Staff Development – How to Coach Your Employees for Success


Is Coaching the New Management?

World-class athletes, public performers, indeed winners in nearly every profession, know that without the right coach, they won’t perform at their peak.

Executive and management coaching has increased in popularity in the business world, with many prestigious companies implementing coaching programs for their executives, managers, and employees. Since high performance is essential to the maintenance of a successful career, companies who want to maximize the investment they make in people are choosing to engage in performance coaching.

“A 2004 survey by Right Management Consultants [found], 86 percent of companies said they used coaching to sharpen the skills of individuals who have been identified as future organizational leaders.” (P. Michelman, Harvard Management Update, 2004)

How Do Managers Start Coaching?

Due to the success of executive coaching, many managers are now coaching employees for Performance Improvement (PI). Coaching can also be a very effective tool for motivation, participation, and leadership development. So, how can you use coaching for PI, staff development, and ultimate organizational success?

Know Your Role:

When engaging in coaching employees it is important to understand and clarify your role. Although there are many similarities, a boss, a coach, and a boss coaching employees have different roles:

The Boss = Sponsor-Mandates goals and holds others accountable for results (internal to organization)

The Coach = Change Agent-Helps people increase their skills to achieve the results (typically external to organization).

The Boss-Coach = Both Mandates the goals and acts as change agent to help people develop the ability to accomplish these goals (internal to organization)

Common Pitfalls of the Boss-Coach:

Beware some of the common pitfalls of the dual Boss-Coach role such as:

  • Not making expectations clear
  • Pretending not to have expectations
  • Soft pedaling bottom line expectations
  • Thinking that coaching is a substitute for performance management
  • Thinking coaching is being directive or telling employees what to do

Two Important Tasks When Coaching:

According to Mary Beth O’Neil, author of Executive Coaching With Backbone and Heart, there are separate and sequential tasks a boss-coach needs to accomplish with any employee:

Task 1: Name performance expectations and ensure employee commitment to them.

Clear expectations should be behaviorally specific i.e. what, by whom, when.

Task 2: Coach and develop employees to accomplish expectations. Once you have clarified expectations offer coaching as a way to accomplish these expectations. Offering coaching as an option puts the employee’s motivation where it belongs, with her.

Steps to Coaching Employees for Success:

Once an employee commits to coaching the boss-coach engages in the following steps:

1. Contracting.

2. Action Planning

3. Live-Action Coaching

4. Debriefing-Evaluation of coaching process

Step I-Contracting:

Partner with the coachee, familiarize yourself with her challenges, test coachee’s ability to own her part of the issue and start giving immediate feedback. Establish a contract that outlines specific content, duration of coaching, sequence of meetings, goals, and how they will be measured. Specify expectations of both parties i.e. reporting hierarchies.

Step II-Action Planning:

During this phase move the coachee to specifics. Help her identify her side of the pattern and steps that she needs to take to improve her performance. Once a contract has been established plan specifically how it will be executed. With the employee, create specific action items with due dates.

Step III- Coaching Sessions:

Meet with the coachee on a regular basis (once a week is recommended) to ensure that the plan is being followed and to help keep the employee on track. I recommend Live-Action Coaching*, which allows you to observe a coachee in live action with her colleagues and provide immediate feedback.

As a manager you possess a unique advantage because you are already internal and in a position to observe. Live action coaching may also entail giving an employee feedback on an interaction you are having with them. Assume that how they interact with you carries over to other working relationships so who better to give them feedback than someone who is being affected by his or her behavior.

When engaging in Live-Action coaching ensure the structure of the sessions, follow the coachee’s goals, foster pattern breaking, and maintain alignment in the organizational system-by honoring the coachee’s and your role in the system.

Step IV-Debriefing:

After the agreed upon coaching contract has been fulfilled you must debrief with your employee regarding the process of coaching. Assess whether or not coaching was effective, were her goals met? Discuss the coachee’s strengths and challenges. Identify key recurring patterns, assess the alignment of roles, and plan the coachee’s next steps. Set a tone of openness by being open to feedback on your performance first.

When coaching employees keep in mind some of the characteristics that make good coaching so effective:

  • Involves personal, one-on-one training or teaching
  • Usually results from direct observation of behavior or specific facts
  • Can be targeted to a specific task or assignment
  • Is interactive
  • Suggests a concerned, friendly, caring interest
  • Offers encouragement and support
  • Doesn’t rush to judgment or criticism

If you clarify your role, avoid the pitfalls of having a dual role, and follow these simple guidelines you will be on the road to successful employee coaching.

* For a more in depth discussion of Live-Action Coaching you may want to pick up Executive Coaching With Backbone and Heart (M. O’Neal, 2000).

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