Coaching, feedback and corridor conversations
1. Coaching Conversations
Coaching conversations are different from formal coaching in that they are conducted by individuals not trained as qualified coaches. They can be conducted by anyone, anytime, anywhere as the need arises. Coaching conversations are typically conducted in organisational settings by managers who want to support their direct reports to improve their performance, test out a new idea, or be a ‘sounding-board’ to develop self-awareness, insight and action. They are generally shorter in time than a formal coaching session with a qualified coach, maybe lasting just 30 minutes. If the issue is more extensive or intensive, a formal coaching session can be arranged with a qualified coach.
Coaching conversations may be a combination of personal (“How’s everything going?”), professional (“What professional development are you currently undertaking? How is it going?”) and work-related issues (“How’s that project taking shape? Do you need any additional resources from me?” Having a triple agenda covers all bases, but if one of these agendas is more important at the time, this agenda becomes the major topic of conversation until the issue is resolved.
The aim of the coaching conversation is to assist, support and motivate direct reports by helping them find a solution to a problem, or pointing them in the right direction in terms of a resource. After each coaching conversation, the direct report goes away feeling that the manager has heard what’s on their mind, asked constructive questions, and helped them discover the solution by themselves.
3-Step Coaching Conversation process
Coaching conversations follow a 3-step process of Exploration, Insight and Action, stimulated by asking questions to help the individual discover their own solutions. During the conversations, the ‘coach’ follows these principles:
- Ask one question at a time and get comfortable with silence
- Engage in
- Active and reflective questioning
- Remaining curious – asking “What else?”
- Asking a powerful question which may start with ‘what’ or ‘if’ or ‘what if’
- Summarising for clarity and understanding
- Avoid the ‘why’ questions – stick with ‘what’ and ‘how’
2. Feedback Conversations
Feedback conversations are focused on performance improvement. They are usually initiated by managers who see an employee performing at less than their optimal level. No longer is it sufficient for a manager to wait until the annual performance review to provide feedback to his/her direct reports, especially if this is to tell the employee that they haven’t been performing in their role. In general, managers are encouraged to review their direct reports’ work performance on a regular basis to ensure they stay ‘on track’ and are ‘pulling their weight’.
Feedback conversations need to be conducted in a timely manner to tell employees what’s going wrong, discuss with them the evidence and the impact on others, and work with them to help them come up with solutions that they can implement to solve the problem. When managers have feedback conversations with their direct reports, the employee’s performance does not diminish but instead, flourishes from the time and attention that the manager is investing in them. As a result, the manager doesn’t need to tell them time and again how to rectify the same situation. If they do, the direct report is not learning and needs to be placed on a formal performance review / dismissal path conducted by a Human Resources professional.
Giving supportive feedback is based on the following principles:
- provide immediate feedback whenever possible - be specific and descriptive;
- provide ongoing feedback – don’t wait for a scheduled review;
- report the evidence of what needs to improve and gain acknowledgement from the employee to making the necessary changes;
- focus on how things can be changed – how, to what standard, by when; and
- ensure that feedback is always constructive.
3. Corridor Conversations
Corridor conversations are those coaching conversations that occur ‘on the run’ as the need arises, for example, to answer an employee’s question, provide some immediate feedback on an idea, or check the validity of an approach. These conversations occur naturally, utilise coaching skills and are therefore generative and supportive of employees whilst leading them to their own solutions. The employee is energised to take the nest steps, knows what to do, having confirmation about a particular course of action, and is committed to achieving an outcome. Ten minutes in the corridor (or a meeting room, or on the plant floor, or in the employee lounge – wherever) is where the majority of coaching conversations will be held, without a formal, scheduled agenda. The corridor conversation is employee-led in terms of their agenda, and the leader uses his/her coaching skills to assist the employee move forward.
Corridor conversations do not take the place of formal, scheduled coaching conversations which should be conducted with direct reports every 4-6 weeks or more frequently. These are still necessary to make sure that any personal or performance issues are ‘nipped in the bud’, as well as to ensure that direct reports knows that their leader values them and supports them professionally and work-wise.
The combination of coaching conversations, feedback conversations and corridor conversations gives the leader the skills and confidence they need to tackle every situation that will arise in a diverse work group in a dynamic, global environment.