The Best Ways for Coaching an Employee in the Workplace

Updated March 10, 2023

Coaching in the workplace can be a very powerful tool in improving productivity, efficiency and accuracy on the individual and team levels. Understanding how to be an effective coach can help you better motivate, train and guide teams. In this article, we explore how to coach employees in the workplace.

Importance of coaching employees

There are many situations in which staff coaching may be useful, including between:

  • A team leader or manager and an employee needing to improve workplace performance.

  • A team leader or manager and an employee wanting professional development guidance.

  • A human resources professional and a team leader or manager wanting to improve their people management.

  • A senior teammate, team leader or manager and a new employee

  • A senior teammate, team leader or manager and an employee learning a new process or topic related to their role

While these are just some of the ways used in coaching an employee, there are many reasons why this process is beneficial and necessary. Effective coaching for employees can:

  • Improve individual employee performance and team performance

  • Promote professional bonding and consistent communication between employees and management

  • Encourage professional development, continued learning and constant improvement

  • Prepare junior team members for future leadership positions

  • Establish a regular cycle of positive and constructive feedback

  • Increase efficiency in identifying and addressing performance issues

  • Strengthen training for individual employees

  • Help employees set effective goals

Related: How To Be a Good Coach at Work

How to coach employees effectively

While every coaching process can vary depending on the coach, the employee, the organization and the goals, here are some standard steps to follow to ensure your coaching process is as effective as possible:

1. Praise achievements and growth

When you begin your coaching relationship, start by congratulating the employee on their previous successes and highlighting their strengths. People are often more receptive to getting constructive feedback if their accomplishments have also been recognized. Giving positive feedback reinforces the expectations you have for them and assures them that you have confidence in their abilities to maintain or exceed those expectations.

If you're coaching the employee in professional development, consider highlighting their strengths and identify the ways they've already grown. This can encourage them to keep refining and showcasing those strengths. If you're coaching an employee on a new process or topic, you can talk about how they've already done well at managing their current responsibilities and that this coaching is an opportunity that came from their hard work.

Related: The Importance of Positive Feedback and How to Deliver It to Others

2. Identify any performance issues they're facing

When you're coaching an employee who needs to improve their performance, be sure to describe what standards or expectations they've been struggling to maintain. Focus on specific signs and behaviors related to factors like poor attitude, motivation issues and productivity issues. Try to use specific anecdotes or data to support your observations. Be sure to also remain objective and emphasize your confidence in their ability to improve. Find ways to explain how those signs are opportunities to improve.

For an employee that you're coaching through a new process or topic, consider highlighting any potential challenges you see the employee possibly facing so that they're aware of any shortcomings that could impact their performance. This can help them prepare ways to overcome those challenges when and if they arise.

3. Explain why this change or development is important

When you discuss the challenges or performance issues with an employee, frame their need for improvement in terms of how it can positively impact the team and organization as a whole. By relating their performance to their role as part of the team, they gain another motivation for succeeding—to help the team and organization achieve their goals.

You can also frame their improvement or development in terms of how their contributions help the team and organization get better at what they do, like improving productivity, making processes more efficient or helping more customers or clients.

Also, you can also include the potential rewards of succeeding, including raises and promotions, especially for employees taking on new responsibilities or seeking professional development. Reminding employees of the benefits they can get from a successful coaching experience can further emphasize the importance of doing their best.

Related: How To Become a Coach (With 5 Benefits of Manager Coaching for Employees)

4. Ask the employee for their perspective

Get the employee as involved as possible in the coaching process by asking them to explain the issues they've noticed in their own performance or the goals they want to achieve in the workplace. This can make coaching more of a conversation, which can improve the employee's engagement in sessions. It can also help you identify areas of improvement you hadn't thought about before.

You can also use the employee's insight to gauge their awareness of the issues they've been facing and the impact of their performance on the team and organization. If the employee is aware of what's going on, they may be more willing to do their best to make it right. You can also use their awareness to more easily encourage them to improve or grow in their role.

5. Identify barriers to improvement

There are typically four barriers employees face that hinder their performance or improvement. Those barriers are:

  • Time: Discuss whether the employee can dedicate the time needed to improve or gain the experience needed to keep developing.

  • Training: Determine whether the employee has had adequate training and discuss the possibility of additional training where needed.

  • Tools: There are many tools that an employee may need to do their job well or grow as a professional. Be sure to talk about what tools the employee uses on the job and whether the tools are effective. You can also determine any additional tools or resources the employee may need to do their job to the best of their ability.

  • Temperament: Ask the employee about what motivates them and how that impacts their everyday work. Then, discuss how to overcome these challenges by finding new motivating factors or providing better access to additional motivators.

6. Collaborate on solutions

Work with the employee to identify the barriers and performance issues they need or want to work on. Ask them which barriers are the most challenging or urgent for them and collaborate on finding solutions to overcome them. Getting the employee more involved in this action plan further helps them engage in the process. The more engaged they are, the more invested they're likely to be in succeeding.

For example, if the employee needs to learn new software, some solutions they might seek out include training videos or practice projects to help them familiarize themselves with the program. An employee who needs to improve their time management, they try different task manager tools.

Related: What Is Coaching Leadership? (And When To Use This Style)

7. Set SMART goals with them

After identifying the possible solutions to help them overcome their barriers, help them set SMART goals.

  • Specific: Clarify which barriers the employee plans to address and have them outline which steps they are going to take to do so.

  • Measurable: Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that you and the employee can use to determine their progress and success for the barriers and challenges they're planning to overcome.

  • Achievable: Make sure that the expectations you set together make sense for how long you're giving the employee and the scope of the action plan's steps. If the employee has many goals to work toward, consider having the employee focus on smaller steps that lead to those larger goals, which can help make the action plan more realistic.

  • Relevant: Be sure that the employee understands how these steps can help them overcome barriers and how succeeding helps them improve or develop.

  • Time-based: Set a specific deadline for each individual KPI you and the employee set. Collaborate with the employee to make sure the deadlines are realistic.

Setting SMART goals helps you and the employee track what they need to achieve, by when, how they plan to do it and what success looks like. They can use these goals to more effectively break down large goals into smaller steps, and you can use them to ensure they're making progress.

Read more: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

8. Write out the action plan

Include every part of the SMART goal, including KPIs and deadlines, in a document. Having a physical copy of these goals can help encourage employees and keep them focused. If it's for an employee who needs to improve their performance, consider having them sign and date it to make it an official performance improvement document. You can sign it, too, to show that both you and the employee understand and agree to the expectations.

Related: Workplace Continuous Improvement Plan: Definitions, Techniques and Examples

9. Set a date to follow-up

Always set a date to revisit the action plan and SMART goals as the employee reaches their deadline or just after they reach it. Following up with an employee allows you to discuss what worked, what didn't work, what they achieved and what they still need to work on. Consider setting this follow-up when you create the SMART goal deadlines and write the action plan so that it's already planned when the employee gets started.

For an employee who needs to improve, consider following up with them regularly to track their progress before the final deadline and follow-up meeting. This can help you identify any challenges they're facing and address them as soon as possible. You can also use that time to congratulate them on the progress and improvements they've already made.

10. Revise the goals and plan

When you do follow up, review how well they did at reaching their goals and KPIs. If they succeed, you can allow them to set their own new goals for further improvement or collaborate once again on setting new goals. If they didn't quite meet the expectations in the SMART goal and action plan, discuss what challenges and barriers they had, and then revise the plan to make it more realistic and manageable for the next stage of coaching.

You can also use this time to identify if additional coaching is necessary or if you can reduce how often you need to meet. By maintaining the coaching relationship, you can ensure that you and your team are dedicated to continuously changing and improving.

Related: ​​11 Coaching in the Workplace Examples

Tips for employee coaching

Here are some additional tips to improve your coaching process and the outcomes:

Consider letting the employee set their own action plan

Try giving the employee an outline of your expectations, but not giving them the specific steps to meet those expectations. Letting them set their own plan allows them to be fully responsible for their success, which can increase their dedication to being successful. This situation might be more effective for employees who are doing professional development coaching or whose areas for improvement aren't as urgent or imperative. Just be sure to check that the deadlines and goals they set are still SMART.

Communicate throughout the process but respect their space

Understand that part of completing the plan is their ability to do so independently. Consider encouraging them to reach out to you outside of regular follow-ups or check-ins. This allows you to set boundaries for yourself to complete your work and for them to complete theirs.

Align your coaching with the organization's core values

Review your organization's values and mission statements, and identify ways you can put those values into practice. For example, if your company values innovation, consider encouraging the employee to try something new as part of their goal.

Personalize coaching for each employee

As a manager or team leader, you may coach many people over the course of your career. Consider tailoring the process, the KPIs, the goals and the frequency with which you check in on the employees you coach to make sure that each employee gets the most out of the experience.

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