How to Effectively Coach Employees

April 20, 2013 - 9 minute read - Posted by

This week, I have started reading “Abolishing Performance Appraisalsby Coens and Jenkins. To be completely honest, the idea of getting rid of performance appraisals has been quite unsettling for me especially after working for companies who were advocates of conducting the annual performance review meetings. Questions such as “how are you going to hold your employees accountable?”, “how do you measure performance if you don’t hold appraisals meetings?” came rushing to my head. Basically why fix something that is not broken? Well, the truth is that performance appraisals do break your employees’ motivation which in turn results in high turnover or low employee engagement. Having being on the receiving end of performance reviews, I can say that it is the most dreaded meeting for any employee especially when they have no clue on how they did throughout the year. A recent article from the Huffington Post titled “Don’t Micromanage Your Staff, Coach Them  argues that if done properly, coaching sessions can replace your performance management conversations. As a manager, you support your employees to achieve their goals, not discipline or micromanage them. What really resonated with me from that article is that coaching is a mix of art and science; it requires the art of reading your employees, observing their behaviours and emotions, but also, the science of understanding the root causes of the behaviours and how to improve their performance. In this blog, I want to share some tips on how to effectively coach your employees.

After reading several articles on the best ways to coach your team, this article written by Katherine Graham-Leviss, the founder of XB Consulting, an executive coaching and business consulting firm explains the steps that I found very crucial for coaching. The following are 7 steps to take when coaching employees that are facing a performance issue:

  1. Build a relationship of mutual trust – The foundation of every relationship, regardless of its nature is trust. Your employees need to develop trust that you are here to help them succeed and not gather information that can be used against them. You need to establish an atmosphere of open communication and mutual respect. What is also important is that you should also be able to trust your employees i.e. anything discussed during the coaching sessions is confidential and that the feedback is used for performance improvement and career development.
  2. Open the meeting – The employees should always know what the meeting is about so that they come in with the right mindset. It is recommended to have an informal opening statement where you explain to the employees that the meeting is about helping them reach their goals and develop a road map that they can refer to in order to improve. You want to clarify that coaching sessions are independent from performance management i.e. the goal is to provide in-time feedback and provide support. You are not “judging” their performance and the coaching sessions are not linked to any compensations or promotions. By clearly defining what the objective of the coaching session is, it helps the employees be more receptive to the conversation.
  3. Get agreement – This is the most critical step in the coaching meeting: getting the employees to agree that there is a performance issue. Before you bring up the issue, you as a manager need to describe the issue in terms of the behaviours so that it does not become personal. Be careful not to assume that your understanding of the situation is the right one. A coaching session is a two-way communication process. You should encourage your employees to explain how they interpret the behaviours and agree on the nature of the issue.
  4. Explore alternatives – With the help of the employees, brainstorm alternative solutions to the issue. You want your employees to come up with specific alternatives and not general ones. The reason is that you need to hold them accountable to the solutions and clearly define what your expectations of the performance are. You should help them set goals and support your employees in coming up with specific alternatives.
  5. Get a commitment to act – It does not matter how great your solutions to the issues are until your get full commitment from your employees to act. This step is important because you need to show your commitment to your employees road map as well i.e. if you offer any mentoring or training, you need to follow through with them. Also give them your commitment by asking how they want you to support them. For example, ask whether they want to have a weekly meeting to keep you updated with their progress or what is the best method to keep in touch with them.
  6. Handle excuses – Employees may use excuses to lower your expectations of their performance. You should not disregard them; acknowledge them but focus on the solutions. There may be situational factors that may affect the outcome of their performance and as a coach, you need to take them into consideration. The hard part is to put the emotions aside and to concentrate on the behaviours. This is the time for you to be encouraging; your employees want to know that you are cheering for them and that you believe in their abilities to perform at the standard you have set.
  7. Provide feedback – Sometimes your coaching sessions do not have to revolve around performance issues. You may want to be updated on employees’ progress. Effective coaches understand the value and importance of giving continual performance feedback, both positive and constructive. Your feedback to your employees need to be timely i.e. right after a deliverable or an observation. Also be specific in terms of the quality of feedback. Telling an employee that he did a good job is not enough; you want to support it with the behaviours he demonstrated, for example”You did a great job making a quick decision regarding the customer satisfaction issue. Responding quickly to customer support tickets for our big customers is a priority for our department”. This way employee understands what actions he took that got him the positive feedback.

Coaching is time-consuming and requires you to spend time with employees quite often. However, there is a lot of value added to the company when you effectively coach employees. Coaching employees enables them to realize that you care about them and want to see them succeed. By showing encouragement and recognition, employees increases their motivation and productivity. You also save money because you are able to identify any issues before it gets out of hands. By providing the right assistance and support, you are actually helping your employees achieve their best performance, which in turn leads to higher margins for your company. I strongly recommend that you take steps towards integrating coaching in your workplace. You can start by providing continuous feedback to employees, and then you can introduce scheduled 1-on-1s to make sure you are in continuous dialogue with your reports.

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