Coronavirus (COVID-19), Learning & Development

Coaching Meets Coronavirus: How to Support Employees During a Crisis

In a crisis, our attention tends to shift from the most common, everyday concern of needing approval to the more basic needs of security and control (water, food, shelter, etc.).coaching

In this coronavirus pandemic, good managers are asking themselves similar questions: What basic things do my employees need to survive a difficult work situation? What should I be telling them? How can I make sure their work-from-home experience is positive and productive?

The best managers start being more attentive to what I consider to be the three basic characteristics of good coaching conversations:

  • They are more caring. They acknowledge their people’s emotional state without telling them how they should feel.
  • They are more candid. The old FEAR acronym of False Expectations Appearing Real is never more true. They don’t withhold or sugarcoat information.
  • They make sure they are constructive. They don’t waste people’s time, and they keep conversations relevant and on track.

The majority of HR and talent leaders believe workplace coaching is critical to their businesses. The problem is that while 80% of HR/talent leaders believe coaching is a key leadership practice, only 15% believe managers in their organizations are good at it.

As we navigate these uncharted pandemic waters, here are a few basic coaching principles you can start using now to improve your coaching practice and guide your employees through new obstacles and challenges.

Provide Continuous Feedback and Communication

Transparency, where possible, will help employees thrive in uncertainty; they want to know whether they are meeting organizational standards and if there’s anything more they can do to help the business sail through uncharted waters.

Managers should use regular conversations to check in and provide feedback. This helps employees feel seen and understood and provides an opportunity to communicate organizational priorities.

In fact, a Gallup study shows that employees whose managers regularly communicate with them are nearly three times more engaged than those whose managers don’t regularly communicate.

Technology now provides many tools to make this communication easier. From Zoom to Slack to text to e-mail, everyone can stay in close touch with colleagues even during any shelter-in-place order.

Ask More Than Tell

Employees across the globe are facing unprecedented “interference” that keeps them from focusing on their work. Not only do they have to navigate cancelled events, restricted travel, and working from home, but they’re also concerned about their finances and the health and well-being of themselves and their loved ones.

Now more than ever, employees need someone who demonstrates empathy. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by asking questions and listening more than telling them what to do. Coaching focuses on empowering workers to move past the incredible amount of interference they are facing by shifting their focus to doing what they know how to do.

To do this, ask three simple questions: First, ask, “What’s working?” This sets the stage for the conversation by reminding both the manager and the employee what is going well and helping both make progress.

Second, ask, “Where are you getting stuck?” This provides a clear picture of the obstacles everyone is facing at work, setting the stage to find ways around them. Lastly, ask, “What can you do differently?” This ensures the conversation will end with people talking about solutions and perhaps even coming up with creative ideas for how to tackle problems for which there’s currently no “playbook.”

Help Employees GROW

Last but not least, having a structure or a process to follow to help with decision-making can be especially useful when a lot of interference is present.

A simple and broadly applicable process for doing this is the GROW® model, which is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way Forward. GROW doesn’t require us to learn something new. Instead, GROW maps out what we already do or know and can be thought of as a checklist to help us get from A to B.

The Goal is B, the desired outcome; the Reality is A, what’s happening. (When establishing Reality, be sure to help employees separate distinct thoughts and feelings from what’s actually happening.) The Options are their ideas for closing the gap between A and B. Last, and most importantly, the Way Forward is the option(s) they will take action on.

In times of stress, our minds tend to race in circles, “horrible-izing” the future. This model provides employees and managers with a clear system to follow for setting and achieving their goals and is particularly useful in reducing the amount of interference (or emotional horrible-izing) currently being experienced.

Clarity about where to go and how to get there will empower your people to navigate difficult circumstances.

In the world of sports, when athletes are faced with challenging circumstances, they turn to their coaches for extra help. Perhaps now, coaching will become even more important as a way to support our people given these challenging times. There’s never been a time when people needed to experience more care, candor, and constructiveness.

Alan Fine, co-creator of the widely recognized GROW Model, is the founder and president of InsideOut Development. Fine has dedicated the past 25 years to helping people from all walks of life elevate their performance and unlock their potential, including athletes such as Davis Cup tennis star Buster Mottram; record-breaking triathlete James Lawrence; and PGA golfers Phillip Price, David Feherty, Colin Montgomerie, and Stephen Ames.

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