. Here are two popular models that are easy to follow.

GROW Model

One of the original coaching frameworks is the GROW model, created by Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore:



The Goal is where the client wants to be. It must be clearly defined so people know when they’ve achieved it.



The Current Reality is where the client is now. What are the issues and challenges? How far away is Goal achievement?



What Obstacles are stopping the client from reaching the Goal?


Once Obstacles are identified, the client finds Options to deal with them and make progress.


Way Forward

The Options are converted into the Way Forward—action steps that map the way to reach the Goal.

FUEL Coaching Conversations

Zenger and Stinnett suggest using the FUEL model in The Extraordinary Coach:

  • F = Frame the Conversation. Set the context by agreeing on the discussion’s purpose, process and desired outcomes.
  • U = Understand the Current State. Explore the current state from the coachee’s point of view. Expand the coachee’s awareness of the situation to determine the real coaching issue.
  • E = Explore the Desired State. Articulate your vision of success in this scenario. Explore multiple alternative paths before prioritizing methods of achieving this vision.
  • L = Lay Out a Success Plan. Identify the specific, time-bounded action steps to be taken to achieve the desired results. Determine milestones for follow-up and accountability.

If you’ve had training in coaching skills, what framework did you learn? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Even More on Why Managers Don’t Use Coaching Skills

Even though most managers get trained in coaching skills, the majority aren’t having coaching conversations that expand awareness, thinking and capability in the people they lead. Why don’t more managers coach?

According to John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010), three common barriers stand in the way:

  1. Misconceptions of what coaching is
  2. A desire to avoid difficult conversations
  3. No clear game plan for initiating and framing coaching conversations

I discussed the first reason, misconceptions of coaching in my previous post here. Let’s discuss the next barriers.

A Desire to Avoid Difficult Conversations

Coaching conversations require time and energy, but they’re the only way to gain trust, honesty and transparency. If you’re unwilling to invest the required time and effort, coaching will inevitably fail. Both parties must be committed to creating a positive relationship.

Managers must be fully present during coaching conversations, which means turning off phones and email alerts during sessions. Keep any promises you make, and be sure to emphasize that you’ll maintain confidentiality.

No Game Plan for Coaching Conversations

Even after training, many managers have trouble initiating coaching conversations, let alone developing a process that expedites desired results.

Many models exist, but the best are short, simple and easy to employ whenever coaching opportunities arise. Coaching needn’t be scheduled as 50-minute sessions. With a solid framework, you can achieve results in as little as 10 minutes.

There are many models to follow, most with easy-to-remember frameworks such as the GROW model, the FUEL model, and the FACTS system. There is no shortage of books and experts who claim their system works best. The key is to learn a process and stick to it so that coaching conversations become natural and productive.

All coaching models proceed from setting the stage, defining desired outcomes, exploring alternatives and barriers, deciding an action plan and setting milestones for feedback and accountability.

Coaching works best when the relationship is grounded in trust and respect, and it can’t work without that foundation. It proceeds with the coach asking the powerful questions and requires deep listening. No matter which coach training model is used, attention to the relationship is foundational.

In the next post I’ll provide some effective frameworks for having coaching conversations that work. Until then, I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Why Managers Don’t use Coaching Skills

In spite of a lot of coach skills training for managers, not many are actually initiating coaching conversations with people. There are some misconceptions and barriers that stop them, from what I’ve observed in my work.

According to John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010), managers usually cite lack of time as the main excuse for failing to coach employees, but the real reasons may be different.

Misconceptions of What Coaching Is

Some managers are not clear what they’re supposed to do when they coach. Skilled managers initiate coaching conversations so their people can explore what they do and how they do it. Coaching expands employee awareness, uncovers better solutions, and allows employees to make and implement sound decisions.

Coaching provides a safe platform for growth. Successful managers consciously choose growth as a priority outcome. They understand that developing people is as important as getting things done.

Coaching isn’t instructing, mentoring, counseling, cheerleading, therapy or directing, although there are some similarities. Coaching skills include:

  • Clarifying an interaction’s outcome and agreeing to a conversation’s goal
  • Listening to what is—and isn’t—said
  • Asking non-leading questions to expand awareness
  • Exploring possibilities, consequences, actions and decisions
  • Eliciting a desired future state
  • Establishing goals and expectations, including stretch goals
  • Providing support
  • Following up on progress
  • Setting accountability agreements

Managers must be non-directive, listen intently and ask the right questions. Coach training emphasizes supporting people, with an eye toward challenging them.

As a manager, you’re tasked with bringing out the best in people, including high performance and bottom-line results. When you take up the coaching baton, performance goals must share the stage with employee growth and development.

Many managers struggle to balance direction and support. They’re usually afraid of making mistakes, so they revert to telling employees what to do instead of coaching them.

Does that happen where you work? I’d love to hear your experiences. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Beyond SMART Goals: How to Build Better Results

Just about everyone has used some version of SMART goals. This is a mnemonic acronym for setting goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

Using the SMART system makes it easier to stay on track and accomplish key success factors. There are a couple of variants; the idea is that setting specific objectives along with details for completion ensures that goals are realistic, measurable, and achievable within a required time frame.

But there are problems with using the SMART goal-setting system. When do SMART goals fail? When people rush toward decisions simply because they have a high need for closure, missteps are more likely to happen.

In the rush to check a goal off a list, some personalities make mistakes such as denying, misinterpreting, or suppressing information that is inconsistent with the requirements for a task. When overly focused on feeling productive, one can become blind to details that should give pause.

To many people, it can feel so good to achieve a goal that they are unwilling to sacrifice the pleasure of satisfaction even when it is clearly a mistake. They will ignore indications that the outcome may not contribute to desired results.

Personalities and the Need for Closure

Researchers at the University of Maryland published a test in 1994 designed to measure a personality trait known as "the need for cognitive closure." People with a high degree of this trait have a strong desire for a confident judgment on an issue– any confident judgment– as compared to feeling confusion and ambiguity.

Most people have a mixed need for personal organization, decisiveness, and predictability. About 20 percent of people score high on this personality trait measure. While personal organization and self-discipline are seen as qualities of leadership, a rush to achieve completion on a goal can override common sense. SMART goals work well because they are specific, time-bound, and give structure toward end results. But for some, goal achievement itself can cause people to lose sight of the right outcomes.

How Did Goals Evolve?

SMART criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker’s management by objectives concept. The first-known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran (Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” Management Review (AMA FORUM) 70 (11): 35–36.)

A pair of university psychologists, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, helped develop the SMART criteria through field experiments. Goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990, 2002) was developed within organizational psychology over a 25-year period, based on some 400 laboratory and field studies.

These studies showed that specific, high (hard) goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to ”do your best.” So long as a person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability to attain it, and does not have conflicting goals, there is a positive, linear relationship between goal difficulty and task performance.

When SMART Goals Get Stupid

The SMART system forces people to translate vague aspirations into concrete plans. Former GE CEO Jack Welch claims that his insistence on SMART goals was one of the reasons the company’s stock more than tripled in eight years. Yet some divisions never seemed to excel and would have irregular results.

The problem is one of human nature: it is so satisfying to complete goals that people will write down trivial goals that are easily accomplished. People become obsessed with achievable but inconsequential goals, and focus on unimportant short-term objectives rather than more ambitious plans.

Leadership IQ, a training and research company, studied 4,182 employees from 397 companies and found that just 15 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that their goals would help them achieve great things. Only 13 percent of workers strongly agreed that their goals would help them maximize their full potential.

The SMART Solution: Stretch Goals

How can you shake yourself out of a focus on short-term objectives? The answer is to innovate and grow by including stretch goals using SMART criteria. Simply focusing on SMART criteria won’t help you live up to your highest potential.

Stretch goals use dreams and ambitions to set career targets. In order for this process to be productive, the goal has to be really big with no real idea of how to get it accomplished. If you do know how to get it done, then it’s not really a stretch target.

Numerous studies have found that committing to ambitious, seemingly-out-of-reach targets can stimulate incredible results in innovation and productivity. A parallel concept is called “big, hairy audacious goals,” or BHAGS, proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

“A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”
~Collins and Porras, Built to Last

Get smart about goals. Use the SMART criteria and include a stretch goal to grow into your potential. Use your coach to help you build better results.

The Manager-Fixer vs. the Manager-Coach

I’ve been thinking about why more managers don’t use coaching skills to grow their people. While most have had coach training, I’ve observed that coaching conversations are the exception not the rule.

After coach training, once back in the office, managers revert to instructions, advice-giving, and explaining instead of asking questions to encourage people to think things through. Many managers are great problem-fixers instead of coaches.

Despite good intentions, the manager-fixer creates numerous problems:

  1. Quick fixes don’t teach people to think for themselves. When managers explain what needs to be done, some learning may occur, but it isn’t necessarily retained. Employee engagement is minimal.
  2. When work is challenging, employees will look to their managers for a quick and easy fix. They’re denied any sense of ownership or autonomy. When people aren’t fully engaged or empowered, their job satisfaction significantly decreases.
  3. This leads to a third problem: Managers who fix problems encourage dependency, thereby creating additional work for themselves. Being the hero who comes to the rescue may boost your ego, but you’ll become increasingly overwhelmed with work and ultimately create a bottleneck.

The Manager-Coach

Strangely, at most companies, coaching isn’t part of what managers are formally expected to do. Even though research makes it clear that employees and job candidates alike value learning and career development above most other aspects of a job, many managers don’t see it as an important part of their role.

~ Monique Valcour, “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach” (Harvard Business Review, July 2014)

Many managers believe they lack the necessary time for coaching conversations. Yet, 70% of employee learning and development happens on the job, not through formal training. If line managers are unsupportive or uninvolved, employee growth, engagement and retention are stunted.

What happens where you work? Are managers there to fix things or to coach? I’d love to hear your experiences. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

A Need for Managers with Coaching Skills?

Managers who effectively harness coaching skills reap multiple benefits. Their employees are more committed, willing to put in greater effort and are less likely to leave.

Coaching skills have a huge impact and significantly affect people and profits within organizations committed to training managers to use coaching to guide performance and develop employees.

Most managers have had some training in coaching people for high performance. Ten years ago, 73% of managers received some form of training, according to BlessingWhite, a global leadership-development firm. But the firm’s 2015 report reveals that employees who receive regular feedback through coaching conversations are in the minority.

Why Don’t More Managers Coach?

Managers usually cite lack of time as the main excuse for failing to coach employees, but the real reasons may be different, note John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010).

Three common barriers stand in the way:

  1. Misconceptions of what coaching is
  2. A desire to avoid difficult conversations
  3. No clear game plan for initiating and framing coaching conversations

The problem is, once managers return to the office after training, many revert to old habits. Instead of taking time to ask questions and find solutions, they find it easier to explain and provide instructions. Finding a quick fix and moving on is their default response.

I’ve seen this happen in the organizations where I consult. In spite of training in coaching skills, managers don’t really use them like they are designed. Task updates are not really coaching conversations, even though many one-on-one conversations may focus on project status updates.

Think about it. If you define a coaching conversation as one that expands an employee’s awareness, thinking, and capability, then task updates that don’t do that aren’t coaching conversations.

Let me ask you this: as a manager, how often are you focusing on expanding awareness, thinking and capability when you have conversations with your people? What about your conversations with your own boss? Are you having good coaching conversations?

As always, I’d love to hear your perspectives. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.