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7 Tips for Coaching Employees to Improve Performance

Coaching employee to improve performance

Managers and leaders are critical to the success of a business, and so are effective coaching skills. Consistent coaching helps with employee onboarding and retention, performance improvement, skill improvement, and knowledge transfer. On top of these benefits, coaching others is an effective method for reinforcing and transferring learning.

While there are many important leadership skills and competencies, coaching is central to improving the performance of entire teams.

Check out this free infographic to learn and share quick tips on coaching for managers!

Infographic: From Manager to Coach

Think back to your peewee soccer days (or any team sport, really). I bet you can think of three kinds of teams:

  1. The directionless group of kids running around aimlessly, taking frequent breaks for cookies and juice.
  2. The organized group who focused, but still had fun.
  3. The hyper-focused, aggressive group.

And how do you think these teams got the way they did? The coach, of course! The first group had a coddling coach, the second had a balanced coach, and the third had an intense coach living out his failed soccer dreams vicariously through a group of 6-year-olds.

Which seems like the healthiest group? Hopefully, you said the second one. But how do you coach in such a way that produces a healthy team?

Good coaching can be easy to spot, but hard to emulate.

First, you need to meet your team members where they’re at. Coaching isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Some people will need a lot more handholding than others, depending on where they’re at in their job role and overall career.

So before we get to our seven coaching tips, here’s a quick look at how you can align coaching conversations with individual employees’ needs.

How to Coach Employees at Different Levels

The best coaches don’t use the same coaching style for each individual team member. They’re flexible enough to adapt to the situation at hand.

There are five levels of employee performance, and you’ll have to adapt your style for each one to coach them effectively:

  1. Novices
  2. Doers
  3. Performers
  4. Masters
  5. Experts

Level 1: Novice

Novices are in the “telling” stage of learning. They need to receive a lot of instruction and constructive correction. If you’re confident in the people you’ve hired, then they probably won’t need to stay in this stage very long. Also, watch out for your own micromanaging tendencies – you don’t want to hold an employee back from moving to the next level!

Level 2: Doer

Once Novices begin to understand the task and start to perform, they transition to the Doer stage. They haven’t yet mastered the job, so there’s still a heavy amount of “tell” coaching going on. But they’re doing some productive work and contributing to the team. So, there are now opportunities to encourage new behaviors, and praise Doers for good results.

Level 3: Performer

As Doers start accomplishing a task to standards, they become Performers. Now they’re doing real work and carrying their full share of the load. And they’re doing the task the way it should be done. With Performers, there’s much less “tell” coaching, if any at all. But there’s still feedback, mostly focused on recognizing good results and improving the results that don’t meet expectations.

Level 4: Master

Some Performers may continue to grow on the job and reach the Master stage. At this point, they can not only accomplish tasks to standards, they can do so efficiently and effectively. Plus, they have a deep enough understanding of what should be done that they can teach and coach others on the task. And they know enough to actually help improve standard processes.

Level 5: Expert

Experts are valuable members of the team and may become front-line team leads. Experts don’t need a lot of direction – they’re highly self-sufficient. If anything, they can provide direction to others. Experts don’t necessarily require a lot of recognition and praise to stay motivated, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want any.

7 Coaching Tips for Managers and Leaders

So, now that we’ve gone over the different performance levels your employees can be at, let’s get to what you came for – the tips!

These coaching tips will work with any of those five levels and can help you have more mutually beneficial coaching conversations that will improve overall team performance!

1. Ask guiding questions

Open-ended, guiding questions lead to more detailed and thoughtful answers, which lead to more productive coaching conversations. As a manager or leader, it is critical that you develop strong relationships with your employees. This will help you determine if your employees are curious, have the capacity to perform and improve, and what kind of attitude they have towards their work.

This is where communication skills and emotional intelligence really come into play. Managers must guide conversations both by asking questions and listening, not by giving directives. Employees learn and grow the most when they uncover the answers themselves.

2. Recognize what’s going well

Coaching well requires a balance of criticism and praise. If your coaching conversations are completely focused on what’s not working and what the employee has to do to change, that’s not motivating, it’s demoralizing.

Your recognition of the things your employee is doing well can be a springboard into how they can build from that to improve. We’re not talking about the compliment sandwich here, though, because that coaching technique often devolves into shallow praise that comes off as insincere.

Giving compliments that you don’t actually mean can have a worse effect than not giving any at all, so take the time to think about specific things that are going well, and let your employees know that you see and appreciate them!

Another aspect of this is how the employee likes to be recognized. This is a good question to ask them from the start of your relationship – does frequent recognition help them stay motivated, or is every once in a while sufficient? Do they prefer recognition to be given publicly or privately? The last thing you want to do is embarrass someone when you’re trying to be a good coach!

3. Listen and empower

Coaching requires both encouragement and empowerment. As a manager and a leader, your job is to build one-on-one relationships with employees that result in improved performance.

Your employees are likely to have a lot of input, questions, and feedback. It’s important for them to know you care enough to listen to what they have to say, so encourage them to share their opinions.

Some employees will have no problem speaking their mind, while others will need a LOT of encouragement before they share an opinion with you openly. Once they do open up, be sure to respect those opinions by discussing them, rather than dismissing them.

4. Understand their perspective

When you’re coaching employees to improve performance and engagement, approaching things from their perspective, rather than your own, will help enormously with seeing the changes and results you want.

Everyone has different motivations, preferences, and personalities, so if you ask questions to help you understand where their “why” comes from and what their preferred “how” looks like, then you can tailor your coaching conversations to align the way they work best with the improvements you’re both aiming for.

For example, maybe you recently moved from an office plan that had lots of individual offices to a much more open plan, and one of the reps on your sales team has shown a drastic decrease in successful calls. If you start asking questions and find out that this is someone who is excellent in one-on-one conversations, but rarely speaks up in a group setting, then you can see how they’d feel like everyone is listening in on their call, making them less confident than when they had their own space.

With that perspective in mind, you can work with them more effectively on how to get their numbers back up.

5. Talk about next steps

Coaching conversations are meant to yield changes and results, so be sure to clearly define and outline what needs to happen next. This will ensure you and your employee are on the same page with expectations, and provide them with a clear understanding of the practical steps they can take to make changes and improve.

Also, these next steps should be mutually agreed upon – talk about what is reasonable to expect given their workload and the complexity of the changes being made.

6. Coach in the moment

If an employee comes to you with a question about a process or protocol, use this opportunity to teach them something new. If you’re not able to stop what you’re doing right away, schedule time with them as soon as possible to go over it.

Better yet, keep a weekly one-on-one meeting scheduled with each employee so you can go over questions and issues regularly, while maintaining productivity. Coaching employees with a goal of improving performance means making them a priority each week!

7. Commit to continuous learning

Make a commitment to improve your own skills and competencies. If you’re not continuously learning, why should your employees? Lead by example and your team will follow.

Show that you are interested in their success (why wouldn’t you be?). Ask questions about where they see their career going, or how they see their role evolving in the company. Even if they don’t have a plan laid out yet, these questions will make them think about their career and what they want to accomplish within the organization.

Show your employees that you don’t just want them to do better so you look better, but that you’re actively interested in their career, accomplishments, and professional success.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a critical aspect of coaching employees in a way that builds relationships, boosts engagement, and improves performance. Managers and leaders can see greatly improved coaching skills by taking steps to improve their EQ – they go hand in hand!

This free handbook will help you learn practical ways to improve your emotional intelligence and have more productive coaching conversations!

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Krista researches, analyzes, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. She looks at the industry shifts and trends that matter to L&D and HR professionals, and helps them understand how to create better training programs that grow their employees and their business.