Huddle Up!

Getting Started

Where do you begin? "Formalize the relationship," says Lugerner. Coaching doesn't happen on the fly; it's a methodical approach to employee development. "Tell the employee `I want to meet with you regularly to help develop you and your career path.'"

How often you meet depends on the employee. For some employees, a weekly session is a must; for others, once a month is adequate. The time required varies, too. With some workers, a 15-minute session is plenty, while others will require half an hour, maybe longer.

Which employees should receive coaching? "All your people need it," says Lugerner. "Coaching is how we all get better." In a very small business, that means it's your job to make regular time for every worker. In bigger companies, other managers can take on some of the coaching (with you coaching the managers). If it sounds like a lot of time, remember: Your benefit in this is an ever-improving work force--which translates into mounting productivity and profitability. So the payoffs are real.

The next step in effective coaching is to set an agenda. "You need to establish a checklist of to-dos and benchmarks for progress," says Lugerner. That doesn't mean you do all the work, but, by working with the employee in the initial coaching session, the two of you establish goals as well as criteria for measuring progress toward those goals and a timetable for reaching them.

When you set goals and benchmarks, "suggest, don't tell," Lugerner advises. "Telling [your employees what to do is] coaching in a hurry. It doesn't get results."

If you limit your role to making suggestions, you'll put more of the work in your employee's hands--hands that may actually be more suited for the particular task than yours. Say you want the employee who handles shipping to reduce errors by 25 percent. You may not have many concrete ideas about how to accomplish that goal, but the employee who does the work will have dozens of ideas. So use the first coaching session to consider all the options available, and, still working with the employee, pick out the best ideas of the lot and find a place for them on that worker's to-do list.

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Huddle Up!.

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