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Athletes have coaches, so why not employees? After all, it’s their performance that dictates the direction a company is heading.
Running a human resources organizational development company in Guthrie, Stephanie Wade Tate provides HR consulting to companies all over the country, whether they have a dedicated HR department or they’re trying to figure out how to do it on their own.
And over the last few months, she says more and more managers are asking themselves what they can do to get more out of their employees.
“Within the last year, it’s really come into its own,” Wade Tate says. “Coaching has been around for a long time, but it has, in the past, taken the form of disciplinary action. When you look at discipline from the perspective of teaching a person how to do better, it’s really coaching. It’s coaching them on how to meet the expectations.”
Nikki McKeaigg, senior HR generalist for Champion Technologies, figures she’s been doing performance coaching her entire career, but managers don’t understand it’s their role, too.
“In my opinion, the most important relationship in an organization is the relationship between the manager and the employee,” McKeaigg says. “HR can articulate policies or values or mission statements, but it’s not until you really teach supervisors … how to lead them and guide them. As an HR professional, you can’t do that for them.”
McKeaigg unknowingly started her HR career while working as a receptionist for a manufacturing facility during college. She helped bring on board the company’s first HR manager.
“She and I built a close relationship, and we learned HR together,” she says. “I knew before I finished school that’s what I wanted to do.”
Eleven years later, she’s still doing it and says that she figured out quickly coaching is all about building relationships.
“A really good coaching session could last 10 minutes to two hours or longer,” McKeaigg says. “Really, the objective of any coaching situation is not to give them the answer, but to help them see it from a different perspective and seek different outcomes and do it differently next time.”
Communication is key for McKeiagg, who spends up to 70% of her time traveling to keep up with some 400 employees for the specialty chemicals company.
And coaching isn’t comprised of oneway interactions – something McKeiagg said she learned from the beginning.
“Early on, I felt as though my opinion was the right opinion because I was in HR, and I knew the policies and procedures,” she says. “I really didn’t take the time to actively listen. I would be doing most of the talking when a true coaching session is really a two-way street.”
But when it comes to doing business in the south, Wade Tate says often there are a lot of detours along the way.
“In our part of the country, we’re very polite. We’re socialized to be very nice to one another,” she says. “We don’t have these important business conversations about problems because we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. In other parts of the country, there is very direct management.”
And that’s where the term “performance coaching” can get kind of skewed.
McKeiagg says when people hear the term “coaching,” they automatically think of something negative, like getting called on the carpet for something they’ve done wrong.
“I think my main focus is building relationships, and I can tell you the best way to have a coaching session is to not say, ‘We’re having a coaching session,’” she says. “Have a normal conversation with them, and let it grow from there.”Mediation matters
Over the course of the past year, companies are realizing that it’s beneficial to keep disputes in-house through the use of conflict mediation.
Local human resources consultant Stephanie Wade Tate says conflict mediation actually arose out of companies scrambling to find alternatives to solving employee disputes outside of a courtroom.Using mediation is relatively new in the workplace.
Mediation can happen in two forms, according to Wade Tate. Some companies choose to keep it in-house by training their HR professionals to serve as a mediator.
The other model uses external mediators to help resolve disputes.
“These people generally have no conflict or influence and no vested interest in who is right or who is wrong, whereas with an HR person, their ultimate responsibility is to be the guardian of the organization,” Wade Tate says. “If they recognize something has gone amiss in a situation, their duty is to protect the organization, so there is a little bit of a conflict of interest there.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes on its website that most agencies use mediation in their programs.
Photos by Mark Hancock