As a Manager, Are you a Coach or a Lion Tamer?

By Daniel Bloom

What kind of manager are you? Are you the lion tamer in the circus or the coach, training and rooting for your team? Toyota and the Toyota Production system has shown us a path to a better alternative to the dictatorship model described above. Your responsibilities as a manager are to provide an environment centered on nurturing the human capital assets of your organization. Our responsibility is to be a leader not a manager. So how do we bring about this change to the organization?

We begin the process with the hiring and on boarding of new hires. We hire for attitude, not just skills. Jeffrey Liker in his book Toyota Talent describes a new hire at the new Kentucky plant where they hired an employee for the factory floor as a manager who had management skills from the retail market. Once they onboard as a leader you are charged with the responsibility of educating them about their job responsibilities, the corporate culture and the work environment. This education process also includes teaching them the skills to be successful in the new position.

Following the education period, it becomes your responsibility as a leader to be there as a support vehicle when problems arise. Trust me they will arise in the daily activities. Your role as a leader is to lend a hand to the human capital asset to guide them towards getting the support needed to make them productive members of the organization. We are not suggesting that by lending a hand you should do their work for them. We are suggesting that you should act as a coach to help them on the path to full productivity.

John Wiley on his For Dummies site, defines business coaching as the act of challenging and developing your employee’s skills and abilities. You still maintain your title as manager; however we have added a new path for you to take. We assume that the human capital asset has been brought on board and gone through the on boarding process. They have received that initial education process to learn what is expected of them in the workplace. The goal is to make them as productive as possible in the shortest possible time period. Sometimes in life, things don’t always go as planned. There are times when the initial education process is not enough. When life goes in another direction, then we are confronted with several options.

The first option is that we need to determine whether the problem is due a lack of skill. During the education process the human capital asset did not acquire the right set of goals to be a contributor to the team. It is in this scenario that you as a leader need to work with the full time employee to gain those missing skills. It may mean sending them back into the classroom. It may mean pairing them with a mentor that can work side by side with them to get the new skills up to par.

The second option is that you have determined that the problem is not due to a lack of skill, but rather a mindset, which says, they just do not want to do the job. This recalls another type of coaching skills. It becomes your responsibility to guide them to another position within the organization or for the benefit of both parties, coach them out the door.

We are deep in a new paradigm. It is rapidly changing the workplace environment and conditions. It requires that instead of being the dictatorial manager, we consider the organization as one big family. This new view changes our roles. We need to take a cue from Toyota and work with our human capital assets to guide them towards being a fully productive member of the family. We do this by educating them regarding the position and then coaching them to make sure they get the skills to the level required to meet the voice of the customer. It also at times means that we must play the role of the tough parent and guide them in a different direction if that is what is beneficial for all involved.

The next time you have difficulties with an employee, who is not living up to expectations, forget about pointing the finger. Instead lend them a hand to find the correct path for them within your organization. Change from the slave driver to the guide along the path to organizational excellence.

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