How to Coach Employees for Engagement
A key aspect of leadership and engagement is coaching. Coaching may be provided by a manager, by a team leader, or by a formal or informal mentor. A coaching session could be an organized meeting or occur during a brief, informal conversation.
What is coaching, exactly? Simply put, coaching is about ongoing change and development. It’s about helping others gain knowledge, information, and perspective to improve performance, develop competencies, build better relationships, enhance communication, enable different perspectives and insights, and identify and recognize strengths and potential.
A coach can help others explore new approaches to a problem, challenge them to take a risk, help them think of things differently, and assist them as they strive to complete a stretch goal. Coaches regularly provide direction, instruction, feedback, recognition, support, and encouragement to the individuals or groups they lead.
A quick guide to coaching
Coaching is a continuous process, consisting of three primary steps:
- Set expectations and confirm a plan of action.
More often than not, issues in a conflict between a boss and an employee have their roots in a lack of expectations and objectives, and no plan in place to ensure regular follow-up. Typically, the boss has been vague with instructions, and then becomes upset when the employee interprets the vague instructions incorrectly. Almost always, the manager coaching the employee through the process would have resulted in a productive outcome.
- Observe performance and provide developmental opportunities.
Part of the plan of action should be to build in regular check-in points to make sure the employee has a go-to person for questions and input, and to ensure the employee is being developed to succeed. A manager who is willing to provide a stretch assignment can really engage an employee, but ongoing coaching will be required to ensure development.
- Solicit or offer feedback and provide direction, instruction, or perspective as needed. This step is so critical in coaching. Engaged managers create cultures where it’s safe for an employee to ask for help, instructions, clarifications, and insight. People respond to positive recognition; an employee who receives positive reinforcement through coaching is more often than not going to excel.
All three steps apply whether the coaching is formal or informal:
- Formal simply refers to coaching or mentoring that occurs as part of the line organization (in other words, by “the boss”), by design (for example, as part of a formal mentoring program), or using company-approved tools (such as performance appraisal forms or 360 feedback instruments).
- Informal refers to coaching that a protégé seeks on her own or to coaching offered by a manager or mentor outside the official tools and process of the company.
Key communication skills in engagement coaching
A key to coaching for performance and development is creating dialogue that encourages the “coachee” to self-reflect and disclose information about his or own performance. Honest, two-way discussion about progress toward goals and feedback on specific behaviors is the aim. Effective two-way dialogue involves the following:
- Speaking: Asking questions and giving feedback
- Checking: Checking for a response
- Listening: Using active listening skills
Coaching is not about “fixing” people, or about the coach having all the answers. It’s a give and take.
Effective coaching requires the following core communication skills:
- Active listening: This is a set of skills — namely, attending, following, and reflecting (that is, briefly restating, in your own words, the core of what the speaker has communicated) — that demonstrate that you understand the thoughts and feelings being communicated by the other person from her frame of reference.
- Soliciting self-feedback: To solicit self-feedback, you must ask questions to get the other person to reflect on his own performance. This helps the person think critically, leading to increased self-awareness and ownership of one’s performance and development. Key questions include, “Specifically, what did you do well?” and “What would you do differently next time?”
- Giving feedback: You must give feedback to reinforce or correct behavior, leading to greater results and effectiveness.
- Asking questions: Asking the right questions can be incredibly powerful. Doing so can help people to think more critically, help them explore and solve their own problems, and lead to self-discovery — or, to quote Oprah, that “a-ha” moment. For best results, use open-ended questions (that is, questions whose responses tend to be sentences, explanations, or insights) to solicit self-feedback and facilitate insight and learning. Use closed questions (that is, questions that require no explanation or insight, and often result in single-word answers) to focus a conversation or to clarify information.
- Providing perspective: A key aspect to coaching is helping your coachee find and understand additional information — to take a broader view of issues and challenges. You can use several lenses to view problems or opportunities. For example, you may discuss how other people or groups may view the situation. Also, discuss the multiple aspects and impacts of an issue — for example, by running what-if scenarios.
A few handy pointers for engagement coaching
When it comes to coaching, keep the following tips in mind:
- Before you start coaching, make sure there are shared expectations for the coaching discussion.
- Keep the conversation focused and on track, and create two-way dialogue.
- Solicit information from the coachee to find out how she self-assesses her own behavior, strengths, and areas for improvement.
- Listen to truly understand the other person’s unique points of view. Be an effective listener.
- Provide feedback that is timely, specific, and objective.
- Be able to deal with difficult situations, such as defusing and addressing defensive reactions to corrective feedback.
- Ask effective, open-ended, clarifying questions, followed by silence, to allow your coachee to reflect and answer the question completely before moving on to the next question/subject.
- Facilitate the process of brainstorming and problem solving in coaching discussions instead of just giving the coachee the answer.
- Help others to understand and explore alternative perspectives when considering different actions or solutions to an issue.
- Help others to feel re-energized, focused, and committed as a result of a coaching discussion.
- Support your coachees in helping them develop their own action plan for their development. This should include setting short-term and long-term goals.
- Instill a sense of accountability with employees by coaching them on success measures and following up on their progress.
To better understand your current coaching skills and capabilities, try ranking your skill level with regard to each of the preceding tips, assigning a score of 1 to your weakest skill and a score of 12 to your strongest skill. Use each number only once. After you’ve ranked yourself, look at the skills you ranked the lowest. These are the ones you probably need to work on. Don’t forget about the other skills, however. Even the ones you ranked highest may require attention.
The GROW model
When planning a coaching session, whether formal or informal, consider using the GROW model. GROW stands for the following:
- Goal: What is your goal? What do you want to achieve? To determine this, you might ask the following questions:
- What would you like to discuss?
- What do you really want?
- What is stopping you?
- What is important to you about this?
- Reality: What is the current reality of your situation? You might assess this by asking the following questions:
- What’s going on/getting in your way?
- What have you tried so far?
- What worked or didn’t work?
- What decisions do you need to make?
- Options: What are your options? To establish these, try asking the following questions:
- What might you do to reach your goal?
- What if that course of action doesn’t work?
- What is another way of looking at this?
- What else do you need to take into consideration?
- What is another possibility or option?
- What is the upside or downside?
- Will: What will you do or commit to? To tease out this information, consider the following questions:
- What will you do?
- When will you do it?
- What support do you need to accomplish it?