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Strategies for Successful Employee Coaching

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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?

Cur­rent Reality

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?

Way for­ward

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.

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