A Manager’s Guide to Coaching an Action Plan

shutterstock_184803659Vision with action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.  Japanese Proverb

Managers often seem to struggle with holding others accountable for what was promised. Have you ever thought everyone was on the same page, and then the deadline was missed, the outcome was vastly different from what you expected, or your team member simply did not do what they said they would? This phenomenon isn’t the head scratcher you might have thought it was. It’s generally the result of an action plan miss step. Common mistakes made while developing an action plan are: unclear commitments, no accountability structure, lack of a collaborative process, or minimal support for a behavioral change.

Vague or ambiguous commitments: It’s easy to make assumptions when it comes to how much communication is necessary. Without absolute clarity regarding what, when, who, and how, the action plan outcomes will be based on the interpretation of each person involved. This creates different perspectives about what is expected and what success looks like. Managers who operate this way may be lucky for a time, but like all good things this too shall pass. The best defense is a strong offense, so a wise approach is to increase the quality and quantity of communication on the front-end of the action plan before damage is done to an individual or the team.

Accountability Structure: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We all know this story all too well. We start off with the best intentions, but there isn’t a framework to support us in staying the course. Savvy managers create open dialogue about what is needed to ensure support and accountability to commitments. When we plan to hold each other accountable on the front-end, before challenges arise, we avoid awkwardness on the back-end.

Tell vs. Ask: Over the years, I’ve observed many managers using a directive style, or telling their team member what actions need to be taken. This approach is appropriate when the situation calls for teaching a new skill or task, but it seldom has the impact or yields the results that using a more coactive approach to coaching an action plan. Managers who ask compelling questions facilitate team members in determining the best way to proceed that is based on their personal talents and skill-set. Another benefit of collaborative action planning is a higher level of commitment and engagement for the plans outcome.

Behavioral Change Management: Changing our primary way of doing things is hard. Whether we desperately want to become healthier or improve our skill at uncovering customer needs; changing behavior takes intense focus and attention. Forming new habits can be exhausting and uncomfortable. Managers who recognize that a behavioral action plan will best take root with consistent evaluation, reflection, and reinforcement. Consistent attention can help accelerate and sustain behavioral change.

A manager’s guide to coaching an action plan incorporates a few simple dos and don’ts.

Don’t!

  • Make assumptions without confirmation that others understand what needs to be done!
  • Blame others for not being able to read your mind!
  • Confuse micro-management with preparing to succeed!
  • Be an old school manager who doesn’t ask team members for input!
  • Forget to follow up!
  • Ignore all the hard work that goes in to changing behavior!
  • Forget to ask yourself when a plan goes off track, how could I have been a stronger leader?

Do

  • Ask questions to create clarity of action, such as:
    • What are the first steps; timeline, resources needed; potential obstacles; my role; your confidence?
  • Listen carefully for a thoughtful and realistic plan. If you don’t hear it, delve deeper.
  • Collaborate during planning process. Ask vs. Tell, as appropriate.
  • Brainstorm accountability structures, such as:
    • Check-ins, updates, observation and feedback, a plan to ask for help if challenges arise, agreement to inform or negotiate plan changes before they happen.
  • Create transformation by debriefing behavioral action plans that:
    • Focus on specific behaviors and outcomes.
    • Identify what worked and what didn’t.
    • Positively reinforce behaviors you want to see continue.

What does it take to be a manager who is masterful at coaching an action plan? Be aware of the dos and don’ts, ask good questions, avoid telling people what to do, collaborate on developing the action plan, and create accountability structures so people won’t fail. Once you have this down, 90% of your time spent on accountability will be the enjoyable act of acknowledging and reinforcing all the great things your team is doing. Schedule a free consultation today to learn how to create effective action plans.

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Deb Siverson is an author and president of Xponents, Inc. Her book, “The Cycle of Transformation: Igniting Organizational Change through the Leader Coach”, encourages transparent and emotionally-connected conversations at work. Her company’s focus is to bring out the best in people by recognizing the unique talent, values, and purpose inherent in all.