How to Effectively Conduct One-on-One Coaching Sessions

June 12, 2013 - 9 minute read - Posted by

More companies are adding coaching as part of their communication architecture. A well-designed communication structure will help information and ideas flow freely and efficiently to the whole organization. One-on-ones or coaching sessions are opportunities for employees to share their ideas, frustration, and career advancement to their managers in a private setting. The key to effective coaching is the understanding that it is employee-focused. The manager’s role is to listen and to draw the key issues out of the employee. It is recommended that managers do 90% of listening and 10% of the talking. Managers can also use the one-on-ones to ask for feedback on their own performance and suggestions for change.

Recommended Reading List on Coaching

Frequency and duration of one-on-ones 

The frequency and duration of one-one-ones are usually left to the manager’s discretion. It is recommended to have weekly meetings of 30 minutes with each employee. Some managers find one-on-ones time consuming and will not do it. However, they need to perceive these sessions more as regular “reality checks” to ensure alignment of employees’ goals to those of the company. These sessions will result in more motivated employees who know they are being recognized for their contributions to the company. Employees will feel that management cares about their ideas and career advancement within the company. A high retention rate of high-performing and motivated employees will save your company money in the long run.

Constructive feedback sessions

Both employees and managers dread one-on-ones when they know it involves constructive feedback. As a manager, remember that the session is about the employees. Talk about the issue in an objective manner and allow them to share their perspectives. The most important thing to do next is to MOVE FORWARD. Don’t stall on what they did, focus on what they will do in the future. Encourage them to come up with a plan to remedy the issue. Keep in mind that all employees react differently to constructive feedback. Offer your support in developing a plan if they are struggling to come up with their own. Finish the discussion by setting a follow-up session to keep track of the employees’ progress. Show enthusiasm that they can achieve what they have set to do — you want to leave the session on a positive note.

Body language during coaching sessions

Body language is important in setting the tone for the meeting. Don’t separate yourself from the employees by sitting across a conference table. Have an open presence by sitting facing them with arms uncrossed. Be open and receptive to what they have to say. Make eye contact to show them that you are actively listening and that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying. Be respectful and do not look at your phone or watch throughout the session. If you have an important call, set that expectation at the start. Take notes. It will help you remember the important points of the conversation and is useful for follow-up sessions. It is also a way to show the employees that you are listening to them.

Six-Question Process

Coaching is not only about giving positive and constructive feedback. It is a chance for executives to gather suggestions from direct reports on the bigger picture. Marshall Goldsmith, best selling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There? talks about using Six-Question process for better coaching. He recommends executives to conduct one-on-ones quarterly with their direct reports to focus on understanding disagreements with the company’s strategic alignment. I think that this process can be applied to all levels of the organization.

1. Where are we going?

Ask the employees for their input on where the organization should be going. This is an opportunity to ensure that strategic objectives set by each member of the organization are in alignment with the company’s vision. Employees have the opportunity to come up with new ideas and share them with the executive teams. They also may have better insights on how the organization is doing since they are the primary contact with customers.

2. Where are you going?

This question has two levels. The first one is where the specific functional teams are heading towards. What are they trying to achieve to support the company’s mission, vision, and goals? The second level is the direct reports’ individual goals and priorities. Knowing where your employees are aiming towards can help you build your succession pipeline.

3. What is going well?

Ask your employees what they think the organization as a whole is doing well and what their teams have been doing well. Recognize them for their achievements and contributions to your overall objectives. You may have missed out on some positive accomplishments and this is the perfect setting to learn about them.

4. What are key suggestions for improvement?

Encourage employees to provide constructive suggestions for the future. You should pick the key opportunities for improvement and focus on them for the quarter. Next, ask your employees, “If you were your own coach, what suggestions would you have for yourself?” By listening to their suggestions, you can then modify your own suggestions to better reflect the strategic objectives of the company.

5. How can I help?

By listening to your employees, you can provide the appropriate support to ensure that their suggestions are being implemented effectively. You can also participate by suggesting approaches and asking whether the approach will be helpful to become more effective. Managers need to remember that improvement is not measured by the frequency of one-on-ones, but by the quality of them. They key to improvement is to provide coaching to the right people on the right topic.

6. What suggestions do you have for me?

This question makes the one-on-ones a two-way conversation. Managers who ask for feedback and focus on improving the key behaviours are more likely to have an increase in leadership effectiveness. Employees are more open to the idea of being coached, when their managers are are willing to be coached by them.

Becoming an effective coach  requires trial and error. There is no perfect formula on how to be the best coach since every company and person is different. Therefore, don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from your peers, your supervisors, and your team members. Practice different coaching scenarios with co-workers to discover  your strengths and to work on your weaknesses. The end result of effective coaching affects both the employers and employees. For the employers, one-on-ones provide a structure for guidance and focus which leads to higher productivity. Employees have greater satisfaction as coaching allows them to share their ideas and career plans.

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