What does Coaching for Performance actually mean?

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What does Coaching for Performance actually mean?In my last few posts I’ve suggested our job as coaching managers is to convert as much potential as possible into performance, but of course performance means different things to different people. An actor will have a different view to an athlete and a team leader may have a different view to a team member when it comes to defining performance.

Work based performance

In the world of work it seems that performance usually amounts to being about one of five things:

  • Increasing revenue – sales or other income streams
  • Providing an excellent service
  • Reducing cost
  • Increasing or maintaining quality
  • Reducing time, e.g. in production lines or in bringing a new product to market

Each of these areas of performance can improve as a result of effective coaching, and often coaching is sought because things aren’t going well in some of these areas. But these very broad areas of work performance are really outcomes, i.e. the results and consequences of people’s ability to perform in a host of other areas, increasing personal productivity, increasing team productivity, generating leads and opportunities, making presentations, managing performance, and so the list goes on.

As coaches we need to be sure we have an agreed understanding with our coachees of what performance actually means in their role and how we would know if it had been improved. Also, if we want to establish a strong business case for coaching and measure its success then having a clearly defined and shared interpretation of performance is absolutely vital.

The gap between potential and performance

Living in the real world, one thing is certain: there will always be a gap between potential and performance (life wouldn’t be much fun if there wasn’t) and we need to look at ways of closing the gap so that more potential is converted into performance.

In the same way that we need to think carefully about judging potential and defining performance, we need also to recognise that the gap between the two could exist for a variety of reasons and there could be different ways of closing the gap.

Suppose you have a member of your team whose job it is to produce the monthly sales figures. This they do by using the table function in a word processing programme. Unfortunately, this programme does not have the flexibility to produce the ratios and percentages that you need to really understand whether sales are going well or not.

In terms of performance you need a detailed analysis and in terms of potential we can assume that as your team member can find their way around the word processing package they’d have the potential to use other similar programmes.

The performance gap here is to do with knowledge. If they knew how to use a spreadsheet programme they’d be able to produce a more useful set of monthly sales figures.

Such a performance gap is also straightforward to fill. Find a course or a web-based package that teaches how to use the spreadsheet programme and away you go. Simple.

Now suppose you have team member whose job it is to handle customer complaints. This they do in accordance with your organisation’s policy and procedures but always with a slightly abrasive edge. They have had all the necessary training and up until recently were one of your best performers on complaint handling. Lately though there seems to have been an increase in escalated complaints and other team members are getting tired of having to sweep up.

Here the performance gap is much less obvious and unlikely to be closed by sending your team member on refresher training. In fact, that would just make things worse. The gap here is a subtle one concerning attitude or state of mind and needs a similarly subtle response.

In these situations we need to recognise that the gap between potential and performance doesn’t need filling it needs shrinking. In other words, we need to remove the things that interfere with potential being converted into high performance.

In his Inner Game series, coaching pioneer Tim Gallwey neatly expresses this idea as an equation:

PERFORMANCE = Potential – interference

And we’ll pick up on this next time.

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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