In a perfect world a manufacturing company owner or supervisor would simply give employees orders, walk away and enjoy the results. After all, people should be self-sufficient, take pride in their work and always do their best. In the real world, of course, we all have our ups and downs, we make mistakes and we don’t always get along with everyone. In other words: We’re human beings.
As business leaders, we do our best to assemble a team with the job skills we require that will work together as a cohesive unit. However, like snowflakes, no two personalities are exactly the same. This is not a bad thing, because we need a variety of talents, insights and perspectives to solve problems and come up with creative ideas. Our role as a leader, then, is to help each person to achieve his or her full potential by being a good coach.
So what does it take to be a good coach?
Communicate: In the classic film “Cool Hand Luke” the prison warden was fond of saying, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” Of course, he didn’t really communicate, he simply gave orders. True communication consists of both talking and listening. Unfortunately, good listening skills are often the missing part of the equation. A good coach listens to what his people tell him and then asks clarifying questions until he is sure that he thoroughly understands the situation. Only then will he provide direction or, better yet, help employees see for themselves what needs to be done.
Be accessible: As a coach, you must be available when your people need to see you. Hiding out in an office or being out-of-pocket for extended periods of time will discourage employees from coming to you. If your duties regularly take you out of the facility, try to schedule periods of time when you can walk the shop, check in with your employees and let them know you’re available if they have matters they want to discuss. Whether their concerns are work-related or personal, they need an opportunity to be heard.
Help them learn from their mistakes: In the world of sports, it’s common practice for coaches and players to review videos of previous games so they can see what didn’t work, and then discuss how to do it better next game. In the same way, if a worker makes a mistake, review the situation and make sure the person understands how to prevent the mistake in future. You may also discover the need for further training. If you sense carelessness played a role, dig deeper until you determine what is distracting the employee and help them deal with the problem.
Promote independent thinking: Make it clear that you are more than willing to help employees work out any problems they encounter on the job. However, encourage them to come up with and bring to you their own possible solutions. Then listen to their ideas and ask questions that help them think through each scenario so that, together, you can agree on the best approach.
Schedule regular coaching sessions. Instead of conducting annual reviews, consider establishing brief, periodic, one-to-one meetings to review performance and go over any concerns from either side. This reminds employees of your expectations and gives them an opportunity to course correct when necessary.
Turn your supervisors into coaches: Anyone in a management position should be taught to coach the employees he or she supervises. If you don’t have the internal capability to develop your staff’s coaching skills, consider bringing in professionals to provide training.
Who coaches you? It can be lonely at the top and there are times we all need someone to listen and to help us work through issues. That’s why many company owners, CEOs and other executives have a personal business/life coach, or belong to a peer roundtable group. You probably know local business leaders who take advantage of these resources and can offer suggestions. You can also check with your local chamber of commerce.
Obviously, coaching and being coached both take time and effort. But building a successful, high-performing shop is well worth the investment.