Coaching, Not Managing, Results in Real Productivity Improvements

The following is adapted from The Case for Culture.

When you hire the wrong people, you wind up chasing them throughout the day to find out why they came in late that morning, took a long lunch or whether or not they are doing their job right. You are managing them.

When you hire the right people, on the other hand, you are hiring great, already motivated people that you don’t need to manage.  The right people are motivated to show up on time and take pride in the work they do. When you have those people, you get to do the much more productive work of coaching people. Coaching is better not just for your company and employees, but you as a leader, too, because it frees you to focus on what actually matters. 

Let’s break down the difference between managing and coaching—and explore why coaching is the key to making real, long-lasting productivity improvements. 

Managing versus Coaching?

People often use “managing” and “coaching” synonymously, but there are significant differences that all leaders should keep in mind. Managing is telling people what to do; coaching helps them do it. A manager sits behind staff while raising a whip, shouting, “Mush! Mush!” A coach stands in front, looks back at the team, and says, “Follow me.” 

A great leader—a coach—cares for their employees by encouraging them to rise to their full potential and coaching them to create a better version of themselves. They give people the room to be involved in the management of the process and autonomy over their jobs and their role in the company.  They feel and become even more empowered and take ownership of the role. Great coaches help people master their work and progress to a higher level of fulfilled human needs.  

When you manage people, you corral them and try to keep them from trampling your things and making a mess; when you coach people, you help them grow. You build their skills—and, in turn, your company—while working alongside them. Coaching will help your employees and business thrive exponentially better than managing ever will. 

When you get the right, motivated professionals on your team, you get to coach them, not manage them.  Save the management for the process – and when you do have those people, get them involved with making the process better.  Empower them!

Many companies have large policy manuals.  Things like “don’t be late” fill up huge three ring binders.  The goal is to have a policy manual that simply says: Do the right thing! 

How to Be an Effective Coach

To be a good coach, you need to hire responsible people, and then give them space to do their jobs. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, instructs leaders to “hire motivated people and do your best not to demotivate them.” 

If you give good people grief every time they step away from their desks, they will become demotivated. Instead, trust them. If they arrive late to work, trust that it’s for unavoidable reasons. 

Hiring professionals, whether attorneys or mailroom staff, means you’ll have an office full of people who can handle their shit. Good people don’t need a manager to watch over their every move. They’ll stay after 5 p.m., find ways to be more efficient, or enlist help. They’ll do the right thing. 

Coaching also requires you to care for the person being coached. Caring comes first. You might have all the legal knowledge, but unless employees know you care about them, their success, and their future, they won’t want to work for you. As Brené Brown says, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

Initially, I tried to use humor and sarcasm to connect with people.  Sarcasm, from the Latin root, Sarcasmus means “to tear flesh”.  Not a great way to build connection and trust.  You must take the jokes and sarcasm out of the equation. I’m not saying you can’t have fun, but you cannot laugh at the expense of others. It’s not a matter of being soft or avoiding getting sued; it’s a question of motivating your employees. 

Do you want to pump people up? Are you trying to motivate, encourage, and make them better people? Then don’t tear them down on the other side by poking fun at them.

Coach with Appreciation

Aside from watching your jokes, you must also care for employees by openly appreciating them. This requires more than the occasional, bland “thank you” or “nice job” is simply not enough.  It doesn’t convey the deep appreciation.  

You could thank them one hundred times in a row, and it won’t make an impression. Then one day, you’ll criticize them for some small thing, and they’ll remember that comment for years. It’s human nature to disregard the positive and cling to the negative. You must be more creative in conveying your appreciation for employees, so it has a better chance of sticking.

Spend time with the team, interact on a social level.  A single holiday party and a few happy hours aren’t enough.  We have more than 50 company events each year, from weekly get together, monthly lunches, quarterly happy hours, etc.  Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup for 10 years sent 10-20 handwritten thank you cards to employees every day. Approximately, 30,000 in ten years!  This is how you build a strong team.

Putting People First

As your business grows, remember that leading isn’t about coercing people into performing better; it’s about offering the opportunity to fulfill the human need for growth and fulfillment. You can’t grow a business without growing individuals. 

A true coach turns a group of people into a team, and by coaching your employees with trust and appreciation, not only will they be willing to work hard for you, but they’ll also take a personal stake in the success of your company. 

For more advice on developing strong leadership skills, you can find The Case for Culture on Amazon.

Eric Farber is on a mission to change how law firms operate by showing lawyers the value of putting culture first. During his twenty-five years as a lawyer, Eric has lived the transformation from scarcity to abundance that becomes possible when you shift your perspective and prioritize people. As the CEO and chief legal officer of Pacific Workers’ Compensation Law Center, Eric’s focus on culture helped him build a seven-figure firm that’s gone from four people to forty in just five years, been an Inc. 5000 company twice, was named to the Bay Area 100 list of fastest-growing companies, and spent two consecutive years in the top fifty of Law Firm 500.

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