9/17/2014

Creating Environments of Learning to Reach Goals

Using coaching for the development of new leaders to retain good employees and drive profitability.

By Donna J. Popow

Imagine that you are the AVP of claims for a midsized regional insurer. As a leader, you are aware of the benefits of creating a coaching environment. Coaching is a method for developing new leaders, which helps to retain good employees and drive profitability. The key to leadership development is building employee engagement, and a coaching environment facilitates maintaining that important interaction.

Having created a coaching environment, you must ensure that managers find ways to demonstrate their coaching abilities. Managers and supervisors need to be prepared for individual coaching sessions and must have the skill sets to recognize and take advantage of “coachable moments.” They should have the following coaching skills:

  • A proven record of being able to draw out ideas from staff.
  • The ability to incorporate their experiences as a means of breathing life into a subject.
  •  A good sense of timing and understanding when to encourage, when to energize, and when to allow time for thought.
  • The ability to handle objections.
  • The willingness to accept diverse opinions.
  • Confidence and credibility.
  • The ability to be an active listener.
  • The capability to deliver performance feedback in a noncritical manner.

Coaching starts by aligning the goals of the organization, manager, and employee. To ensure alignment, goals need to be discussed, input should be solicited from all the stakeholders, and an alignment should be forged so that everyone is working toward the same end. If there isn’t an alignment of goals, even the most well-intentioned actions can backfire.

Suppose the organization has a goal of reducing the company’s combined ratio, and that message is widely and frequently communicated throughout the organization. Manager A decides that the way to achieve this goal is to reduce the number of salaried personnel, so Manager A does not fill any vacant positions. Manager B takes a different approach, deciding that a fully staffed office would be more productive and achieve better loss results.

The staff in Manager A’s office realizes that there will be no additional personnel. While they initially work harder to achieve the desired production results, they ultimately start to burn out and begin to look for new positions elsewhere. Manager B’s staff sees an influx of new hires. Some are well qualified, and some are new to the business. While initially enthusiastic about the additional help, existing staff members find that they are spending significant amounts of time training the new hires. As a result, production outcomes have started to suffer. Despite the intention of achieving a lower combined ratio, Managers A and B and their staff are not helping to reach that goal.

How do you avoid this situation? C-suite officers need to discuss goals and how they will be achieved with their direct reports. They should be of one voice when discussing these goals, and input should be solicited from direct reports as to how best to achieve them. Once assured of alignment, the direct reports can be sent out to discuss the goals with managers and supervisors to ensure that the activities taken to reach them remain aligned with the organization’s ultimate objectives.

Finally, managers and supervisors need to convey the goals to staff, discuss how they might be achieved, and solicit input from staff to ensure alignment and engagement. Having aligned their employees with the organization’s goals, Managers A and B can begin to set the stage for coaching. Before undertaking a coaching session, they must ensure that the employees are ready. An employee who is open to coaching will be:

  • Interested in increasing their knowledge and skills concerning a particular issue or process.
  • Willing to reflect critically on their own behaviors so they can detect their own weaknesses.
  • Willing to create strategies to improve how their work will be done.
  • In a situation where they make a decision and then implement the decision.
  • Searching for answers but not stressed out by the issue.

Next, set expectations for the coaching relationship. This includes how results will be documented, what success will look like, and when and how coaching will occur. Decide in what area coaching will be applied. It can be used for professional development, the delivery of a specific assignment or task, individual performance improvement, or enhancing team performance.

Finally, identify and act upon a coachable moment. Coaching is not always an event that can be scheduled. It may begin as a discussion about how an individual’s performance impacts the organization’s bottom line or because a mistake has been made. It may begin because there is a new process or technology being rolled out or an employee has an idea for approaching a new assignment.

The coaching moment can appear at any time. Managers must be willing and able to set aside what they are doing and take advantage of the moment. If an employee is comfortable enough to ask for your help, take the opportunity to coach them to possible solutions for the problem. By allowing an open discussion of a problem, the employee will be empowered to find their own solutions.

Coaching also can take place in a more structured environment. This is especially true when coaching a team. Team meetings can offer the team sponsor an opportunity to observe the team leader and members at work. These observations can then be discussed with the individual involved in a subsequent one-on-one meeting.

Whether coaching an individual or a team, managers and supervisors must take advantage of coachable moments as they arise so that employees will remain engaged and aligned with the goals of the organization. Knowledge will be shared, and decision-making will be participative. Leadership development will be seen as a top priority within the organization, thus ensuring employee engagement and a drive to achieve organizational goals.  



Donna J. Popow, JD, CPCU, AIC, is president of Donna J. Popow LLC, and has more than 25 years of experience in the property and casualty insurance industry. She has been a CLM Fellow since 2007 and can be reached at (215) 630-0829.

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