Steven Cesare, Ph.D.


An agile business owner from Minnesota called me the other day to talk about assorted issues inherent within her company’s on-going culture change. With predictable preamble, the engaging discussion addressed business metrics, results drivers, employee morale, customer outreach, and other pertinent cultural indices being monitored. Beyond those topics, the inquisitive owner insightfully reflected on how her role must adapt accordingly to remain aligned with the multidimensional change swirling around her.

Pensively, humbly, and existentially, she verbalized her introspective thoughts as if I was not present, and waxed philosophically by saying, “Am I the owner, thought leader, orchestra conductor, boss?” Interrupting her thoughtful self-examination, I said “While you are all of those roles, your primary role is a coach.”

I could hear her eyes shift as their focus purposefully darted into the telephone.

All owners have the primary role of being a coach. They just don’t know it. Or, don’t want to accept it.

A coach guides another person (e.g., employee, athlete, colleague, mate) toward improvement. Unlike an auditor who simply identifies performance shortcomings, the coach extends the facilitative effect of those shortcomings by charting a reparative course toward success. An IRS agent, a visit from the OSHA consultant, a trip to the dentist, bringing your car to the mechanic are examples of functionaries that audit our performance and gleefully tell us what is wrong, accompanied by a perfunctory action plan.

By contrast, a coach reviews the problem areas, links their gaps to a goal, specifies a detailed action plan that we would work on, provides ongoing precise feedback and supportive encouragement as we progress through the action plan, has contingencies available if the initial plan stalls, and, celebrates success with us once we reach the defined goal. Does that sound like any IRS auditor you have ever heard about?

A coach’s goal is facilitating improvement; the auditor’s goal is casting judgment.

Coaching has more meaningful depth and personal connection than merely conducting an employee performance review, showing an employee how to use a piece of equipment, telling an employee to work faster, or highlighting miscalculations in an enhancement proposal.

Do you like to be told what to do, when you don’t know what to do? Do you like to be ridiculed by an angry supervisor for doing something incorrectly? Do you like to be taught by someone who teaches you the way s/he learned something, instead in the way you learn things? No one does.

A coach possesses a conceptual, linear, and procedural mindset of how various functions (e.g., drafting the labor schedule, yard dispatch, a customer walk-through, employee interviews, handling an irate customer, conducting a meeting, maximizing job sequencing, employee discipline, calculating costs in a proposal, filling staffing vacancies, improving job quality, and most of all, coaching other employees) must be completed efficiently for a goal to be achieved.

Then through a series of employee-centered sessions, the optimal process is presented to the employee in a series of small, chunked segments to ensure the fundamentals are understood. With a supportive, goal-directed tone, the coach connects those behaviors to an organizational outcome (e.g., gross margin, cost containment, client renewal, net profit) to highlight the employee’s undeniable contributions to the company’s success. Through either direct or indirect role modeling the coach then allows the employee time to practice the new skills supplemented by constructive feedback. Once the goal is achieved, appropriate approval is administered. If performance improvement is slow, patience and an alternative path are presented.

Did you learn everything the first time it was conveyed to you?

You would have, if you had a better coach.

Remember: You’re a coach. Better yet: Be a better coach.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.