The Pivot Point: Switching from Supervisor to Coach Mode – Professional Growth Systems

The Pivot Point: Switching from Supervisor to Coach Mode

The Question Method® is the process described in the book Creating High Performers that turns your direct reports into loyal, dedicated and highly effective employees.  But the process does not focus on what employees need to do or how they need to change. Rather it is the mindset and the approach of supervisors that gets the overhaul, leading to much higher levels of competence and greater job satisfaction for both supervisors and their direct reports. 

The second chapter of Creating High Performers describes why the established concept of a supervisor is outmoded.  It not only doesn’t create value, in many cases, it does damage.  In this chapter, supervisors are urged to transition to the idea of “people manager” which, later in the book, is likened to the role of a coach.  At the end of the chapter, author Bill Dann asks, “Have you had the ‘aha’ moment yet? Have I convinced you that you need to shift your purpose, role, and leadership practices to add value to your role as a people manager?”  That moment when you decide to make the shift and demand change in how you fulfill your role as supervisor is pivotal, after which managing people will never be the same.  

Our experience of assisting organizations and managers in putting the Question Method to work has taught us that there are clear steps to be taken after a supervisor decides to make this shift in order to be successful with the Question Method.  The decision to shift and subsequent steps for success are what are referred to as The Pivot Point. Specifically, they look like this:

  1. Making the Decision to Shift
    Take an assessment of your success at engaging employees, retaining them, and moving them forward to a higher level of performance. What is or isn’t happening that you want changed? When leading others, what is overly challenging and/or unfulfilling?  It is time to make the decision to shift if you are disappointed in your performance or dissatisfied in the results your employees are getting.  However, the absolute key to success in shifting your role and practices as a supervisor to that of a people manager is that the decision must come from within, i.e., not a mandate from senior leadership or a vague attempt at something new. You won’t be trusted or followed by your direct reports unless they can sense a sincere shift in your understanding of supervision and desire to change. If your employees can sense your sincere commitment to be better, they will get behind your decision to shift and clearly tell you how you can be more effective.
  2. “Selling” the Shift
    Once you decide to shift, you need to develop a message to employees regarding what will be changing, why, and their role in making the shift successful for both of you.  Clearly tell your direct reports what you hope to accomplish by making a shift in how you supervise and why you have decided the change is needed. You can do this in a group setting with your whole team before beginning the Question Method’s one-on-one meetings, or you can begin each one-on-one with the message. Feel free to use data from the book on lack of engagement, “bad bosses” being the leading cause of unwanted turnover, etc.  Though this data will help explain why you made the decision, as previously noted, your staff need to sense that the shift is sincere.  Remember, as you start this new journey, you and your direct reports are not only carrying whatever baggage your existing relationship carries, but also the damage or cynicism they are bringing from previous supervisors and work experiences.  Stress that your goals in using the Question Method are to improve how you lead and what you give staff to be successful in their work.
  3. Deliver a Vision/Goal
    Get clear on the destination you are trying to reach.  It could be a performance goal for the team, being the “team of choice” within the organization or besting a peer’s performance.  It could be that the team and each member is realizing their full potential and feeling the rewards of success.  Articulating a vision or goal stimulates others to take action and builds support for the change.
  4. Set the Current Performance Context for the Conversation
    Employees’ gnawing question in any interaction with their supervisor is, “what’s the assessment of my current performance?”.  Until that is clear, the employee is wondering, “why are we having the conversation?  I mean, I get that we want to get to the vision.  I get that the boss wants to make this shift.  But, I don’t get where I fit into this.  How am I doing?”  So, get that assessment out there straight away. “Before we get into the Questions and explore how I can best help you reach your goals, let me review an assessment of our starting point or your current performance.” Clarify that this is not a formal evaluation, but that you may make notes for yourself so that you can remember the actions you commit to.

    Then, make a list of each product or accountability for this employee.  As discussed in the book, each should be stated as a completion, e.g., “Invoices processed,” “client projects completed on time and budget,” and “sales made.”  Next, for each accountability, layout whether current performance is “above,” “meeting” or “below expectations/standards.”  If the employee is exceeding expectations, then express gratitude and state that you want to dialogue about future goals. If they are meeting or are below expectations/standards, explain that you will address what is missing using the Question Method and that you want to talk about new goals for performance/learning either in the current position or based on a career goal. Note, this is not a contradiction to the Question Method.  Rather, this assessment clears the path for the Question Method. Until an employee feels seen and understood, they will be unable to focus on the questions, understand their use and provide answers needed to move both themselves and the supervisor forward.

Why is a successful Pivot Point necessary?  The Question Method is a tool to create high performing employees that is grounded in an honest conversation between supervisor and direct report. A successful Pivot Point is the solid foundation on which to build that conversation. You are now ready to effectively use the Question Method with your direct reports and embark on a journey to add more value to your employees, to yourself and to the organization.