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Perfect Phrases for Coaching Employee Performance
Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Building Employee Engagement and Creating Star Performers
By Laura Poole
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013 McGraw-Hill Education
All rights reserved.
Employee engagement is a hot phrase in the business and management world. An engaged employee is one who is excited and visibly involved in the work of the organization, beyond just putting in enough hours to get a paycheck. When workers are engaged, they commit to and seek to further the company's mission. Engaged workers are far more productive; research has found that companies with highly engaged employees more than doubled revenues compared with less engaged companies.
Creating an atmosphere for highly engaged employees is heavily influenced by their experiences when they are first hired. New employees are frequently excited about their new opportunities, and you can leverage this excitement to foster true engagement by aligning what matters most to the organization with what matters to the employees. Ideally, they know about the companys' missions or visions from their own research and hiring interviews. Once they are officially on board, you have an opportunity to make it truly personal and cement engagement right from the start.
Connecting to the Big Picture
It's a new employee's very first day in your department. She arrives on time and is sitting comfortably in your office, ready for her orientation. You start with a little chitchat to set her at ease, then you get down to business. You begin by explaining some of the bigger picture of the company as a whole, eventually getting to how the new employee will be contributing.
* At this company, our mission is [state mission].... That is our purpose for being here!
* To do that, we [state what you produce or provide]....
* In this department, we contribute by [clarify what your team does]....
* Our tasks are mission-critical because ... [identify what we do, how it impacts clients and customers, and why it matters].
* In your role here, you will be [state purpose of this job position, expectations]....
* Being productive and successful in your role enables you to be rewarded and recognized [list potential rewards].
* We also hope you'll feel personal satisfaction in how you contribute to our mission.
For a conversational example, imagine that you are a manager in an insurance company. You are describing these big-picture concepts to your newest team member. You say, Here at Big Life, our mission is to create and enhance our customers' financial security. We do this by providing a variety of life insurance, investment, and planning resources. The Communications Department is responsible for making sure our customers understand our printed and online materials, so we help educate the public on what we offer. In your job as our new Web editor, you will be helping us maintain a high quality of online materials so that we can help those who need us. Successfully doing so positions you nicely for bonuses, raises, and promotions, and can be very satisfying knowing you've made a difference for our customers and the team."
In just a few sentences, you have connected a single person's effort to the broader mission of the company—something that can be highly motivating, especially for a worker coming in at an entry-level position.
You can then follow up by adding more pertinent information.
* Our core values are [list values] ...
* We pride ourselves on ...
* We commit to ...
* We encourage and reward [certain behaviors] ...
* We value our employees, and we're excited to have you on board.
Encouraging Personal Connection
This is a critical step in creating an environment for strong employee engagement right from the beginning. It's not enough to just deliver the corporate message to people and hope they receive it. You need to help them actively connect it to their own goals and values. You can get more personal and ask some open-ended questions. Some of these will sound like interviewing questions (and they might well have been used in the hiring process), but they serve an important purpose here. The idea is to elicit worker commitment and engagement by letting them voice what matters most to them in their own words.
* What attracted you about our company when you applied for this position?
* What appeals to you about working for this company?
* What are you excited about?
* How do you see yourself contributing to our mission? Why is that important to you and your career goals?
A critical step here is to acknowledge that you have truly heard what the person has shared with you. You need to "replay" it back, perhaps paraphrasing a bit, to show him that you listened. This often-skipped step validates the new employee's beliefs and values and makes them feel respected.
* I can see how your professional goals [be specific] fit in with our mission! I see it as a good match, and I hope you do, too.
* We're excited to have you here, and I look forward to working with you as you grow in this role and this company.
A large part of coaching (and managing) is direct, honest communication. Be very clear with your new employees about what is expected of them. They need to know up front (and probably be reminded) about the company's goals for their jobs and performances.
* You will have an onboarding period [length of time]. During that time, you will be trained and brought up to speed.
* At the end of your training, we expect you to be able to....
* At the end of your onboarding period, we expect....
* We will have a meeting at the end of your training to discuss how it went, where you are, and what's next.
* We know you will be learning a whole lot in a short time. We don't expect you to be perfect right away.
* We have various training materials for you [a video, tutorials, written manuals, peer demonstrations, workshops, etc.].
Learning about Them
To work with someone effectively—especially to coach their performance—you need to know about that person. What makes him tick? How does she work most effectively? How does your team like to be managed? What are their goals and strengths, and how can you leverage that information to help them improve and grow? (If you were directly involved in the hiring process and interviewed people before making the hiring decision, you might already know some of the answers to the questions I present here.)
Learning Your Employees' Goals
Knowing an individual employee's personal and professional goals is a valuable tool when managing him. If you know what someone hopes to accomplish, you can help him make the connection between work tasks and personal achievements. When you can connect them with the means and resources to meet his goals, he can become not only engaged but excited, committed, and loyal.
* What are you passionate about? Or, What matters most to you?
* What are your long-term career goals? What are your personal goals?
* What do you want to achieve in this position?
* What skills do you want to pick up or improve on?
* What do you want to learn?
* Beyond learning the ropes and getting up to speed, what are some of your short- term goals?
* How can I support you in achieving your goals?
Be sure to take notes about the person's responses; you might well revisit these questions and ask him again at performance reviews and other check-ins.
Determining Employee Strengths
We all have our strengths (and weaknesses). A strength is something that you naturally do well—it just flows. Knowing the strengths your employees have is very valuable, because you can help them put those strengths to work—very satisfying for your workers. This also becomes useful for putting together a well-rounded, functional team (see Part Three, Perfect Phrases for Caoching Teams). A weakness is, obviously, something that a person doesn't do very well, for whatever reason—it just doesn't come naturally. Sometimes, a weakness is a strength taken to an extreme, such as an excellent communicator who tends to gossip or dominate a conversation.
* What are some of your strengths?
* What are some of your skills?
* How do you like to put your strengths and skills to work?
* What kinds of tasks come easily for you? What do you enjoy doing?
* When you're at your best, what are you doing?
* What are some of your weaknesses?
* How do you cope with your weaknesses?
* How can I support you in being your best?
* If you could pick one area to focus on for improvement, what would it be?
There are many professional assessments available for determining strengths, talents, and abilities. Consider using these tools with your employees as a way of getting to the core of what comes naturally for them. It's one thing to say something is a strength, it's another thing entirely to actually put it to use appropriately.
Learning about Working Style
Everyone has a slightly different working style. Some are extremely focused and productive for parts of the day and less effective at other times. Some work steadily and get things done at a reasonable pace. Some folks are quite sociable, others seem more withdrawn. Some panic at small setbacks, whereas others might soldier through to a solution. You can improve employee performance by respecting each person's working style as much as you can.
* What motivates you?
* How do you like to work?
* What is your most productive time of day?
* How do you like to structure your workday?
* How do you handle task management?
* What kinds of things help you focus and stay on task?
* How do you approach handling multiple tasks and responsibilities?
* How do you deal with something that goes wrong?
* What kinds of things distract or bother you?
* Do you need any particular equipment [i.e., ergonomic chair] or accommodations [i.e., desk away from a busy hallway to cut down on distractions]?
Some employees want to work with minimal management guidance or oversight, largely on their own. Others prefer more regular management contact to stay on track. You serve your employees well by not just blindly applying your own management style to them, but by listening and paying attention to how they like to be managed. You can incorporate this knowledge with your own skills and techniques to build a great team.
* How much guidance or management contact would you like at first [daily, weekly, as needed]?
* How should I check in with you [e-mail, casual chats, scheduled one-on-one meetings]?
* I'm here to support you as you do your job. If you need me, here's how I'm available [outline policy/practice/preference].
Onboarding and Training
The steepest part of the learning curve for a new employee is during the initial training period and immediately after. There is a lot of information to take in when learning about a new company, procedures, policies, systems, methods, and responsibilities. Everyone learns at their own pace, too, so some people will be up to speed relatively quickly; whereas, others need some more time.
Determining the Employee's Learning Style
People learn in many different ways. Some are auditory, preferring to hear information and process it that way. Some are visual, preferring to watch demonstrations. Some learn best by reading, and others are kinesthetic, meaning they prefer to learn by actually doing tasks.
* How do you like to learn?
* How do you learn best?
* How do you like to have information presented to you? How do you process it?
* When you have questions or need help, go to [give names].
* Don't be afraid to speak up, say you don't know, or ask for help. That's what we're here for!
Consider supplementing any standard training materials with various techniques to support the learning style of your new employee.
Your company might have specific training programs and materials available for new hires. Large companies tend to have more organized, coordinated materials. Keep in mind that this is a lot of information for new employees to process! At first, they will have many questions.
* Our training procedure here is as follows....
* The most important things to learn about your job are....
* Focus on [tasks, skills, procedures, responsibilities].
* Company policies and procedures are important, but not as critical as learning your roles and responsibilities.
* I acknowledge this is a lot to take in, so don't hesitate to ask for clarification or help when you need it.
* You aren't expected to master all of this right away, but we do need you to learn steadily and confidently.
* What questions do you have about the training?
* Let me know how the training experience is for you. Your feedback is important.
Leveraging Peers and Colleagues
Your existing employees are wonderful resources when bringing a new worker on board. Your team members can model appropriate behavior and techniques as well as directly teach and mentor new employees. Connecting new hires with experienced workers creates more engagement for everyone.
* To learn about certain tasks or procedures, I'm going to pair you up with [person] to watch how he does it.
* [Person] is very good to ask about [specific areas of expertise].
* [Person] has agreed to mentor you through this training time, and beyond if you want.
If you have hired several people all at once, and they will be training together, you have a great opportunity for team building as well.
* All of you will be training together, and we encourage you to discuss and learn from each other.
* Your group mentor will be [person].
Providing Constructive Feedback
As a manager or leader, you are responsible for giving feedback to employees. This is critical for new hires, because they are still learning their ways in the organization. A coach approach means that you will keep the feedback positive and constructive wherever possible. You might find the opportunity to give feedback at formal meetings, such as at the end of training or the probationary period. You'll also have chances for giving feedback at more casual one-on-ones as your new worker comes to ask questions.
* You did very well at [task]! Keep it up!
* You're definitely on the right track, keep at it and you'll be proficient in no time.
* With a little time to practice, you'll get faster at these tasks and they will seem much easier for you.
* You seem to need a little help with [task], so I'm going to support you by [assigning a mentor], [reviewing it personally].
* Your new coworkers have observed you and told me [positive feedback].
* You are tracking well on your duties, and we'd like to see you improving in the following areas [give specific details].
Remember to keep your feedback constructive. If you have to point out something a person did wrong, be sure to offer ways to improve—don't just criticize and leave it there. Share the impact her behavior caused all the way to the client. Be able to demonstrate how her efforts and results align with the greater mission and vision for the company.
Offer feedback by using the "sandwich technique." Give a piece of positive feedback, then give one that might be more negative, and end with another positive note. A specific example: A new employee is responsible for social media content and strategy for a retail clothing chain. "You really picked up our brand message and corporate values quickly! We were impressed with your sample tweets and blog posts. Ensuring our customers see this on a regular basis really aligns with our goal of increasing our brand recognition in the market. You had a few issues with terminology and grammar, so when you've reviewed our style guidelines again, we can go over them together. My team members tell me you have some exciting new thoughts for how we can use emerging kinds of social media, and I definitely want to hear more about that. I'm very pleased about your fresh ideas!"
Finally, you can use open-ended questions to get the new hire's feedback and self-analysis.
* What do you feel most comfortable with?
* Where would you like some help or support?
* How are things going with your coworkers?
* Are our internal policies making sense to you?
* What do you need from me?
* How are you tracking on your short-term goals?
* What do you enjoy most about being here?
* What feedback can you offer for how we might improve your experience?
Some of these questions are designed to open up two-way communication by soliciting employee feedback about the company and acknowledgment makes a big difference in creating an environment of employee engagement.
Newly hired employees need some reassurance that they are doing all right. As I've already pointed out, they are learning everything, from tasks and procedures to corporate culture and office politics. It can be overwhelming, and they often are not sure if they are doing well, doing poorly, or somewhere in between. Your reassurance (in addition to feedback) can be critical for keeping them engaged and building rapport. It doesn't have to be a big deal—a verbal pat on the back in person or in a staff meeting can work wonders.
* You're doing great with the training!
* Particularly, you mastered [task] faster than we had expected.
* You're right on track. It takes most people [how much time] to get up to speed.
* I remember when I first started, I was afraid I wouldn't get it right! But I did, and you will, too.
* We're satisfied [happy, thrilled] with your progress.
* What you are learning and doing will significantly impact our customers. You are going to make a big difference here.
Excerpted from Perfect Phrases for Coaching Employee Performance by Laura Poole. Copyright © 2013 by McGraw-Hill Education. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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