A Brief Guide to Coaching Employees

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Coaching is a development tool that many organizations are using to enhance performance and behavior at all levels of the organization - from employees to key leaders. Coaching has been found to lead to improved work performance, business management, team effectiveness, self confidence, relationships, and communication skills.

Coaching Defined

Coaching is a one-on-one developmental tool that can be highly effective in developing leaders and high potential employees, changing behavior (or addressing derailing/poor behavior), improving leadership and managerial effectiveness, and enhancing performance. Coaching is usually focused on one of three areas: performance, development, or executive/leadership ability.

  • Performance coaching is focused on changing employees’ behavior to meet certain performance objectives, improve their performance, or adjust their behavior or style if it is leading to performance, interpersonal, or communication challenges.
  • Developmental coaching is focused on building and enhancing capabilities and skills for current and future roles. Typically, developmental-oriented coaching is a longer duration than performance-oriented coaching (unless performance coachng is ongoing).
  • Executive or leadership coaching is aimed at helping executives understand their strengths and weaknesses, attain their goals, solve problems or challenges, and enhance leadership effectiveness.

Types of Coaches

There are generally four types of coaches used in organizations: managers and supervisors, peers, internal coaches, and external coaches. Each type of coach has inherent strengths when delivering coaching.

Managers and supervisors

Managers and supervisors often serve as coaches to their employees when they use a coaching style to manage others, provide performance feedback, and develop employees. Research shows that managers who use coaching can enhance their staff's performance.

Although managers and supervisors can and often provide developmental coaching in addition to performance coaching, more often, coaching by a manager or supervisor is performance oriented, involving:

  • Setting performance goals and objectives
  • Soliciting and providing ongoing performance feedback
  • Supporting and advising employees in solving work problems
  • Allowing employees to identify solutions
  • Offering advice on performance improvement
  • Clarifying performance outcomes and objectives
  • Understanding employees’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Suggesting alternative strategies and courses of action

Peer coaches

Peers can also serve as informal coaches, particularly if they work interdependently and collaboratively with one another. High performing peers can help their fellow peers enhance their performance, learn new skills, and grow their capabilities. Peer-to-peer coaching can be an effective way to draw on social support, provide encouragement, initiate ideas, and help high performers gain skills in coaching and mentoring.

Internal coaches

Internal coaches act as coaches within their organizations to coach high potential employees, help employees with career development, and develop or provide guidance/counsel to managers and leaders. They may also assist with performance improvement.

Internal coaches are intimately familiar with the organization and its culture and have deeper knowledge of personalities and relationships in the organization. For example, HR, organizational development professionals, or learning and development professionals commonly serve as internal coaches who:

  • Provide counsel, advice, and consulting to key leaders
  • Coach and advise managers and supervisors
  • Provide career coaching, planning, and exploration
  • Handle sensitive and challenging people issues
  • Help employees with performance improvement
  • Assist with skill building

External coaches

External coaches are more commonly used with senior level executives who need help with a specific challenge or with enhancing their leadership effectiveness. External coaches tend to be more independent and objective, have more experience with leadership issues, and are more specialized. External coaches should also be used with highly confidential or sensitive issues or situations.

When evaluating and selecting external coaches, most organizations evaluate a coach’s reputation, recommendations, experience, credentials, certifications, accreditations, and academic background.

The Role of Coaches

Although the roles of these four coaches vary, they share commonalities. Coaches of all types often act as a sounding board. They create a safe environment where coachees can explore challenges and opportunities. Coaches typically enhance others’ capabilities in a variety of ways through listening, asking thoughtful questions, helping coachees develop deeper self awareness, and offering guidance and resources. Additionally, coaches often...

  • Share new ideas, suggestions, and best practices
  • Help people find appropriate resources
  • Suggest opportunities to learn and develop
  • Ask questions to guide others toward the right answers
  • Help others find alternative ways to handle work situations or problems
  • Provide specific advice and guidance on how to improve performance or behavior
  • Teach others how to incorporate behavior changes into practice
  • Assist others in creating personal strategies for change and development
  • Help others find and create opportunities to stretch their skills and capabilities
  • Assist others in reflecting on their own behaviors, performance, and impact
  • Address barriers to effectiveness and help others brainstorm ways to overcome them

Keys to Successful Coaching

Taking a casual approach to coaching in the workplace likely won't result in any meaningful progress for employees. Instead, consider the following keys to developing successful coaching cultures, initiatives, and/or engagements:

  • Train all managers and supervisors in coaching techniques. Develop and promote coaching-based leadership and management styles.
  • Provide support to managers and supervisors to aid them in coaching such as conversation guides, talking points, scripts, and role-playing.
  • Have leaders role model coaching behaviors, and hold them accountable for doing so.
  • Identify individuals in need of coaching, based on performance, developmental, or leadership needs. Rank order them based on need or priority.
  • Make sure individuals selected to participate in coaching are open and receptive to a coaching relationship. Coach-ability and openness to feedback is crucial.
  • Vet and choose appropriate coaches (internal/external coaches, etc.). Where possible, choose coaches that are the best fits for the coachees. Consider style, coaching approach, experience, and even demographic variables like gender and age.
  • Set up a coaching program or coaching relationships/engagements. Determine how much time staff will need to be coached, and set aside resources to support the engagement.
  • Establish goals for coaching relationships/engagements. Determine what you need the end result to be and how you will measure success.
  • Integrate coaching into the talent management and leadership development process.

Measuring Coaching

On a final note, measuring the effectiveness of coaching is critical, as it can be a heavy time and money investment.

When gauging if coaching is effective, organizations tend to rely on observing behavior change, coaching engagement feedback, 360 feedback, performance reviews, and employee engagement/satisfaction surveys. In addition to these methods, however, it also helps to create specific goals for each coaching engagement and to measure progress against these objectives.

Whether coaching for skills, performance, development, or executive issues, coaching engagements and initiatives have been proven to be highly beneficial complement to an organization's developmental efforts.

Additional Resources

Coaching & Assessments

ERC's Coaching and Assessment services are delivered by Don Kitson, Ph.D., perhaps the most well-respected management psychologist in the region. Dr. Kitson specializes in assisting organizations in the areas of professional, management and executive-level assessment, leadership development, and targeted effectiveness coaching.