Employee Coaching: Reality or Just Talk? | A Wake-up Call

Careers are about growth. The better we become, the more options we’ll have. 

We expect our career growth to follow these steps: 

  • Take jobs that align with our skills and knowledge
  • Complete training on processes and technical requirements
  • Apply learned skills and knowledge
  • Implement performance feedback
  • Repeat these steps 

This is the “science” of career growth, but that’s only half of it. 

It’s the art of doing your job well that delivers lasting success. 

Training programs teach job mechanics and requirements for representative situations handled by “typical” employees who aren’t you. 

Your success is influenced by your work ethic, communications skills, interpersonal behaviors, values, and personality. These are your art. 

We need coaching 

Our supervisors (coaches) arrange our training to make sure we know how to play (do our work). While we’re in the game (our jobs), they watch to see how we do. As we play, they support, correct, encourage, reinforce, and direct. That’s coaching at work in an ideal world. 

Alas, the pity! In the real world, supervisors aren’t doing much employee coaching, using excuses like: 

  • It’s too time-consuming (or not worth the time).
  • Employees are uncomfortable with my individual attention.
  • I don’t have the skills (or the patience) to coach, so I’ll do more harm than good. 

It’s time to wake up and do what needs to be done. 

Without coaching, there’s floundering. 

The pace of our professional growth is a function of the amount and quality of coaching we receive. 

Employee productivity and morale flat-lines when we don’t grow. Supervisors with stagnant employees will deal eventually with eroding performance.  

Unbeknownst to some supervisors, it’s the employee who does the work associated with the coaching. The supervisor as coach provides support, encouragement, and direction in areas where employees aren’t performing “artfully.” The employee transfers the direction on how to improve from his/her “coach” to the job. 

Everyone wins when supervisors coach. 

Be systematic. 

Keep your coaching process simple, focusing on what the employee needs to do better to move forward. Remember: You’re coaching for career growth. 

Start by focusing initially on no more than 3 employees. 

  1. Schedule individual meetings and ask each employee to bring a list of 3 possible areas for coaching. Prepare your own list of three.
  2. Start by asking the employee  to share his/her list and the reasons behind the choices. Follow with your list and reasons.
  3. Agree on which areas will be addressed.
  4. Ask the employee what specific actions s/he will take to improve.
  5. Ask what kind of coaching support s/he will need from you. Agree on what’s reasonable.
  6. Identify how you will both know if there is improvement—measures, observations, feedback from others
  7. Establish a timetable for meetings (Put the employee in charge of scheduling and running future meetings.) 

If the employee is not committed to his/her own growth, then your coaching time is better invested in someone else. So don’t chase after employees showing no initiative. 

Even as you’re coaching these employees for growth, you’re still providing performance feedback, formally and informally, to all employees, intervening when there are performance problems. There’s no rest for the weary! But it’s all good.

Recognize achievement 

The best part of coaching is seeing the growth. By recognizing the employee’s successful efforts, you: 

  • Build self-confidence and sustain motivation to continue to grow
  • Encourage others to want to be coached
  • Start to build a culture of peer coaching and self-developing teams 

Recognition can be a hand-written note from you, a gift card, or a formal celebration with his/her team, depending on conditions. 

Make coaching a reality 

A lot of organizations give lip-service to coaching. Employees know when they’re being sold a bill of goods. If employees are told the company believes in coaching for growth, then deliver. 

I bet you’ve coached a child on how to tie his/her shoes or a friend on how to use a social media widget. Coaching isn’t rocket science; it’s support, direction, encouragement, and guidance. Not only can you do this, it’s your obligation. Done well, it becomes part of your legacy.

So please give coaching for employee growth your best effort. It’s personally satisfying and very good business.

14 thoughts on “Employee Coaching: Reality or Just Talk? | A Wake-up Call

    • Thanks, Cherry. By sticking with no more than 3 coachees, it helps the supervisor to pick the employees who will most likely make progress. When there’s little time to coach among all the other supervisiory duties, it’s best to go with likely winners.

  1. I agree with Cherry–specificity is key. With all the distractions and pressures to perform, limiting the mental energy and narrowing focus is crucial.

    I wish I could teach a colleague how to install a social media widget–I’ll stick to helping my kid tie his shoes!

    • Yes, supervising is hard work and coaching, since it’s one-on-one is a special gift. Like everything, we need to put our efforts where the greatest benefits can follow. True confession time: I don’t think I could teach either. If I tried, it wouldn’t be pretty!

  2. As a manager of training and development during the day, I completely concur with the importance of coaching. There are many excuses given by managers for why coaching isn’t being done. In a sales/production environment like ours, everyone is actively trying to hit a goal so coaching turns into performance reviews which means its typically too late.

    My suggestion is that an employee contribute to their own development. They should hold their managers accountable and they should also seek out growth opportunities on their own. That could be handled many ways. One could find a mentor, stay well read on their industry, network and more.

    • Thanks so much for giving the value of coaching added weight. You’re so right, supervisors need to provide one-on-one coaching that focuses on correcting those few jagged edges getting in the way of an employee’s growth. So many supervisors do a poor job at performance appraisal and no job at coaching, so employees are often on their own to orchestrate their own prpofessionaldevelopment just as you outline. The idea that we teach people at work to fend for themselves and not offer support (especially exposure) isn’t going to give business what it needs for the future.

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. ~Dawn

  3. The biggest issue I see is supervisors confusing delegating with coaching. We have one Principal that is very proud and vocal about what a great mentor she is because she sits next to her staff and tells them what to do on the computer step by step. While I agree that technical skills are important, coaching is about much more than just delegating and directing a person’s step by step actions. It also does not need to involve social mixing with staff. Great coaching can be done in daily interactions and timely conversations.

    One tool I have learned is the A – C – S cycle for coaching meetings. A=Assess (ID strengths & weaknesses), C=Challenge (How are they going to optimize their strengths? And improve their weaknesses?, S=Support (What can I do to help you?)

    It is a very helpful cycle to keep me true to giving them the information and the accountability and the support they need to succeed.

    • If we were teaching a child how to ride a bike, eventually we could let go, transitioning from teacher to coach, yelling encouragement and reminders to look ahead. The supervisor you describe has got things a bit mixed up. It’s true that the business world throws around words like training, counseling, coaching, mentoring, and development like they all mean the same thing. Granted, they are intimately related but they are very different behaviors designed to meet different needs.

      I love your A-C S model. That’s a new for me and it’s wonderful. I’ll have to tuck that away for future use. Thanks for sharing it! ~Dawn

  4. “Coaching isn’t rocket science; it’s support, direction, encouragement, and guidance.” And it certainly doesn’t involve doing everything for the employee or telling that employee what to do. Some people think coaching involves constantly looking over the employee’s shoulder.

    • Susan, thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree with you more: “Some people think coaching involves constantly looking over the employee’s shoulder.” I recently developed and taught a manager’s workshop called “No Time for Coaching” Coaching Techniques that focused exactly on your point. It was just what the doctor ordered! Great to hear from you. ~Dawn

  5. Thank you for acknowledging that the coachee does most of the work. Just three years out of school, I receive a little of something like coaching at my current job. As little as one sentence from my manager can cause me to rethink how I perceive something and make comprehensive changes to how I approach my responsibilities.

    I would add that as someone in a position to benefit greatly from coaching, I don’t feel I would have enough perspective to come up with the best three areas for coaching if asked.

    • Maris, kudos to you for picking up on the input from your manager and using it to improve. Not everyone does that, so I suspect your manager notices. You make a great point about how some entry level employees often don’t know what they don’t know, so they need help there. I empathize but also know that too often waiting for direction means a lot of time and opportunity lost. In many respects, employees just need to look around at those who seem to be on the rise. Then opt for ways to grow the skills that seem to have a pay off. Great comment and much appreciated. ~Dawn

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