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Put me in, coach - I'm ready to play today Fri 04 May 07

Andrew_and_coach_edstuartmoulder This past week my friend and career coach Kent Blumberg was in town and we had the opportunity for a quick ad hoc coaching session.  As luck would have it on the drive home that night I heard John Fogerty's classic song, Centerfield, with the refrain:

Oh, put me in, coach - I'm ready to play today
Put me in, coach - I'm ready to play today
Look at me, I can be center field

This got me thinking.  I'm fortunate to have a coach from outside the company that can provide some independent, objective suggestions.  Our employees usually are not as lucky.  They typically have to dependent on their managers and supervisors (gasp, gulp) -- us!

We want to coach our employees, we really do.  "Put me in, coach."  It is just that we are so busy and all the projects are really, really important.  "Put me in, coach."  We want to give people a chance to grow and try new things but we aren't sure we can risk it.  "Put me in, coach."  We just have to put the most talented person on the assignment.  "Put me in, coach."  Don't they understand, I just can't do it.  "Put me in, coach."

Down deep we all know we really do need to give them a chance.  A good coach will put people into the game in the right situations and let them try.  Sometimes the coach puts them in confident they'll succeed.  Sometimes the wise old coach puts them in knowing they'll fail but learn more and be all the more stronger for the experience.

Some tips to finding the right situation and maximizing the opportunity.

  • Find a project where you've got some slack in the timeline or where they are internally generated projects where IT is the customer to reduce the pressure.
  • On those really important projects where you just have to use the best person.  Do it, but have them act as a mentor to a less experienced person.  This is a great "twofer".  The old pro gets some valuable coaching and supervisory experience and the less experience person gets a valuable training opportunity.
  • Make sure they've had adequate training so that when they do go in, they're ready and prepared to succeed.
  • Follow-up training immediately with an appropriate opportunity that builds on an reinforces that training.
  • Early on give them some assignments where they are likely to succeed to build their confidence.
  • Once they've gained a measure of self-confidence put them on more difficult projects to bring them back to earth.  Allow them to fail but don't let the project fail.  By this I mean let them try things and learn from their mistakes but provide backup resources that can get them back on track and can prevent the project from failing.  As the old saying goes, "I've learned more from my failures than I have from my successes".  Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror has a great post on the value of failing.

OK, Get your glove - you're going in.

How have you managed to coach your employees?

p.s. If anyone has some coaching advice for the Houston Astros please let them know.  We're off to a slooooow start and need some help.

"Andrew and Coach Ed" photo by stuartmoulder

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