Frontline Employees: Coaching For Success

Hit the ball, make the shot, row in unison. Understanding the basics of any team sport is easy, but if knowing the requirements of the game was all it took to succeed, everyone could play in the major leagues. To be a top athlete, it takes time, talent and dedication, but even those elements may not be enough.

Regardless of the sport, the one thing all teams have in common is a coach. The coach’s job is to bring out the best in every player and provide the guidance they need to not only play well but to function as a team. It’s a critical role in the sports world, but it’s equally important in business, especially with frontline jobs where pay is low and turnover is high.

As healthcare organizations struggle to retain hourly workers, the key to success isn’t found in a thicker training manual or additional policies and procedures; it’s in helping frontline employees develop all of the skills needed to succeed. While employees may understand the tasks they need to perform in their daily job, they may struggle with more basic concepts such as time management or communication.

A good manager helps frontline employees learn these and other soft skills because it makes the workers more effective in their jobs and more satisfied with the work they do. The result is employees who are more engaged and far less likely to be looking for a new job.

The American Management Association emphasized the importance of coaching in a recent article, noting that it’s “the most effective way for managers to lead” and is now a “core skill required of every successful manager in the 21st century.” It goes on to say that if managers don’t acquire these skills “it is unlikely that they will be able to achieve sustainable long-term positive results for themselves or their organizations.”

One of the barriers, according to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, is that “managers tend to think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do.” The authors analyzed managers’ coaching skills through self-assessments and expert evaluations before and after leadership skills training.

Before leadership training, managers tended to overestimate their coaching abilities. They saw coaching as listing and directing the steps employees needed to take to accomplish tasks; but effective coaching isn’t about directing, it’s about helping employees learn.

In fact, many aspects of successful coaching are based on principles of adult learning. A Rutgers University article on adult learners noted that, in general, “Adults cannot simply act as passive receptacles of others’ expertise as children often do.”

Instead, the Rutgers’ article points out that “adult students prefer a self-directed approach that allows for discovery on their own.” It also notes that adults typically respond better to learning a concept if they understand why they need to learn it in the first place. (For more information on Adult Learning Theory, read our related article, Health Industry Employee Training – 6 Key Principles)

To assess managers’ coaching skills, the authors of the HBR article identified nine core leadership coaching skills that follow these adult learning principles:

1. assisting with goal setting
2. letting the coachee arrive at their own solution
3. listening
4. questioning
5. giving feedback
6. showing empathy
7. recognizing and pointing out strengths
8. providing structure
9. encouraging a solution-focused approach

These skills allow managers to help employees understand “the why” and they allow for self-discovery. Even when it targets one area such as time management, effective coaching for frontline employees helps associates build foundational skills that will be beneficial in other areas.

What all this means to healthcare organizations is that employee training needs to focus on more than the hard skills required for the job at hand. Helping employees improve decision-making, problem solving, conflict resolution and other soft skills is just as important, if not more important than task oriented training. It doesn’t just help frontline workers become better in their current role; it helps them become better employees in any position.

Read more about adult learning principles.

“Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People. But They Can Learn.” Harvard Business Review. August 14, 2018. Julia Milner, Trenton Milner
https://hbr.org/2018/08/most-managers-dont-know-how-to-coach-people-but-they-can-learn
“Five Ways to Transform Managers Into Coaches.” American Management Association. Mike Noble
https://www.amanet.org/training/articles/five-ways-to-transform-managers-into-coaches.aspx
“The Principles of Adult Learning Theory.” Rutgers University.
https://online.rutgers.edu/blog/principles-of-adult-learning-theory/
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