Coaching Up Your ‘C’ Employees Pays Dividends

Curiosity within a culture of coachability is an ideal setting to groom a company’s next high-performing employees

By Paul Bergeron June 22, 2022
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Coaching Up Your ‘C’ Employees Pays Dividends

​Motivational speaker and former NBA player Walter Bond speaks during the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022. Photo by Ralph Alswang.

​Creating and insisting on a coachable management culture can help companies better find their next superstar employees.

Speaking at a June 13 concurrent session during the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 in New Orleans, motivational speaker and former NBA player Walter Bond shared how being coachable helped him reach the highest levels in his sport—and how those practices can apply to today's workers.

Bond was a struggling high school student, yet accomplished athlete, when growing up during the Michael Jordan era in Chicago. Mentored by his high school principal, he eventually landed a scholarship offer at the University of Minnesota but found himself sitting on the bench for the Golden Gophers' basketball team.

By constantly asking those around him what he needed to do to get better, he continued to improve his game, eventually joining the NBA as an undrafted free agent. Bond spent four years in the league and was in the Dallas Mavericks' starting lineup for opening night in 1992.

The power of coaching is immeasurable, he said, noting that he was constantly asking his coaches and mentors how he could get to the next level.

"You have to have a 'shark' mindset," said Bond, whose book Swim! (Wiley, 2019) explains how that hardworking mentality applies in the workplace.

Studies show that employees are 21 percent more productive if they work at companies with a coaching culture, Bond said. And confidence is the most important part of having a healthy mindset, he added.

Carry a Whistle, Not a Machete

In the workplace, Bond said, leaders can either carry a machete or a whistle.

"If they are carrying a machete, all they worry about is cutting what's not working," he said. "But those with a whistle coach their employees so they can improve."

Too many executives will come to the HR team and say, "Find me the next superstar employee," Bond explained. "You can flip the script on them by telling them that employee could already be at the company, they just need to be coached up so they can reach the next levels."

In their minds, Bond said, some HR managers could be thinking, "Don't pressure me to find that superstar if you're not able to appropriately and effectively coach who you have."

Focus on the 'C' Students

Coaching, mentoring and training from within is where the next top employees come from, according to Bond.

He said academic society today is designed to set the A students up with special honors programs and send the F students to detention. This largely dismisses the average students, who don't have enough opportunities for growth.

"The C students, and there are plenty of them, do not have programs," Bond said. "In the workplace, successful companies look at that level of employees and build them up through coaching."

Companies such as McDonald's and Jersey Mike's are perfect examples of looking inward to develop top talent.

"They are really just training organizations that masquerade as fast-food joints," Bond said.

Coaches Build Confidence

Ultimately, a coach's job is to build confidence in their players, be honest with their team and set new expectations. The same can apply to people managers.

Those professionals who exude confidence make a big difference on the playing field and the office, Bond said. " 'We're going to win because I'm on your team' is an attitude the great players have: Tom Brady, Michael Jordan."

He then reminded the audience that teams lose because of who's not on their team.

"You have that power because you are on the team—in sports or in the office," Bond said. "If you aren't reaching your goals and you change your mindset, you can succeed."

Bond compared eager workers to sharks. "Sharks never look down," he said. "They are always looking up—observing what's above them and not so much worrying about what's below them."

Bond noted that sharks never stop moving or they die, and sharks remain positive.

"Don't ever speak negatively about others on your team," he said. "When negativity or poor outcomes arise, ask yourself, 'Is this a deal or a big deal?' Complaining about a deal is petty and unproductive."

Bond added that sharks are the most curious fish in the ocean, making them "the smartest fish in the ocean. As professionals, by being curious, you become more coachable."

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