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This is the second lesson in a two-part series that examines the coaching process. The first lesson reviewed the importance of and the procedures for informal coaching. This lesson discusses a more formal coaching interview process that can be useful to Central Sterile Supply Department (CSSD) managers.
Formal coaching tactics may be used by CSSD managers during interview sessions with their employees. There are two primary types of interviews that are used for formal coaching: directive and non-directive interviews.
Two Types of Formal Interviews
Directive interviews are those which the manager directs by asking questions. They are facilitated to give and receive information, but they may also be conducted to discuss feelings and attitudes. The success of this type of interview depends upon how well the interviewer (manager) communicates and asks questions.
When non-directive interviews are used, problems are discussed in a less structured format that allows managers to analyze the employee’s attitudes that affect job performance. These interviews may begin with general questions or statements about the problem, and they allow the employee freedom to discuss the issues from a personal viewpoint. Non-directive interviews are generally conducted to explore the employee’s feelings and attitudes.
In some non-directive interviews, managers may find that employees try to hide or misrepresent their true feelings, and they do not always say what they really mean. To overcome this challenge, it’s important to provide an understanding and open-minded atmosphere. When you do, employees are more likely to say exactly what they feel. Although you may need to start the session by announcing that there is a problem, quickly give employees the lead in the conversation. When employees believe that you will listen in a non-threatening way, they might be more able or willing to discuss the problem.
Listen to the employee with understanding. Withhold criticism of the employee without necessarily agreeing with everything the employee says. This is important because if you criticize or make judgments about the employee’s views, the employee will stop talking and then the cause of the problem may never be discovered.
Respond briefly and positively to show understanding of the employee. Nods or simple responses such as “Yes” or “I see” help to show understanding. Those who do this typically receive similar signals from the employee.
In addition, try repeating key statements that the employee makes. For instance, the employee may say, “I would like to have more responsibility.” Your non-directive response might be, “You feel that you want more responsibility.” Be sincere when you say this. Say something which will be matter-of-fact and will prompt the employee to further clarify the point being made. You could follow this re-statement with a question such as, “Could you please tell me what type of extra responsibilities you would like?”
Preparing for the Interview
When preparing to conduct a formal coaching session, a first task is to determine the specific objective. The session will be more productive if you carefully consider exactly what information is desired from the employee, which issues must be stressed, as well as some of the questions that will be asked.
Then gather background information. Hopefully, managers know what their employees want to accomplish in their professional careers -- with goals ranging from doing well in their current position to advancing “as far as they can go.” However, in large facilities where a manager may supervise the work of many employees, this is difficult to do. In these cases, try to discover as much background information as possible about the employee, including strengths and areas which need improvement. Helpful ways to do this include reviewing written performance evaluations and other records, and speaking with other supervisors who work with the employee.
Before scheduling the coaching session, consult with the employee and review his or her weekly work schedule. The coaching session is an expanded training session, but it should not interfere with the employee’s regular work. Notify the employee as far in advance of the session as possible.
It often takes extra time for an employee to feel comfortable enough to speak openly, especially when the interviewer is the employee’s supervisor. In addition, this may be the employee’s first chance to relate personal experiences and goals with the facility’s goals. Allow the employee time to make the connection.
It is important for managers to be aware of their own attitudes toward the coaching process, the coaching session, and the employee and his/her attitudes. The employee’s biases and behaviors may influence job performance. The session may be more productive if the employee’s feelings about the coaching process and the topics under discussion are known.
Conducting the Formal Interview
Conduct the session privately and try to minimize interruptions. Use an office or other room suitable for thoughtful and productive discussion.
Establish a comfortable atmosphere. The employee must feel free to speak and express ideas, and it is important to listen to the employee without getting angry, even if the employee questions policies and procedures you support. To establish a relaxed atmosphere, give the employee time to adjust not acclimate to the setting. Help the employee feel that he or she is participating in the meeting as an equal party with you. Put the employee at ease with reassurance that the session’s purpose is to clarify the issues and determine a mutually-agreed-upon plan that will allow him or her to work toward improvement. Show understanding by honestly answering every comment the employee makes. Careful listening to and analysis of the employee’s comments are tactics that can provide insight to issues that may require further discussion.
Start slowly. When the session begins, the employee may respond to your questions or statements with less certainty. Perhaps the employee is nervous, uncertain about why the interview is being conducted, and even wondering what the consequences of the session might be. Therefore, allow the employee extra time to think before responding. When you are calm and patient, the employee is less likely to feel threatened. It does not take much time for experienced managers to adjust to the employee’s way of thinking and conversational abilities.
Describe the problem in a caring, positive way. Make it clear that the goal is to solve the issue rather than to blame the employee. When this tactic is used, the employee will likely be more willing to talk openly about the problem. Also, avoid accusing the employee and provide assurance that the goal of the interview is to enable the staff member to perform effectively.
Be as specific as possible when defining the problem. For example, it is much better to say, “Sometimes the documentation you provide is incomplete, and this is serious because...” than to say, “We went over this in our training. You should know that improper documentation is serious, and you really need to do this it like we told you to do it earlier.” Discuss (review) the performance standards that were explained during training and reinforced in the workplace during informal coaching exchanges. It is also important to explain how the employee’s performance is falling short of expectations. Support your views with specific evidence and provide examples of specific situations. Remember to focus on the performance problem rather than on the employee’s personality or attitude.
Ask the employee to help you resolve the problem or identify its cause. If you can obtain the employee’s commitment, the chances of solving the problem will be greater. Ask for the employee’s help in deciding which steps to take to resolve the problem. Employees who understand that you really value their ideas are more likely to cooperate, and this will help raise the employee’s self-esteem. This tactic might also promote an environment in which the employee will want to improve because he or she will feel less stress when this occurs.
To obtain more information, ask the employee general questions about the situation. Suggestion: begin with questions relating to “What,” “How,” “Who,” and “When.” As the employee becomes more relaxed, ask more specific questions to help clarify the situation.
Be sure to listen and show understanding, especially if the employee begins to worry or seems upset. Your empathy (putting yourself in the place of the other person) may help the employee maintain self-esteem.
If notes are taken, keep them brief and to-the-point. Focus on what the employee says and be sure to maintain frequent eye contact. Remember that you can review the notes, make changes, and expand upon them after the interview; however, be sure to do so very soon after the session so all of the important points will be fresh in your memory.
Completed notes can be maintained in a working file. Then, if the interview is successful and the problem is addressed, the notes can be discarded. This tactic is typically better than placing the notes in the employee’s personnel file where they may need to remain permanently. Note: your facility’s progressive discipline policy may address the management of formal coaching interviews and the notes taken during these sessions.
You will likely have your own ideas to discuss during the interview. As you present them, remain friendly and, again, take care to safeguard the employee’s self-esteem. Before beginning to talk about solutions, summarize the causes of the problem that have been identified to help ensure that everyone understands all the information that has been discussed.
When some employees feel that the session is about to end, their remarks often become more to-the-point and significant. The last several minutes of the session may be the most productive if you pay close attention to the employee’s final comments.
Ask the employee for ideas about resolving the performance problem. Taking brief notes at this time will likely make the employee feel good, and you might be able to develop a list of possible solutions. This record may prove helpful if the first corrective action tactic that is implemented is not successful. When possible, use the employee’s suggestions to resolve the problem.
Upon deciding a course of action, work together to determine exactly who must do what and by when. Add this information to the notes. You should stress that, while you will do what is possible to help the employee succeed, he or she is ultimately responsible for making the agreed-upon improvements. You should express confidence in the employee’s ability to improve performance because this will strengthen the employee’s commitment to solving the problem.
After asking questions and learning the responses, additional topics may be identified. You may then lead the discussion of those issues using a questioning response (example: “Why do you believe that situation usually occurs?”).
Before ending the discussion, schedule a time for follow-up, if necessary. This will emphasize the need for the employee to take responsibility for resolving the performance problem. It will also reinforce your interest in tracking progress and celebrating success when the performance goal is attained.
End the discussion in a positive, caring manner. Again, express confidence in the employee’s ability to solve the problem and indicate your support for the plan that has been mutually developed.
Following-Up after the Formal Interview
Follow-up does not mean concluding a coaching session with the familiar statement: “My door is always open. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to stop by, and I’ll help you any way I can.” Supervisors who rely on this open invitation typically find that few employees ever “stop by.” Follow-up is not the employee’s responsibility. Instead, it is your duty to take the initiative and observe the employee’s performance on a regular basis.
A follow-up discussion, if needed, will help ensure that you and the employee explore progress and address any problems that may remain. If necessary, a different course of action may be planned at that time.
Give the employee help and encouragement as the improvement plan is implemented, and provide further coaching or training, if necessary. Allow the employee to request an additional coaching session, if desired, and remember that the session could take place before the next “official” session. Also, keep written records of all sessions and, especially, note all of the improvements that the employee makes.
It has never been appropriate to provide training and then think that employees who don’t consistently meet job standards are those who don’t care or who are not capable. The best CSSD managers provide effective training as a first step in efforts to help their employees become successful. They then continue to help their employees move toward success by providing informal coaching as they “manage by walking around.” These CSSD managers also use more formal coaching in dedicated meetings, if this tactic is judged necessary.
This two-part series has provided suggestions about ways to correct employees’ performance while, at the same time, enhancing the relationship between the manager and his or her employees. You will find that, when done correctly, coaching can be a powerful tool to encourage your employees’ best performance.
This column was written by Jack Ninemeier, Ph.D, CHA of the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University. Dr. Ninemeier is the editor of Central Service Technical Manual (5th Edition), Supervision Principles: Leadership Strategies for Healthcare Facilities (2nd Edition), and Material Management and the Healthcare Industry, all published by IAHCSMM.