Practice Matters

Coaching Communication: Tips for nurse managers

Below is an excerpt from Hess’ new book The Nurse Manager’s Guide to Hiring, Firing & Inspiring, courtesy of Sigma Theta Tau International. All rights reserved. Visit http://www.nursingknowledge.org/Portal/main.aspx?pageid=92&channelid=11&ContentID=57574 to purchase or learn more about the book.

One key element of performance management is coaching staff to improve behavior. In this section on coaching communication, I will share ideas for how you as a manager can coach employees via your day-to-day conversations.

Coaching communication focuses on improving employee performance to meet the organization’s goals and objectives. This coaching can be related to performance that needs to be changed or to performance that you would like to see repeated. Make sure you spend time focusing on both.

One reason this is so important is that a lack of consistent coaching, which is evident in many work environments, causes problems. A theme within the nurses’ responses to how nurse managers could be more effective was the need for consistent coaching of staff. Three quotes from the national survey I conducted reflect the frustration of nurses. “I wish my nurse manager would stop ignoring the disruptive behavior of staff members who simply refuse to do what is outlined in their job descriptions.” “Stop showing favoritism.” “Stop keeping low performing employees.” As managers, sometimes we mistakenly think that coaching communication can damage relationships, whereas my experience clearly indicates that it can help to foster open communication and build trust in the long run.
After you have communicated the what, the why, and the how to the staff member, provide informal feedback on how the person is doing. Give yourself time to think about what you will say, when you will say it, and the ultimate outcome you seek.
Many times, managers focus almost exclusively on the improvement side of coaching and forget to recognize a job well done. You are so busy that you forget to compliment folks. People love to get compliments, but only if they are warranted and sincere. When asked, “What should your nurse manager start doing?” survey respondents replied:

Provide feedback more often.

Give positive feedback.


Be positive and affirming.

Give more praise.

When you recognize positive behaviors, remember to make compliments timely, sincere, consistently delivered, meaningful, and personal. “Good job” or “Great day everybody” does not meet this criteria. Employees don’t want a superficial pat on the back; they want you to notice what they’ve done well and comment on it to them personally.

Here’s an example of a compliment that meets the criteria above. “I heard it took quite a bit of work yesterday to find the missing information for the chart. Thanks for being so thorough and making us all look good. That’s a great example of teamwork for our department! Keep up the great work.” A compliment such as this takes a few more seconds, but the impact is much more powerful. Take the time to offer sincere, well-thought-out compliments (and note them in the employee’s folder) and everyone ?benefits.

When employees are not performing to your expectations, look at where the deficit is coming from. Performance involves three elements.

Ability: If the problem is related to a lack of ability, offer resources and training to improve the skill.

Opportunity: If a lack of opportunity is causing the performance gap, create written procedures that are easy to follow for the few times staff must complete this task.

Motivation: Many coaching opportunities stem from a lack of motivation and this is the most challenging gap to correct. Motivation is internal and is the result of many factors.

Regardless of the cause of the performance gap, you start coaching by clearly sharing your expectations with staff—by sharing the what, how, and why of the performance. If you haven’t communicated the desired outcomes and you start coaching, then staff members have every right to be frustrated.

Vicki Hess, MS, RN, CSP, is the founder and principal of Catalyst Consulting, LLC. She is an expert in employee engagement and workforce and leadership development. She is a certified speaking professional and the author of SHIFT to Professional Paradise: 5 Steps to Less Stress, More Energy & Remarkable Results at Work (CornerStone Leadership Institute, 2008). She is also a regular contributor to the Baltimore Business Journal.

Visit http://www.nursingknowledge.org/Portal/main.aspx?pageid=92&channelid=11&ContentID=57574 to purchase or learn more about her book The Nurse Manager’s Guide to Hiring, Firing & Inspiring.

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