Employee coaching has become an increasingly popular technique. As more and more companies turn towards a coaching culture in an attempt to revitalise their employee review process, many leaders are wondering what employee coaching is and how to implement it.
In this post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about successful employee coaching and provide strategies to garner a culture of corporate coaching.
What is employee coaching?
We know that coaching has earned itself some buzz in the business world and research shows that it’s an effective approach. But how do we define coaching? Why do Millenials want 50% more frequent feedback than other employee groups? Is this all part of the need for more employee to manager coaching conversations?
First things first; the term coaching is somewhat misleading. When we think of coaches, the first image that comes to mind is someone who stands at the sidelines barking orders to the players on the pitch. Micromanaging every move whilst remaining outside of the team itself, but the reality is that effective coaching in the workplace couldn’t be further from this image.
When we talk about coaching in the workplace, what we’re actually describing is an effective kind of teaching that uses guided questions and professional relationships to help employees develop their own answers and focus. Just like teaching in a classroom context, coaching in the workplace requires collaborative dialogues between managers and employees. At the heart, it’s both asking the right questions at the right time and, perhaps more importantly, listening to the responses. Successful coaching conversations aim to encourage employees to identify their own areas for improvement and to develop their own pragmatic next steps as they learn from their mistakes. In this, employees take a proactive role in their own development and progression.
Coaches are leaders in the workplace who know how to work with their employees to bring out their best. Not only do employees actively prefer leaders who coach, but there’s also many far-reaching benefits for the company as a whole. For example, coaching conversations:
- Increase employee motivation and engagement
- Garner a culture of collaboration and teamwork
- Improve job satisfaction and employee morale
Essential tips for developing a coaching culture
Creating a coaching culture is an integral skill for leaders to learn. Here we lay out the key tenets necessary for effective coaching in the workplace; asking questions and listening.
Ask the right questions, at the right time
No two conversations will be the same, but at the heart of all successful coaching conversations is a willingness to ask questions. Rather than lecturing employees on what to do, questions encourage the employee to take ownership of their progress and development and discover their own solutions and ideas.
However, empty questions lazily put together aren’t effective in and of themselves. The key is to ask the right questions at the right time. That’s where the GROW model comes in. GROW stands for – Goal, Current Reality, Options and Way Forward. It’s a useful and popular technique for structuring effective coaching conversations. So let’s break it down.
The first step is to establish the goal of the conversation. Is the conversation about a performance goal or a specific issue that the employee has encountered? Or is it about deciding on a course of action or objective? Questions may include:
- What are you hoping to achieve and why?
- What is your ideal outcome in this situation and why?
The second step is about understanding situational context – what is happening now and what relevant history or backstory influences this situation.
- How would you describe the current situation?
- Have you experienced a similar situation previously?
- How have you worked towards your goal/solution? What have you found has worked and hasn’t worked?
Together with the first step, this step establishes the basics- the who, what, where, when and why of a particular situation. By taking your time to understand the situation through the eyes of the employee, you’re better able to take the conversation forward and align developments. Also, the employee is given a chance to reflect and consider their progress.
The third step is about problem-solving, where managers can ideate with the employee and establish next steps. Questions need to be open but also thought-provoking; the goal is to challenge the employee to think through their issues and goals. As with all stages, it’s integral not to enforce your own solutions, but rather guide the employee towards their own insights. You may ask questions such as:
- How do you think you should handle this situation?
- What advice would you give to a colleague if they were in the same situation?
- How have you handled similar situations in the past? How do you think you could learn from those experiences?
The final step is about establishing a solid plan and pragmatic next steps. Unlike the previous stage, the goal is to commit to specific actions within a set timescale.
- What steps can you take today to resolve the problem?
- What are the obstacles to your solution and how can they be overcome?
- How long will you need to complete your tasks?
- What resources do you need from the team/management?
Following each of these steps and implementing these guiding questions should lead the employee to set themselves targets and objectives that are reasonable and doable.eBook: Embedding a culture of conversations
Listen, Listen, Listen
To coach effectively, managers must follow questioning with listening. If a manager completes the GROW model and asks all the right questions at the right time but fails to listen to the responses then it’s a pointless activity. Asking questions must always be matched with listening.
Importantly, there is a difference between hearing and listening. Listening requires managers to not only hear what their employees tell them but to also understand and act upon what they hear. Effective listening requires an employee to feel comfortable in the situation and able to speak their minds and share their ideas without fear of judgement or punishment.
Yet, all too many managers struggle with basic listening skills. In part, this is due to the image of the manager or leader as decisive and bold with a take-no-prisoners attitude. These managerial ideals certainly have a place in the workplace, but not knowing how to overcome listening barriers can have drastic consequences for both the employees and the company as a whole. In contrast, for those managers who can create a culture of trust through listening, the groundwork is already laid for a consequent culture of transparency and loyalty. The result? A happier, more productive workforce.
Again, there are productive steps managers can take to ensure that they’re truly listening to their employees during coaching conversations.
Keep conversations ongoing
In order to build the level of trust necessary to have open and constructive conversation, channels of communication must remain open and flowing. We’ve discussed the importance of ongoing communication many times, but the point can’t be stressed enough. When coaching conversations are only considered as a disciplinary measure when things go wrong, employees are less inclined to speak freely in a helpful way. Reserving coaching conversations for negative times fosters a distrust and frustration at the process overall.
Coaching should be part of a continuous performance review system in which the majority of conversations are positive and focused on employee success and personal development.
Ditch the distractions
Managers are often busy. Pulled in a million different directions at any given time, it’s no surprise that managers often remain glued to their phones or emails. It may seem innocent enough, but checking your emails, staring at your watch or even purveying the rest of the office during a meeting with an employee, sends a bad message. Not giving your full attention to the conversation makes the conversations seem unimportant and uninteresting.
Moreover, spreading your attention across different channels makes it difficult to actually listen, engage and understand the full conversation. Let’s say a manager looks down at their phone briefly after asking an employee how they’re feeling, the employee replies, “I’m okay.” For this manager, everything seems to be in order. Yet, in that moment of distraction, they failed to register the emotional signals the employee was sending- perhaps welling up.
When engaging in coaching conversations, prioritise the employee. Switch phones to ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode and focus all your attention on the conversation at hand.
Keep an eye on nonverbal signals
As the example above illustrates, much of what we feel is often unsaid. Communication, after all, is much more than words spoken. There are a whole host of ways that we, as people, communicate non-verbally. A good listener is able to notice these nonverbal cues and address them with the appropriate level of sensitivity and care. So, in the above example, rather than accepting the employee’s assurance that they’re okay, the manager should’ve asked something like – ‘I get the sense that this upsets you, would you like to talk about it?’
Being mindful of nonverbal cues extends beyond the employee and to the listener themselves. Not only does the employee give off certain signals with their body language and facial expressions, so too does the person conducting the conversation. It can be tricky to control our reactions – they often occur unintentionally, after all. The key is to pay extra attention to how you come across. Folded arms and furrowed brows are a clear sign of negativity, whilst smiles and open body language foster an amicable atmosphere.
Coaching conversations are the future of leadership. To find out more about how you can have better coaching conversations, check out our collection of resources on performance conversations.
The 5 most important performance conversations
Learn more about the 5 most important performance conversations from our collection of free resources.