Coaching or Counseling … the difference!

Performance Management CourseThe terms coaching and counseling are often used interchangeably by many team leaders. The key differences between the two are that coaching focuses on the developmental side of acquiring knowledge and skills to help the associate effectively perform the job and counseling focuses on changing behavior and may be preventive or corrective in nature.

Coaching, instead of “managing” or “supervising”, is a key concept for achieving top performance. Team leaders become coaches when they use feedback on an ongoing basis to reinforce positive behavior or counsel associates to correct actions that do not go along with the organization’s vision or mission. Management is often one way; coaching must be two way with the coach and the team members constantly giving and receiving feedback.

To coach by using feedback, requires being specific, direct, and honest. Saying “You’re a great person” isn’t as powerful as “You helped that upset customer by staying calm yourself.” Don’t wait two weeks to tell someone about something they did today. Coaches don’t put off discussing the game with players.

Discuss WHAT the person did, not the person. Feedback like, “That’s stupid” or “You’re nice” talks about who a person is, rather than what the person did on the job. Coaches give job performance feedback and should refrain from making “editorial comments” about characteristics not directly linked to behavior.

Of course, feedback is not enough. “Do as I say, not as I do” never works people just aren’t that gullible! Team members will follow the coach’s example much more than any empty pronouncements about the organization’s vision or mission. As James Kouzes and Barry Posner explain in The Leadership Challenge, “Leadership is not a spectator sport … “

Qualities of Effective Coaches
In addition to being a positive role model and a “great communicator,” coaches inspire team members by treating everyone with respect, consideration, and fairness. Great coaches look for opportunities to praise good performance, as well as counseling on how to improve. Coaches also teach team members how to take their performance to new heights.

The coaching process often includes these steps:

• Explain the instructions and have someone demonstrate the skill or procedure if appropriate
• Have team members perform the task themselves: ask questions to check understanding
• Give them feedback on performance; encourage team members to give feedback on how they feel about what they’re learning
• Follow up to make sure that the team members apply the skill or knowledge on the job and give appropriate feedback

Counseling is a skill used to correct or prevent behavioral problems. When a manager counsels an associate, it is to change current or past (corrective) behavior or it is to change behavior in preparation (preventive) for responsibilities and challenges that lie ahead. The end result in either case is to help the associate to perform more effectively on the job and to have more success achieving career goals.

It is designed to help an associate examine conditions, attitudes, feelings, perceptions and behavior patterns which may be hindering effective on the job performance and/or causing problems for the associate. If after several coaching attempts a problem still exists, it may be more than skill or knowledge related and the manager will have to shift roles from coach to counselor.

Effective counseling is not “doing” something to someone. It is helping a person do something to him or her. Effective counseling will cause a person to change their behavior not because they have to, but because they want to.

The counseling process often includes these steps:

• Prepare for the discussion: know what you’re going to say; have facts available
• State the problem specifically and clearly
• Get the associate’s side there are two sides to every story, so really listen
• Clarify the problem and get agreement that a problem exists
• Make sure the associate understands the problem. If it is a problem and not a misunderstanding, through discussion, get the associate to agree that a problem exists

There are legal risks in discussing causes of problems with associates. The cause is not important, only the behavior is important. Simply refer the associate to your Associate Assistance Program. Mutually discuss alternative solutions and agree on actions to be taken to solve the problem. Try to use the associate’s solution where possible. Agree on the actions the associate will take and the role you will play. Finally, set a follow up meeting.

Concluding the Counseling Session

Communicate your belief in the associate’s ability to make the needed changes. Follow up and recognize any improvement. Prepare to move into the disciplinary process if two attempts at counseling have failed. Through effective counseling, a problem or marginal associate may be salvaged and she may again become a productive member of the organization.

 Related Articles:   Coaching … how did I do?   and   When an Associate Struggles … COACH!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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