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Performance Coaching Vs. Performance Management

Is ‘performance coaching’ just the latest way of labelling the eternal quest to raise productivity in organisations? Or does it reflect a fundamental shift in approach in how leaders work with employees, develop teams, nurture talent, and work towards mutually beneficial goals?

In other words, is ‘performance coaching’ just the latest HR buzzword or does it have real substance and value?

Below I take a look at the main differences between the approach of performance coaching and the performance management systems that have preceded it. You can determine whether it might help you and your teams get the most out of the workplace.

It is partly employee-led

Even the term ‘performance management’ hints at an older-style of top-down management, where the manager assesses individual or team performance, rates it, and perhaps suggests ways in which it can be improved in the year ahead.

While the basic end goal of ‘improvement’ is similar, coaching is a more collaborative process that can be partly led by employees, not just by the leaders tasked with facilitating it. Employees, under guidance, can help to define their own goals and also suggest how they are going to reach them.

It is mutually beneficial

Successful employee coaching programs take into account ‘what’s in it for you?’ as well as ‘what’s in it for the organisation?’ They are seen as mutually beneficial; the employee is viewed as an individual with their own goals, needs, and preferences, and not simply as a cog in the machinery of the organisation. The focus is on the person rather than the process.

Coaching therefore requires emotionally intelligent leaders who can understand and facilitate the development rather than managers or supervisors who are looking after the numbers and making directives. When personal goals are aligned to organisational goals, under the guidance of high quality professional coaches, everybody wins.

It builds closer relationships

By mentoring and coaching an employee, time is invested in the person as well as simply the employee; personal issues may be discussed; support and guidance may be provided in other areas outside work performance.

Again, the importance of emotional intelligence in mentors and coaches is key here, to create closer relationships and bridge the gap between management and teams.

It is a more-engaging way of developing performance

Closer workplace relationships and personal development are key motivators for raising performance, boosting job satisfaction, and reducing staff turnover.

Many of these major workplace problems are a result of the lack of engagement felt by employees with the organisations they are working in.

Coaching can potentially help to raise engagement and motivation levels by providing more meaning and vision to one’s role, making goals more achievable, encouraging personal development (identifying strengths and weaknesses), and so on.

It celebrates successes

Coaching potentially creates a more positive workplace, celebrating and rewarding success rather than threatening against poor performance or non-compliance.

In busy workplaces, daily work life can become stressful; many leaders spend their time putting out ‘fires’ rather than having meaningful conversations with employees – and instead rely on a once or twice yearly performance review that is often viewed as a threat by employees.

A change of emphasis to a nurturing, coaching environment where the important conversations are held regularly can be inspirational. Rather than avoiding making mistakes for fear of a bad rating in the performance review, employees are focused on reaching achievable success.

It looks forward

Rather than reviewing the year gone by, coaching looks ahead. It sees what is possible and how to get there.

Traditional performance management systems provide feedback whereas successful coaching programs are all about feeding forward. Rather than simply evaluating what has happened in the past, they create a plan for learning and improvement.

It is not connected to pay-hikes

Annual performance reviews are often viewed as assessments of whether a pay rise is due. This is part of the threat that traditional performance management systems carry.

Coaching, on the other hand, is an ongoing process of helping employees develop their skills and talents to achieve specific goals, and should not be connected to salary, bonuses, or promotion assessments.

It is highly goal-oriented

The best coaching programs are highly goal-oriented; they consider what the employee is looking to achieve, where they are at now, what options they have available and what they will actually need to do to bridge the gap.

This is nothing new, but it needs pointing out that the outcomes of coaching are measurable and definite rather than vague or nebulous. The goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound to be effective.

According to research, only around one-third of employees get adequate continuous feedback from their managers; and one-tenth feel that organisations provide enough career and developmental feedback. Clearly something needs changing.

Good leaders are often, by nature, good coaches; they back up the professional and technical proficiency with the relational and emotional intelligence that helps them connect with the individuals they are leading. They possess the ability to listen, ask questions, and explore the needs, motivations, and talents of the individuals they are coaching, along with the supportive nature to help them succeed. They are also forthright enough to encourage employees to drive on and be the best they can be.

However, many organisations with a more traditional approach to management are finding it tougher to connect with employees, especially millennials.

There are many ways to incorporate coaching into your HR processes and to develop a ‘coaching culture’ in your organisation. If you’d like to discuss this, please feel to email me at: