A recent article in the Harvard Business Review talks about creating a culture of unconditional love. Before your groan and roll your eyes, this doesn't mean starting every day at the office with a group hug. It's about creating an environment that binds the team together and inspires them to work passionately towards a common purpose.
And it all starts with great leadership. As the article notes, "Great leaders are great listeners, who make their employees feel valued, see the bigger picture and feel a part of something important." Employees who feel both mentally and emotionally connected to a purpose are more likely to be open to shifting their behavior to support improved performance. Ultimately, it's about creating the ideal conditions for employee growth, development and success.
How can you become a compassionate coach?
Here are five things to consider.
1. Start thinking about feedback as positive reinforcement. We intuitively know that feedback is important to development. However, we more commonly associate feedback with the negative. Sure, honest criticism is sometimes necessary but that's just a small part of the story. Positive feedback has actually been shown to support self-development. In fact, we should be aiming for a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback.
This isn't as overwhelming as it seems. We just need to turn our attention to the little things. People do things every day that are worthy of a pat on the back or a simple ‘great work putting together that proposal'. It's the culmination of many tiny wins that lead to the big victory at the end of a six-month project. Encouraging an employee at each step along the way helps keep them motivated, engaged and feeling appreciated.
2. Make feedback specific. It's one thing to tell someone they're doing a good job it's another to highlight a specific behavior you want to reinforce. That latter can be far more powerful. People don't always fully appreciate the impact of their behavior. Let them know why their actions mattered and what the result was.
For example, say one of your direct reports is the receptionist for your organization. You find out from a member of the sales team that she recently spent 15 minutes on the phone with a caller to determine what it was the caller was looking for and where best to direct the call. Turns out the caller was a prospect, and your employee's effort led to a huge sale. Your employee tells you it was no big deal; in her mind, she was simply doing her job. But explaining to your employee that her effort had an impact on the business means she now knows this, which means she's more likely to do the same thing the next time she faces a similar situation.
3. Give managers the right tools to manage performance. Performance management doesn't mean what it did in decades past. What used to be a largely administrative task of filling out forms has evolved into the practice of actually managing people. This isn't a skill that comes naturally to everyone. Often times it needs to be taught.
The good news is that it can be taught. The right training can help managers to have ongoing, meaningful performance conversations with their reports.
4. Create a two-way dialogue with employees. Feedback shouldn't just go in one direction. Managers should create a space that encourages conversation and back and forth. While you may have a view of an employee's performance, it's an incomplete picture. You'll be better served by inviting them to reflect on their performance - both their successes and areas for improvement. Try to get at why they behaved the way they did in various circumstances. This will give you a much better perspective from which to coach them towards improvement and future success.
By taking the time to listen to what your employees have to say and actually internalize it, you'll be able to build a relationship based on trust. Let them know that you are in their corner and you've got their best interests at heart. Frame your relationship as a collaborative one where you're both focused on finding the best way for the employee to succeed.
5. Be human. That's just a given, right? Think again. Often times we create an environment where perfection, which is realistically unattainable, is the expectation. This can put enormous pressure on people. It can discourage innovation and new ideas for fear of failure. And it certainly doesn't promote development.
Let employees know that it's OK to be human. Share with them the fact that you, their leader, has challenges and struggles of your own. Own up to it when you make a mistake. Rather than creating an expectation of perfection, encourage your people to be their very best. Yes, mistakes will happen and those mistakes can lead to the greatest learning opportunities.
Compassionate coaching leads to culture of engagement
As the article in the Harvard Business Review points out, compassionate coaching doesn't mean simply sitting on the sidelines as a cheerleader. You must be in touch with the emotional and psychological state of your employees and have a finger on the pulse of their progress. This equips you with the information you need to step in and redirect the ship, so to speak, when necessary.
Sometimes a strong dose of reality is necessary. But remember the 5:1 ration of positive to negative feedback. This will help you create a culture of engaged, motivated and passionate people - something money can't buy.
Your Turn: Do you have a compassionate coaching culture at your organization? What tips would you add?