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Coach your staff to deliver quality care

June 1, 2008
by Yael Sara Zofi, Susan Meltzer, and Nino Dzotsenidze
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“Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.”

—Vince Lombardi

Coaching is all about knowing how to get the most from the individuals on your team to produce a win—whatever the definition of “win” is in your professional situation. You don't have to be a legendary football coach like Vince Lombardi to know that. As a manager, your job is to help long-term care staffers to focus their skills, resources, and personal energy to provide quality care and positive outcomes in your facility. Here are some practical suggestions to hone your coaching skills to motivate performance.

  • Incorporate coaching into your management process; it should not be used to resolve a crisis. The more you know your employees' strengths and weaknesses, the easier it will be to guide them towards mastering their work responsibilities. The point is to coach appropriate behavior and attitude to avoid crisis situations that arise from personality clashes or, more seriously, from performance-related lapses. (Of course, this is separate from crises resulting from the age and fragile health condition of residents.) Coaching sessions can be formal or informal; however, even in informal sessions, it's best to have a general plan in mind about what you want the session to accomplish. At the very least you need to be clear about the issue or trait of concern, and what constitutes an acceptable outcome or appropriate behavior. Since you and your team have tight schedules and are involved in resident interventions, treatment programs, and the like, your “crisis intervention” may often turn out to be informal. You can say something like, “I've noticed that in________situation, you________. May I suggest a better way of handling it?” or “When________happens, I've learned to________and it's worked for me.” This gives the individual some alternatives to try, and since your approach is not heavy-handed or judgmental, it's easier to hear and less likely to result in a defensive position.

  • If you make it a point to touch base with each direct report for a weekly five-minute update, your attempts to coach for improved performance don't have to last long at all. During these sessions it's critical to be an “active listener,” a term used to describe listening with the intention of hearing what the other person is really trying to say, without filtering his or her words through your own point of view. It's not the easiest thing to do when you are juggling so many things—struggling to finish a status report for a management meeting, familiarizing yourself with a new protocol and trying to make up the time spent in a spontaneous conversation with a resident's daughter who had grave concerns about her mother's therapy sessions. Nevertheless, it is important to take that deep breath and be fully present during the conversation. If your discussion is face to face, notice the nonverbal cues and body language that can provide clues to what is really going on with your staffer. Since you want the meeting to be as effective as possible, make sure you have heard his or her issue; say something like, “If I heard you correctly, your issue is________,” or “Do you mean that________happens because________?” Clarifying what is really going on is the first step to addressing the issue.

  • Without a foundation of trust and respect the best advice falls on deaf ears. You, as the manager, have the responsibility to create the conditions where the coaching process can flourish and lead to meaningful results. Are you an approachable boss? Do your actions match your words? Can you keep confidences? Do you take responsibility when you are at fault or do you put the blame on a subordinate? We can all add to this list of traits that promote sound employer/employee relationships. In sum, if you want your words to be taken to heart, you have to be respected, and you earn that respect by acting a certain way.

  • Knowing what is important to each member of your team enables you to tap into his or her strengths and motivate the individual to perform at a high level. This is the ‘secret sauce’ in coaching, and it is not meant to imply that you and your staff members need to become close, personal friends. It does mean, however, that one of your (many!) responsibilities is to go beyond a simple, superficial knowledge of your subordinates so you know the best approach to achieve your end. At some point in the first three months of employment, it's helpful to ask each staffer two simple questions:

    1. What skill / behavior do you want to get better at?

    2. As your manager, what is the one thing I can do, that's within my power, to help you succeed at your job?

    Checking back within a reasonable interval (six months?) shows that you are serious about his or her professional development and are willing to take actionable steps to help create a productive workday.

  • Encourage your team members to become self-managers. A good coach knows that he or she can't be everywhere at once. When people develop the self awareness to judge for themselves what behaviors and actions are helpful and what should be avoided, they can correct themselves without outside intervention. If you have handled your coaching responsibilities well, you will get the most out of your staff without having to stand watch over every aspect of their workday. Think back on the very best bosses you've had. Didn't you go that extra mile for those who believed in you, respected your ideas and genuinely listened to your concerns?