While working with a multinational company, the question came up, “how does a British manager coach a French employee?” Other clients have asked,“what happens when the manager is in the top left corner of the personality style matrix, and the employee is in the bottom right hand corner?”Still others have asked about Boomers working with Generation Y.
These questions raise the same issue: how do we coach employees with language, style, regional or cultural differences, or gender and generational gaps?
The qualities of the best employees include Good Communicator, Responsibility, Initiative, Team Player, Empathy, etc. Most successful managers have many of these attributes.
I have seen managers who perform well when working with customers or bosses. However, they often drop these skills when working with direct reports.
Coaching utilizes the same skills as effective selling: listen carefully, make recommendations, and follow up. With Cross Cultural Coaching, follow these steps even more carefully than usual.
Make it clear that you are there to help, not to criticize. Acknowledge any cultural difference. “I understand your approach is different than I am used to”.
“How do you feel that went?” “How did that look to you?” Refuse to comment or pass judgment. They will ask what you think; but don’t bite, even if it looked totally foreign to you. Watch out for body language or facial expressions that might give away your opinion. Put on your poker face.
If their assessment of their performance is pretty accurate, then move on to Step Three. If not, ask more questions: “Is there another way you might have tried?” Explore different approaches, alternatives and options through your questions. Without condemning their performance, suggest different ways other employees have tried. Remember: different doesn’t mean wrong — it just means different.
In performance coaching, you are trying to improve only one thing at a time. By focusing on one thing and sticking with it until it is resolved, you can make significant impact. By diluting efforts, you get nothing done. Ask, “what one thing do you think you should work on?” If they are on the mark, then go with their priority. If they need guidance, then make a clear and simple suggestion.
“What ideas do you have for getting better in this area?” Sometimes we need to assign rote work in order to engrain new behaviors into their everyday habits. Measuring and keeping track of new behaviors keeps them front of mind. Role playing, extra assignments and journaling are ways to make the learning real and the behavior modified.
In addition to assigning a practice approach, you have to get personally involved. Care enough to commit to following up with your employee. “Why don’t we circle around in two weeks, and you can tell me how you are progressing?” They have to do the learning and growing, but you have to help and hold them accountable.
Coaching cross culturally doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and don’t make recommendations. It means we pass no judgment, and follow a structured approach to performance coaching. Making a commitment to helping an employee grow is universal for “I care”.