Teaching, Not Telling

The cashier at the grocery store had a name badge on and it indicated she was a trainee. She didn't know the code for one of our produce items and she had to call the manager over. Waiting for the manager, she was apologizing profusely. "No worries," I told her. "Everyone has been new on the job at some time."

The manager came over, gave her the code, but continued to stand there, looking over her shoulder and critiquing her every move. "When you scan the items, do it this way. Put the bags on the rack like this, it's easier to pack them that way, and it's faster." It went on and on and poor trainee was just getting more nervous and flustered. Talk about a helicopter manager! "She's doing fine," I told Manager. “We're in no hurry." The store wasn't that busy.

Manager finally backed off and left trainee to do her job. Trainee continued to apologize – profusely. I flashed her a warm smile and reminded her that it was a good time to practice and learn while things were slow. I also assured her that she'd find her stride and her own routine for scanning and packing. Accuracy first, speed will come. This was a teachable moment, but her teacher (Manager) was telling, not teaching.

A good coach is like a good teacher – someone who explains and engages in a way that is nonthreatening and helpful. A good teacher allows the student to find his or her own way, so the student (or Trainee in this case) feels good about herself.
Every manager and leader needs to understand that coaching is a process that enables learning and development allowing staff to improve performance or meet goals. What struck me in this situation was that the new trainee wasn’t struggling with her performance, she just didn’t have all the codes committed to memory yet. This wasn’t an unusual situation. Good coaching skills giving feedback in an effective manner. This includes working on one thing at a time. If you try to address too many things all at once, the employee can become overwhelmed. This is exactly what happened to the trainee.

A good coach lets the person being coached find his or her own way. Clearly, this is not what Manager was doing. She was telling – pointing out actions that she perceived to be mistakes (or not the best way of doing things) rather than pointing out successes. I couldn’t help but wonder if my accolades about Trainee’s performance fell on deaf ears!

Manager’s often must (and should) give feedback to staff members. Feedback should acknowledge positive performance as well as areas for improvement. If improvement is required, make a request for change – “If you’re having difficulty with price checks and scanning while bagging the articles, please ask for help and we’ll send someone over to bag the items.” Manager in this case, was directing Trainee to “Do it my way!”

Good coaching skills will make you a good teacher. When you teach, you:
· Build confidence and trust
· Increase employee engagement and retention
· Develop people, letting them know they matter
· Let people know you value their contributions and skills

Aren’t these outcomes we all want for our organizations?


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