Coaching Meets Coronavirus: How to Support Employees During a Crisis

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Apr 20, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

In a crisis, our attention tends to shift from the most common everyday concern of needing approval to more basic needs of security and control (water, food, shelter, etc.).

In this Coronavirus pandemic, good managers are asking themselves similar questions: what basic things do my employees need to survive a difficult work situation? What should I be telling them? How can I make sure their work-from-home experience is positive and productive? The best managers start being more attentive to what I consider to be the three basic characteristics of good coaching conversations:

  • They are more caring. They acknowledge their people’s emotional state without telling them how they should feel.
  • They are more candid. The old FEAR acronym of False Expectations Appearing Real is never more true. They don’t withhold or sugar coat information.
  • They make sure they are constructive. They don’t waste people’s time. They keep conversations relevant and on track.

Workplace coaching is something the majority of HR and talent leaders believe is critical to their businesses. The problem is that while 80% of HR/Talent leaders believe coaching is a key leadership practice, only 15% believe managers in their organizations are good at it.

As we navigate these uncharted pandemic waters, here are a few basic coaching principles you can start using now to help improve your coaching practice and guide your employees through new obstacles and challenges.

Provide continuous feedback and communication

Transparency, where possible, will help employees thrive under uncertainty; they want to know whether or not they are meeting organizational standards and if there’s anything more they can do to help the business sail through uncharted waters.

Managers should use regular conversations to check-in and provide feedback. This helps employees feel seen and understood and provides an opportunity to communicate organizational priorities. In fact, a Gallup study shows that employees whose managers regularly communicate with them are nearly three times more engaged than those whose managers don’t regularly communicate.

Technology now provides many tools to make this communication easier. From Zoom to Slack to text to email, everyone can stay in close touch with their colleagues even amidst any shelter-in-place order.

Ask, more than tell

Employees across the globe are facing unprecedented “interference” that keeps them from focusing on their work. Not only are they having to navigate canceled events, restricted travel, and working from home — they’re also concerned about their finances and the health and well-being of themselves and their loved ones.

Now more than ever, employees need someone who demonstrates empathy. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by asking questions and listening more than telling them what to do. Coaching focuses on empowering workers to move past the incredible amount of interference they face by shifting their focus to doing what they know how to do.

A simple way to do this is to ask three simple questions. First, ask, “What’s working?” This sets the stage for the conversation by reminding both the manager and the employee what is going well and helping them make progress. Second, ask, “where are you getting stuck?” This helps to give everyone a clear picture of the obstacles they’re facing at work, setting the stage to find ways around them. Lastly, ask, “what can you do differently?” This ensures the conversation will end with people talking about solutions, perhaps even coming up with creative ideas for how to tackle problems for which there’s currently no “playbook.”

Help employees GROW

Last but not least, having a structure or a process to follow to help with decision-making can be especially helpful when a lot of interference is present.

A simple and broadly applicable process for doing this is the GROW® model, which is an acronym for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way Forward. GROW doesn’t require us to learn something new. Instead, GROW maps out what we already do or know and can be thought of as a checklist getting from A to B.

The Goal is B, the desired outcome; the Reality is A, what’s happening. (When establishing Reality, be sure to help your employee separate distinct thoughts and feelings from what’s actually happening.) The Options are their ideas for closing the gap between A and B. Last, and most importantly, the Way Forward is the option(s) they will take action on.

In times of stress, our minds tend to race in circles, “horrible-izing” the future. This model provides employees and managers a clear system to follow for setting and achieving their goals and is particularly useful in reducing the amount of interference (or emotional horrible-izing) that is being experienced at this time.

Clarity about where to go and how to get there will empower your people to navigate through difficult circumstances.

In the world of sports, when an athlete is faced with challenging circumstances, they turn to their coaches for extra help. Perhaps it’s now that coaching becomes even more important as a way to support our people, given these challenging times. There’s never been a time when people need to experience more care, candor, and constructiveness.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.