Coaching employees can be a great way to help them develop skills and build confidence. However, coaching is not a silver bullet solution. There are some situations when coaching is appropriate, and others where it may not add much value.
As with many aspects of leadership, it’s all about taking a balanced approach. Adding coaching to your leadership toolkit can work really well.
So in this post, I’m going to take a look at some of the benefits of coaching employees, when coaching is likely to be appropriate for your people, and some tips to make it work for you and your team.
Benefits of Coaching Employees
The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as:
“Partnering with people in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.”
This definition is based around coaching people who are clients. But what about coaching employees?
For me, coaching employees is all about helping your people learn how to solve their own problems.
That’s not to say that they don’t need your support. They do.
However, coaching conversations can help your people work through their challenges and come up with solutions they may not have been able to develop on their own.
It’s not about giving your people the answers. It’s about having thought-provoking conversations that help them see what options may work best so they can move forward.
In this way, coaching employees can:
- Build confidence, as your people learn to think critically to work through their own challenges, with you alongside to support them
- Improve performance, as your people start to become more self-sufficient within their roles; and
- Improve motivation, as your people start to feel more confident and capable and can see that their goals are within reach.
When Is Coaching Appropriate For Your People?
While the benefits of coaching are strong, adopting a coaching approach is not always the best strategy.
Here are some questions to help you decide whether coaching is the best approach for your people.
1. Do You Need Results Fast?
Coaching employees takes time and effort. You’ll need to devote time to the process, so you can have meaningful conversations that will help them improve.
If you are in a situation that requires fast action, then coaching may not be the best approach. When you need results quickly, it may be faster to provide advice and answers, instead of thought-provoking questions.
2. Do Your People Have the Skills and Qualifications to Succeed?
Coaching is great, but it isn’t necessarily a substitute for training.
Coaching someone who has no Engineering experience to build a bridge is probably a bridge too far.
But coaching a qualified Engineer to succeed in a challenging new bridge-building project may work well.
Coaching employees who don’t have the necessary skills can be a frustrating experience, as they won’t necessarily have the capability to execute the actions they develop.
However, coaching employees who already have the right skillset can be highly successful when motivation or confidence are the ingredients they are missing.
3. Would It Be Easier Just to Give Them the Answer?
If someone wanted to know where the printer was in your office, would you ask them “Where do you think it might be?”, or would you just give them the answer?
This may seem like a trivial example, but it’s important to understand when to give someone the answer, and when they might benefit from a coaching conversation.
The problem with always giving people the answers is that they become reliant on your support. Coaching conversations help your people to become self-sufficient and think for themselves.
4. Are Your People Up For It?
Coaching conversations can be challenging and thought-provoking. However, they can also be frustrating if people simply want to be given the answers.
I find that coaching employees works best when they are keen to learn, develop, grow and are willing to stretch the boundaries of their comfort zone to achieve their goals.
Learn More: 1 to 1 Meetings: Let’s Make Them Better.
Simple Tips For Coaching Employees
We’ve covered some of the considerations about when coaching is appropriate for your people. Now, here are some tips to help you and your people get the most out of the coaching experience.
1. Assess Whether Coaching Is Appropriate and Explain the “Why”
It’s important to make sure your employee is on board and keen when you try to coach them. You can use the factors above to assess whether it’s appropriate in your situation.
Another important step is to explain why you would like to take a coaching approach with your team member. This is important to explain why you’re not just giving them advice.
Failing to clarify the purpose of the coaching can be frustrating for someone who is expecting you to just come out and give them advice or direction.
2. When Coaching Employees, Use a Model to Give You Structure
Coaching is quite a unique process and doesn’t necessarily need a rigid structure. Each coaching conversation can unfold in different ways so trying to stick to a tight plan can feel restrictive.
However, some structure can be useful to help you frame the conversation and make sure your team member receives the benefits of coaching.
COACH: A Simple Coaching Model
A good model you can use to structure your coaching conversations is the COACH model. Each letter of this model is described further below:
- C = Critical Issue (or Goal). Here, we need to establish the critical issue or goal to be addressed during the coaching in general, and the coaching session itself. Having a goal means you can keep checking in during the conversation to see whether you’re still heading in the right direction.
- O = Opportunity. In this part, we identify the opportunity for growth, improvement or to solve a problem. Identifying the opportunity often means visualising the ideal future situation that your employee would like to achieve.
- A = Action. Here, we look to develop specific actions that the employee can take to make progress. These should be SMART where possible, so that they have a good chance of being completed!
- C = Commitment. This part of the model attempts to assess the commitment of the employee to completing the actions. I often ask people to rate on a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high) to get their thoughts on how much they feel committed to making progress. If they score below an 8, we look at whether there are barriers they need help with, or whether we chose the wrong action.
- H = Hold Accountable. Accountability is an important part of coaching. In this step, we identify ways to check on the progress of the actions and hold the employee accountable. This might be as simple as following up with them before your next conversation.
The COACH model is a useful framework to follow. It ensures that you’re thinking about goals and actions so that there are outcomes from every coaching conversation.
You don’t need to stick to it perfectly, but without a structure, sometimes coaching just becomes a chat, which is far less powerful!
Learn More: The 5 Stages of Team Development.
3. Coach Employees By Asking Useful Coaching Questions
When coaching, we often find that our team member is stuck on an issue.
Then, we may ask a question like, “Well, what do you think you could do?”
You might find that the answer comes back “I don’t know”.
So how do you get to the heart of the issue and help people think differently about their options? You ask some different questions.
Sample Coaching Questions to Try With Your People
“What is important to you about this problem?” – this helps people to think about what really matters to them about an issue, which can help them craft a strategy to fix it.
“What would you do if there were no consequences?” – this can help people feel more aspirational. Once you have an answer, then you can work back to how to adapt it to match reality!
“Imagine that you have accomplished <the goal they are interested in>. What steps did you take to get there?” – sometimes, thinking back from success (known as backcasting) can help you develop the way forward!
“What else?” – people often have an obvious idea that springs to mind straight away. But when you probe further, this can uncover ideas that lie hidden, but may be the most powerful.
Those are just some questions to try, but there obviously many others out there. The point is to try to “ask around the edges” of the problem. Sometimes, this can lead to a really valuable insight that your employee may not have considered.
Coaching employees can be a really powerful way to build confidence and develop your people.
Add it to your leadership toolkit and see how you can help your people grow.