Jill Krumholz

Employee Coaching: Complete Overview and How-To Guide

While most organizations have some form of performance management system or process in place, they are very often limited to a top-down approach of management setting goals, evaluating employee performance, and providing annual or semi-annual feedback. These strategies work well for many organizations, but this approach can be supplemented and enhanced through employee coaching, which can help to further employee performance and professional development, and strengthen the connection between individual and organizational success.

With a well-structured employee coaching model in place, coaches and employees build a partnership focused on joint problem solving, setting goals, accomplishing tasks, and enabling employees to discover skills and strengths within themselves they might not otherwise recognize.

This guide answers many questions and addresses common misconceptions about employee coaching. With this information in hand, you may be better positioned to implement such a program at your organization or appreciate the value in seeking expert help with next steps.

We begin with common questions about employee coaching.

Employee Coaching FAQ

Many questions come to mind when thinking about how to best coach employees. This section answers some of the most common inquiries and provides an overview of this area of performance management.

1. What is employee coaching?

Employee coaching is one aspect of a company’s performance management system designed to enhance employee performance, engagement, and satisfaction, all of which contribute to personal and organizational success. Employee coaching utilizes an ongoing, interactive process to guide employees toward reaching their professional goals.

Instead of dictating to employees how they should accomplish a task or goal, coaches collaborate with employees, providing direction, assurance, and recognition. The end game is to motivate the employee and empower them to have the confidence to reach their full potential.

Employee coaching is not a disciplinary mechanism, although it may be useful as part of a holistic performance improvement plan.

2. What are the types of employee coaching?

Coaching in the employer-employee context can take many forms. Which best suits your organization depends on the desired result for the business and for specific employees. Some of the more common types of employee coaching include:

  • Executive advancement and succession
  • Management growth
  • Staff development
  • Performance improvement plan
  • Anti-harassment
  • DEI awareness
  • Role- or skill-specific expansion
  • Preparing for transitions

Coaching can be beneficial with any level of employee to motivate them to develop new skills, take on new challenges, and broaden their horizons.

3. What are the benefits of effective employee coaching?

Effective employee coaching inextricably involves the employee in the process and the solution. With their buy-in, employees are more likely to stay committed and move forward. The results benefit both the employee and the organization.

The employee builds a trusting relationship with their coach. This bond allows them to explore their strengths and weaknesses. The employee can then capitalize on those revelations, becoming better at their current job and developing skills for the future. When employees prosper and feel connected to their employer, the organization benefits from greater productivity and creativity.

4. Who is involved in employee coaching?

In the business setting, the coach is often the employee’s supervisor or manager, but it can be anyone in the organization with the right skill set. It is crucial that whoever fills this role grasps how to encourage and support people to develop and be their best selves.

To develop effective coaches, employers often need to invest time in training and grooming those taking on a coaching role. In some instances, the best choice is an external consultant who specializes in this area. (This is often the case with executive coaching.)

5. What do you need to get started with coaching?

Each company is unique, so introducing employee coaching may look different across organizations. The size, structure, culture, and availability of resources – people and financial – may factor into how a business incorporates employee coaching into a comprehensive people development plan and how it rolls out that plan.

However, despite these distinctions, there are some central criteria needed to embark on a successful employee coaching program:

With these elements in hand, an organization can develop or expand its professional development offerings to include coaching, and place itself on the right path to unleashing a more satisfied, engaged, and productive workforce and boosting the organization’s success.

This section examines the relationship between coaching and professional development.

Why it Matters: How Coaching Assists with Professional Development

The most beneficial professional development initiatives involve a continuous process, utilizing a variety of activities and methods to monitor, measure, assess, and encourage employee achievement. Ongoing professional development, of which coaching is one form, has significant benefits for both employees and organizations.

With individualized coaching focused on their unique needs and desires, employees can develop their skills, grow in their roles, and feel more invested in their work. Organizations can deepen engagement, cultivate talent, and build an environment of continuous improvement. The business prospers and employees feel energized, valued, and rewarded.

Coaching can be an integral component of a carefully planned and implemented professional development program. Instituting ongoing communication, frequent feedback, and an open culture of collaboration, supports professional development objectives, generating value for both parties.

However, many employees and managers have misconceptions about coaching. Some believe that is just another form of corrective action. Others see it as a way of “going soft” on employees, allowing managers to avoid supervising their staff and employees to push back against management directives. None of these perceptions is correct.

Coaching is a collaborative process where all parties take responsibility for individual and organizational advancement. When implemented purposefully, it can be an extremely beneficial way for employees to develop skills and demonstrate their value to the organization.

These steps outline how to coach an employee to reach their goals.

How to Coach an Employee

While an organization’s coaching initiative will have a general direction and overall objectives, the day-to-day operation of the plan is employee-centric. What motivates one employee may not motivate another. Accordingly, the path that each coach and employee follows to success will be unique.

Despite the differences in the details, there are several core steps to any effective coaching model.

Step 1: Discuss the purpose or need for coaching with the employee.

The rollout of any employee coaching program starts with introducing the concept to employees. This can be done at a company-wide assembly, team meeting, or one-on-one session. The person introducing the approach should stress that coaching is one aspect of the organization’s professional development scheme, and that this element focuses on open communication, collaboration, and supporting the individual to reach their full potential.

Management should assure employees that the coaching process is not imposed top-down. Instead, it is something of their creation in concert with their coach. Generally, employees should agree to participate in coaching sessions rather than it being a required aspect of their professional development, unless it is necessary for training, certification, mandatory skills building or a performance improvement plan.

Step 2: Work together to set goals for the coaching.

Regardless of the ultimate objective, all coaching processes must establish specific, time-bound goals. Generally, the goals should address:

  • What needs to be accomplished
  • What the employee hopes to get out of the process
  • Benchmarks for the individual, team, and organization
  • Time-frames for specific milestones

Working together to establish clear and concise goals allows for transparency and ensures that all parties agree to not only the target but how to get there.

Step 3: Compile guidance and resources together.

During the planning stages, the coach and employee should identify and gather resources and guides that will help them reach their objectives. They may be in the form of books, training courses, online materials, the expertise of other employees in the organization, or external support that fits the circumstances.

Coaches are crucial to the process itself. They should be available to provide ongoing assistance and counsel during the coaching plan. Employees should feel comfortable approaching their coaches at any point in the process to obtain such advice.

Step 4: Collaborate on a coaching plan of action.

The best way to accomplish the task in front of them is to devise a game plan. As with all aspects of coaching, the employee and the coach should conduct open and honest discussions about options, allowing the employee to craft a plan unique to their goals and objectives.

Some employees may need more direction than others, but in all cases, their participation in the plan’s creation is central to achieving the end goal. By establishing a roadmap, the employee and coach have a starting point. The plan should be structured but flexible to adjust as necessary.

In most cases, it is best to outline steps, set a meeting schedule, identify tentative deadlines, and establish reporting protocols. At these check-ins, the coach and employee can review the employee’s progress and assess how well the plan is working. They can always tweak the details to fit changing circumstances.

Step 5: The employee executes the plan and reports on progress.

With a plan in place, the employee has responsibility for executing on the plan with the support of the coach. The coach assists by monitoring the process and meeting regularly with employees to discuss progress, adjust deadlines, and address any concerns or issues that arise.

Providing real-time feedback is central to effective coaching. Periodic check-ins are an excellent point for providing feedback, guidance, and positive reinforcement. They also allow coaches and employees to brainstorm solutions to current obstacles and those looming on the horizon, possibly heading off failure and frustration.

However, expect mistakes and stumbles. They are part of the process as the employee takes chances and stretches themselves. The response to these missteps is still focused on collaboration. Rather than honing in on purely results, these discussions should assess what went wrong and develop solutions and next steps. Such a mutual approach promotes employee growth and builds self-confidence.

Step 6: Review and reflect on the final outcome.

Once the goal has been achieved or the final deadline reached, reflect on how the process went.

  • Were goals achieved?
  • What can be learned from the process?
  • What worked and what did not?
  • Are there new goals that can be set for continued growth?
  • Determine how that growth will occur

This is also an ideal time for additional recognition and celebration of accomplishments.

RealHR Solutions offers expert guidance for employee coaching initiatives.
Review these additional coaching tips from HR experts.

Employee Coaching Tips from HR Experts

Employee coaching requires structure but is also a fairly personalized process. Not all tips and rules can be applied equally to each situation. They need to be adapted and curated to meet the needs of each individual employee and their goals.

However, there are a number of takeaways that generally apply to employee coaching, no matter the setting:

  • Coaching is a process.
    • Unlike other performance management initiatives, employee coaching is not a single occurrence. Coaching occurs over time, by following a long-term plan and taking advantage of teachable moments along the way. In many workplaces, employee coaching is a habit sewn into the fabric of the corporate culture.
  • Coaching is a partnership.
    • Employee coaching is not a teacher and pupil model. This mechanism thrives on open communication and the give and take between coach and employee. Trust in the process and the commitment of all parties is fundamental to success.
  • Employees must agree to participate.
    • Without employee buy-in, there cannot be partnership and collaboration. Some employees resist because they are uncomfortable with change or not open to constructive conversation. This connection cannot be forced. It must be developed over time by educating employees about the benefits of this performance development approach.
  • Listening is key.
    • Active listening is a skill, and the best coaches quickly grasp its importance. The point of coaching is to encourage employees to take the lead on developing the plan of action, not telling them how things should be done.
  • Effective coaching plans are individualized.
    • Each employee is different – their skills, knowledge, what motivates them, and their goals. So each plan will leverage those factors to support the growth each employee desires.
  • Provide direction, not answers.
    • The coach’s role is to facilitate growth and learning. Coaches ask the right questions to help employees work through issues and should jump in only when employees are stuck. With their coaches’ support, employees determine the course taken to solve the problems at hand.
  • Use employee coaching to manifest how individual and organizational goals align.
    • Goal identification discussions can help employees see the link between their personal success and their employer’s. Understanding how one feeds the other, affirms upper management’s commitment to employee success and often leads to greater job satisfaction and deeper bonds with the employer.
  • Coaching can promote growth in a number of areas.
    • Coaching techniques benefit organizations across departments and with a variety of employee development targets. For example, coaching can assist employees step up from one competency to another, move to a new assignment, improve performance and work habits, and accept organizational change. There is no limit to how an organization can incorporate coaching into its strategic people plans.

When designing an employee coaching scheme to suit your business needs, these points are a good place to start.

Learn how HR consultants can help with your employee coaching goals.

How HR Consultants Can Help

Each organization’s employee coaching program and how they implement that plan will vary depending on size, culture, and business objectives. Some possess the resources and institutional know-how to design, implement, and create an effective employee coaching process using solely internal staff and knowledge. Others may need some level of assistance or to outsource the function entirely.

HR consultants can support your coaching initiatives by providing as minimal or extensive support as your organization requires. The consultant will need to do the following:

  • Flesh out with organization stakeholders the goals for coaching
  • Identify how employee coaching can positively impact organizational initiatives (e.g., employee development, succession planning, DEI, etc.)
  • Assist leadership with framing the concept of employee coaching to fit the culture
  • Determine what level of coaching would best benefit the organization (executive, management, or staff development)
  • Devise strategies and manage the rollout
  • Establish training sessions for managers and other key players
  • Assume the coaching role

The team at RealHR Solutions has many years of experience in human resources management and is a leading provider of HR consulting services. Whether you are just beginning to think about employee coaching, need a new or different perspective to update your practices, or are somewhere in between, we provide a full range of offerings and flexible solutions tailored exactly to each organization’s needs and their employees’ goals.

For more information on related HR topics please visit these RealHR resources:

Learn more about employee coaching services from RealHR Solutions.

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