We are most effective in coaching when we are focused on an observable behavior. That is, “I observed you doing this….” “When this happens, you tend to do…” “What would happen if…..”

Observable behaviors critical to effective coaching. They provide the context for the conversation.

But observable behaviors have a shelf life, or use by date. We wait too long and they lose their impact, simply because both we and the person we are coaching may have cloudy memories of everything surrounding what we are talking about.

Imagine the difference between these two scenarios:

  • “Remember those calls you made a few weeks ago? How might you have improved the outcomes of those calls?”
  • Alternatively, “If you reflect back on the call we just completed, how might we have improved the outcomes of those meetings?”

The first has much less learning and execution value for both us and the person we are coaching. So much time has past, we struggle to recall the specifics and the issues surrounding them. Even if we have recordings we can leverage, we struggle to remember. Plus we’ve moved on, so much has happened in the interim, the coaching loses it’s impact.

Contrast that with the second approach, the immediacy of the feedback provides huge value. The context of the situation is fresh, it has our attention, both in terms of what happened and needing to take action in moving forward.

Feedback and coaching always have their greatest impact when the time lag between what we have observed and providing the feedback is as short as possible.

What’s this mean for managers?

  • Find “coaching moments” every day.
  • Find people doing something right and reinforce it, but don’t avoid conversations around things people do that are less effective.
  • Focus on current observable behaviors and the specific context in which they occurred.
  • Focus on one or two things at a time. Too often we overwhelm our people with too many things. Focus on the one or two behaviors that are most impactful to performance. Look for opportunities to coach on those.
  • Make sure you have at least one substantive coaching conversation with each person on your team, every week.
  • Don’t coach the “numbers,” coach the issues that drive the numbers.
  • Remember, it is not about the person but rather on their behavior.

What’s this mean for people being coached?

  • Actively seek coaching and feedback from your manager, and from those you respect. Don’t wait for them to approach you.
  • Be in constant learning/improvement mode, look for help from others.
  • If you’ve had a challenging call or are struggling with an opportunity, get some coaching. Two heads are better than one.
  • Great coaching is about helping you improve and achieve, seek it out.