Training Skills Series: The role of coaching and feedback in training

Guest post by Ken Burnett, VP/ Director of Training and Business Development, Bank of American Fork

This series is written from experience and is part of Bank of American Fork’s training program. The program embraces the philosophy that training is a skill-based job, and managers need to learn specific skills to be successful.

Changing behavior or adding new knowledge or skills to a job can be a difficult task in the best of circumstances.  Unfortunately, management of many organizations believe that behavior can be changed or knowledge added by simply requiring attendance at a training course or using a job aid or performance aid.  Oh, if it were that easy.  The cycle for changing behavior does involve a learning component, but a few other critical parts must also occur.   Coaching, feedback, measures and metrics must also be part of changing behavior or it won’t stick. 

The performance cycle starts with the introduction of a skill or knowledge. There is a process to introduce a new skill:

1. Become aware of the new skill or task, its importance and when to perform it.

2. Introduce a performance metric as a goal.

3. Learn how to perform the task or targeted skill intervention as needed.

4. Attempt the task.

5. Receive coaching and/or feedback for the performance.

6. Start again at step 3.

This process is the way to learn how to do anything at work or another place.  The focus of this discussion will be coaching and feedback—step 5.  Coaching and feedback moves the performance of the learner from novice (usually) to proficient or even expert.  Introducing a new skill or knowledge in a training environment can never completely bring an associate to mastery, regardless of the approach.  It would be difficult to include all of the random and challenging working conditions and practice the skill enough in a training environment.

Coaching and feedback are really two different, distinct processes.  Coaching is the process of extending the learning of the task. Feedback is clearer cut.  Feedback is either constructive (the task was not performed correctly) or positive (the task was done correctly).  The correct use of both is critical to the learning process.  After the completion of training, the manager should sit down with the associate and discuss the new task, answer any questions and help the associate clearly understand the expectations of performance.  The next step is the most critical in the learning cycle—when the associate tries the task for the first time. 

The manager should then discuss the performance with the employee.  Set the expectation that after each attempt at something new the associate should reflect on their performance.  The job of the manager is not to lecture, but to guide the associate through the task so the employee owns their behavior. 

This can be accomplished by asking the associate, “How did it go?” or “What went well, and what did you struggle with?” Both of these questions should start a healthy dialogue.  As the manager you share the responsibility for the employee’s performance, so you should be asking questions about issues you observed.  For example, “The profitability part of the calculation can be difficult, how did that go for you?” or “Many people struggle with the loan-to-value calculation—what questions did you have in this area?”  The combination of using both reflective and guided conversations can make the coaching conversation more effective and less contentious.

Throughout the coaching conversation, balance the importance of performing to a metric and keeping the coaching environment safe.  An environment is very threatening if an employee is learning a new skill and the possibility of firing exists with his or her first mistake.  At the same time, if the associate never feels that there are any expectations of performance, then they won’t have expectations for themselves, either.

Coaching should be immediate. Your coaching should move from feedback about the whole task to minor performance tweaks.  Coaching should continue until the performance standards are met, and then use the standard or metric to note a need for additional coaching. 

Feedback can either be constructive or positive.  Often, feedback is poorly delivered.  For example, “Hey, Joe, you did a good job today.”  The employee is left to figure out what he or she did that was good.  Many employees rarely receive helpful positive feedback.  Employees often respond better to positive feedback, because it relates to the associate’s natural skills, and they may just need a little reinforcement for their skills to really take off.  Constructive feedback must be about the task, not the person, to be effective. 

Good feedback is:

• timely,

• specific,

• task-focused instead of personal,

• actionable and

• invites accountability

Coaching and feedback are both critical parts of learning a task.

Ken also wrote a series for manager skills. What other business skills do you want to know more about? Tell us in the comments!

Ken Burnett is vice president/director of training and business development for Bank of American Fork. He is responsible for training more than 300 employees on a variety of topics, including coaching and feedback for dozens of senior managers within the organization.              

Related Articles