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Post by
Joy Van Skiver, President
The POWERformance Group

Coaching that Sticks

Fact: People forget. Not just old people, but people with a lot on their minds, people dealing with information overload.

Fact: People forget important things like what a manager offers as developmental feedback.

Fact: People are more likely to remember what they hear when they see it in print.

When you need to remember something important, do you write it down? One of the best apps I use allows me to enter “to buy” items with different colored screens for different stores I go to. My husband and I both use the app, so it shows up on both our phones. If he’s at Costco and looks at our list on the purple Costco page, he can buy something I’ve put on the list.

A grocery list is relatively insignificant in life, but everyone knows that having one is a simple way to remember.

That’s why the most effective new performance apps include a place for quick feedback.

To ensure that your coaching sticks, follow up in writing, whether that’s in an app or a short email or a coaching report or a future-focused review.

What you say matters.

Strength, not length, is the best motto for written feedback. You may not need five paragraphs — maybe only five sentences. Nothing that requires a lot of time to write or to read. Just what’s most important for the person who’s listening to you.

Meaningless drivel in writing won’t accomplish a thing. Rehashing activities completed, for example, is a waste of everyone’s time. And yet, that’s what lots of managers do in their written follow-ups. If I work for you, I know what I did. Tell me how I can improve what I do. What specific actions should I take?

Coaching in writing is not the same as documenting. It’s simply putting your coaching advice in print. When there’s something valuable to read, team members read it. When the value is missing, they won’t bother.

How you say something matters just as much as what you say.

To ensure that your coaching sticks, pay attention to how you phrase your comments. This is important in person as well as in writing. Here are four simple things you can do:

1. Emphasize benefits. Benefits persuade people to act.

Sometimes the benefits are for the person; sometimes they’re team benefits.

Team benefit: To meet our tight deadline, you’ll need to ….

Personal benefit: To reach your goal this quarter, be sure to ….

2. Stress the positive more than the negative.

Negative: Your weekly project summaries have been late for the last month.

Positive: It’s important that you get your weekly project summary out on Friday morning. That gives the rest of the team time to prepare for any resets needed on Monday.

In that example, if I’m the person with the late summaries, does it really help me to hear that I screwed up? Tell me what to do now rather than what I haven’t done right in the past, especially if you’ve already told me once or twice what I’ve done wrong.

3. Include why.

Performance improves when we tell people exactly what they need to do, and when we tell them why, they’re more committed to doing things right. In the Positive example above, connecting the team’s need to my getting summaries in on time could be the missing piece to motivate me to act on your advice.

4. Call off the attack dogs.

In my POWERformance™ and POWER Sales Coaching training sessions, I often ask the group, “What do you say when a team member isn’t doing something that should be done?” Far too often, I hear these responses: “You failed to …” or “You neglected to ….” or “You didn’t ….”

The word “you” is fine for giving feedback as long as the word immediately after “you” doesn’t attack. Take the opportunity to build up rather than tear down.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to give quick feedback in writing, and checking how you say something is easy once you’re aware of what’s most effective. The results are worth it: You can expect team members to listen — and act on — your coaching advice. It sticks.

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