Coaching to Engage: 12 Rules to Effective, Ongoing Employee Coaching

Hillary Wright
Written by
Hillary Wright

By Hilary Wright | Marketing Manger | @QuantumWork

85% of hostile employees don’t receive enough coaching from their boss, according to Quantum Workplace’s latest research study. What’s happening there? Is the manager just ignoring them, or is the manager ineffective at coaching? What do employees want out of coaching? Is it different than the manager’s perception?

Coaching I sat down to research the topic to see how my advice on effective employee coaching would match up with what others had to say, but I found that my perspective on coaching was completely different than many of the articles I found.

Several of the articles approached employee coaching as a solution to when something is wrong. The tips included a meeting, an agreement that there’s a performance issue, a commitment to act, and of course, ways to handle excuses. I was a little taken aback. Yes, handling performance issues is one type of coaching situation, but I would hope it is in the minority. And I highly doubt that this is the kind of coaching 85% of hostile employees believe happens too infrequently. I mean, who enjoys being on the receiving end of a performance issue coaching session?

Real coaching is ongoing. It’s about fostering and encouraging employees to continually grow and do their best work. It’s providing feedback, positive and negative. It’s giving employees the opportunity to fall and get back up again.

If you’re only coaching employees when something is so wrong that you call it a “performance issue,” you’re doing it wrong. And you’re probably disengaging employees.

Here are some tips for ONGOING coaching that leads to engaged employees.

1.  Give them regular, frequent feedback

Get into the habit of giving employees feedback regularly. Set aside a time to do it, whether it’s a weekly one-on-one meeting or a calendar reminder for you to check in and give feedback; put it on your calendar.

2.  Make feedback part of your team culture

Set the tone that feedback is a good thing. You give feedback because you want your employees to be awesome, not because you want them to be punished. Giving feedback regularly and mixing praise with constructive criticism will help enforce that tone.

3.  Push them to attainable limits

You got this encouragementWhen I was in grad school, my final project advisor gave me a sample project to use as a guide. When I turned in my first section draft, I was absolutely shocked (and a bit irritated) by the amount of feedback and different elements she wanted me to add. I remember thinking, “What the heck? The other paper definitely didn’t have all that.” Then when I turned in my second section, thinking, “This is amazing, and I already totally did WAY more than what was in that sample,” the same thing happened. It was NEVER good enough. After my project was done, I said to my advisor, “You know, this goes way above and beyond that sample paper you gave me.” She said to me something I will always remember, “As a teacher, you have to adjust to your students’ capabilities. I pushed you harder because I knew you could do it.”

I think the same lesson is applicable to coaching employees. Understand your employees’ experience and skillsets and adjust your expectations. If you expect a newbie to be up to par with something you’ve been doing 10 years, you are setting your employee up for failure. Hone in on the most critical elements first. Teach them; help them; push them. Once those are performed well, move onto a new group of skills to accomplish. Make it a continuous cycle, and don’t forget to ask them where they want to improve.

4.  Be open to their ideas

I’ve had the “My Way, No Highway Option” manager. No one wants to work for that manager; no really, everyone on my team left that company.

Nothing is more disengaging than coming to someone with new ideas, your ideas, and constantly being told “no.” Not every idea is going to be great or even feasible, but be open. If the idea won’t work, don’t be dismissive; provide explanation with logic, not emotion. If the idea is decent, but not great, help coach it to greatness with feedback. If the idea is fantastic, let your employee know it! And remember, when it comes to being open to new ideas or change, your reasoning can NEVER only be, “Well, that’s just how we’ve always done it.” No team will ever become more effective or innovative if that is your approach.

5.  Encourage them to learn from others

Mentoring GroupYou’re not the only employee your reports can learn from. Encourage them to leverage other team members’ expertise, and help them find those connections. Social learning and collaboration tools, like River, are a great place to point your employees to.

6.  Ask their opinion

When employees come to you for feedback, turn the question back on them. Asking, “What do you think?” can go a long way. It shows that you are interested in their opinion, and sometimes your employees will come to their own conclusion as they talk it out. If you agree with their conclusion, two awesome things happen. One, they feel validated. Two, it can lead to them feeling more independent and confident, realizing they don’t need to always come to you.

7.  Build confidence

As you’re coaching employees and providing feedback, it’s important to build their confidence. You don’t want them to feel like you’re their crutch. Give praise, especially when they’ve succeeded at something they’ve been working to improve. When giving constructive criticism, let them know you believe they can do it.

Every once in a while an employee might have a moment of complete lack of confidence, pull out all the stops. Get them out of their head. Communicate your confidence in them to accomplish the task at hand. Sometimes downplaying the difficulty or breaking it down into simple steps for them can be helpful.

8.  Don’t do it for them

The absolutely worse thing you can do is to constantly re-do your employees’ work for them. Refer to #7; it said build their confidence, not break it. Doing an employee’s work sends one clear message: I don’t trust you or believe you can do this.

Not to mention, can you say waste of time and money? If you can’t delegate work, you have no business being a manager. Yes, coaching an employee also can be time-consuming, but in the long run, it’s going to pay off.

Now to be completely honest, occasionally I’ve had to break this rule. There’s a time constraint, or something is just not clicking with the employee, so I step in. But when I feel forced to do that, I try to accompany it with an apology. I give them reasoning behind my action, let them know they’ll have the opportunity to do this sort of project again, and I make darn sure that taking over doesn’t become habit.

9.  Accept failure

Bad things are going to happen. Mistakes are going to be made. This is life.

When something goes wrong, an engaged employee is going to feel horrible about it. You don’t need to beat them up about it too. Remember, sometimes our greatest mistakes are our greatest opportunities to learn. Your employee will learn that lesson without a beat down of confidence. Acknowledge the problem. Remain positive and solution-oriented.

10.  Recognize

Great jobIt’s simple. When an employee does something awesome, let them know that you noticed. A handwritten thank you note, a shout out in front of the team, a cup of their favorite Starbucks drink…small rewards build confidence and celebrate success.

11.  Set goals and make a roadmap

Ongoing feedback on work in one part of coaching; another part of coaching employees is a long-term look on performance. Big improvements take time. When you or an employee identifies a major goal for performance improvement, ask her how she’ll get there. What will achievement look like? What steps or processes can be implemented to work toward the goal? Ask these questions, and help your employees make a roadmap to success.

12.  Ask what you can do to help

When your employees face a challenge, ask what you can do to help. Are there obstacles you can remove? Can you provide advice on how to handle or accept obstacles? Can you provide them with more resources or instruction to better accomplish the task at hand? Sometimes your employee will admit there’s nothing you can do to help, and sometimes that’s ok. Just asking if you can help shows them that you are there to support them.

When ongoing coaching works, it develops a relationship of care and trust. And for the unfortunate times you do have to confront a true “performance issue,” a relationship previously built on trust and care will only make a difficult conversation easier to handle.

Develop your talent. Coach your talent. Engage your talent. And you will retain your talent, improve your talent, and increase your business’s success.

A special thanks to Hilary Wright of Quantum Workplace for writing this blog.



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