IT Managers Need To Play The Role Of Coach If They Want To Win The Game

by drjim on March 10, 2011

Sometimes your staff needs a coach, not an IT manager…

Sometimes your staff needs a coach, not an IT manager…

IT managers understand that they are responsible for conducting performance appraisals with their team every so often. What many IT managers don’t realize is that they are also responsible for what comes next: coaching

What Is Coaching And Why Do You Have To Do It?

Coaching is not managing. Instead, it’s a two-way activity in which you work with your team member to help them improve in some very specific way.

Your coaching activities are based on a goal that a member of your team wants to achieve. This goal was identified during the employee’s performance review; however, as their manager you realize that they are not going to be able to achieve this goal by themselves.

This is where coaching comes in. When you are engaged in coaching, you are sharing your experiences and knowledge with your employee in order to show them how they can accomplish their goal. A critical part of coaching is that the employee must want to be coached – you can never force someone to accept your coaching input.

The benefits of coaching when done correctly are immense. An employee’s job satisfaction and motivation can skyrocket when they feel that they are getting personalized attention from you. Additionally, by spending the time with an employee coaching them, you may be preparing them to take on management responsibilities later on.

How Does An IT Manager Coach Their Staff?

The first step in starting to coach an employee is to take the time to observe their actions. The goal of doing this is to allow you to understand what strengths and weaknesses they currently have.

You should also carefully watch how they interact with their coworkers. Taking some of these coworkers aside and finding out what they think of the employee who will be coached can also reveal important insights.

Your next step has to be to sit down and have a discussion with the employee. The purpose of this discussion will be to share with them the results of your observations.

You must be careful to make sure that everything that you say is based on what you saw. You’ll want to describe the behaviors that you saw and what their impacts were.

During this type of discussion what you hear from the employee will be more important than what you say. You need to work very carefully to be an active listener.

When you are an active listener you must maintain eye contact with the employee and repeat what they’ve just said in order to make sure that you hear them correctly. These types of behaviors will show the employee that you are interested in what they have to say.

During a coaching session you also have to be asking the right questions. By asking questions you are showing the employee that you are interested in what they have to say and want more information from them.

When you ask a question, you want to ask an open-ended question. This type of question can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” – it requires a more detailed response from your employee.

Finally, the result of any coaching session needs to be an action plan. This is a plan that you and the employee come up with that will allow them to achieve their goal. This type of plan does not always have to be written down, but it should be created by the employee and it should contain clear goals and a timeframe that both of you agree to.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

Good IT managers understand that their responsibility to develop their staff includes coaching the team members who need extra assistance to become better. By taking the time to coach team members, IT managers can help them both improve their job performance as well as boost their job satisfaction.

In order to be an effective coach, an IT manager needs to start by taking the time to observe what the employee is doing right and where improvements are needed. Next discussing what needs to be done with the employee and doing a good job of listening is what will allow a plan of action to be created. Finally coaching can occur as you use the information that you’ve collected to offer constructive feedback.

Coaching is one of the most important tasks that you’ll do as an IT manager. Take the time to study how to do it right, and you’ll have developed the skills that you need to turn a good team into a great team.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How soon after completing a performance evaluation do you think that you should have your first coaching session with a team member?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Not all IT employees are created equal. As an IT manager you are going to have some great employees on your team – and then you are going to have the others. Every bunch of apples has at least one bad one in it, and every IT manager finds that he or she has a problem employee somewhere in their midst.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Information Technology March 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I noticed that this blog talks about many of the intangibles of leadership which revolve around “people skills.” However, I don’t see anything that focuses on teaching leaders to teach their staff about how, exactly, IT works so that they can be successful as leaders. Most IT employees go to school for focused areas such as technical foundations (programming, engineering, etc.). Few IT leaders are actually “taught” what it means to lead and manage and IT organization from an operational perspective, which is one of the primary reasons for an IT leader’s failure.

So, in addition to the intangible things like coaching staff, people skills, and focusing on job satisfaction, a suggestion might be to also have IT leaders learn about and teach others how to properly “operate” IT, from the top down or bottom up, and how IT works with its business clients to provide solutions in a way that makes IT look like it really adds value. Empowering your leaders and employees to be successful is often one of the most powerful ways to become successful, yourself.

Thanks for the article.

Theresa Dorman
TD Software

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 24, 2011 at 6:21 am

Theresa: your point is well made. As difficult as it is for most of us to pick up “soft skills”, just imagine how hard it would be to understand how to operate the IT beast that we’ve created! I believe that at least one step in the right direction is for IT staff to become subject matter experts in the area that their business operates. This will help them to communicate with the rest of the business and thereby become more familiar with how the IT infrastructure should operate…

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Information Technology March 24, 2011 at 7:20 am

I agree. I would add that…

As far as learning about your business, it’s important to not only learn your area of the business but to learn as many areas of the business as possible. It’s always helpful (and can never hurt) to know as much about the big business picture, as possible. However, “great” mercenary IT people go from business to business not knowing much about the business (or specific businesses) and can still be successful because they know the business of IT operations, which is different than the business that employs or hires IT. This leads to the second point, which is…

Know how to operate IT, regardless of the business you’re enterprise is in.

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