Woman smiling during a meeting with her coach

If your organization is not conducting coaching conversations between managers and employees, you’re missing out on an opportunity to significantly improve employee performance. A coaching culture increases employee engagement, job satisfaction, performance, and collaboration. Coaching is central to improving the performance of entire teams.

What Is Coaching?

Coaching conversations empower employees through encouragement and teaching. When managers coach, they reinforce strengths and explore challenges with the employee. Successful coaching guides employees toward success while promoting independent thinking and collaboration to overcome obstacles.

Training managers on coaching and other essential leadership skills is a highly effective way for organizations to boost efficiency and achieve their goals. A pretty strong case to make for why coaching is important.

View our infographic to see the top skills needed to turn your managers and leaders into coaches: From Manager to Coach: 7 Development Tips

Common Topics for Coaching Conversations

Topics that are frequently addressed in manager-employee coaching conversations are:

  • Onboarding
  • Time management
  • Missed deadlines
  • Overworked or overwhelmed employees
  • Problem-solving
  • Goal setting
  • Obstacles
  • Performance

How to Coach 

Whether a coaching conversation is part of weekly meetings or set up separately, managers should always schedule a time to follow up with the employee. A follow-up meeting ensures accountability and allows the managers to check in or the employee to ask further questions.

No two coaching conversations will be the same, even if it is regarding the same topic – so it can be hard to prepare for these chats with employees. To ensure coaching conversations are positive and effective, ensure managers are asking open-ended questions.

If the employee feels lectured by the manager, they may shut down or become unresponsive. Questions help the employee dive deeper into what they are feeling. By the manager asking questions, often the employee discovers new ideas and solutions themselves, instead of being told what to do.

Managers should be leading employees to a solution, not telling them what to do.

So, what questions should managers be asking of their employees? The GROW model is a popular technique for structuring coaching conversations. GROW stands for Goal, Current Reality, Options, and Way Forward.

The GROW Model

Each stage within the GROW model has a specific meaning.

G – Goal: Decide where the employee is going

R – Reality: Establish where the employee is currently at

O – Options: Together the manager and employee explore different routes

W – Way Forward: The employee commits to the journey of how to solve the problem

Using the Grow Model for Coaching Conversations

Establish the Goal:

Together the manager and employee need to decide what the employee needs to or wishes to change – this is the goal. If the employee needs help with setting goals, have their managers remind them of the SMART goal method. Check out our video lesson on setting specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals below.

Questions to ask:
  • How will you know this goal has been achieved?
  • What is your ideal outcome?
  • What results are you hoping to achieve? Why?
Understand the Current Reality:

It’s hard to solve the problem without looking at the starting point. The solution may start to arise as the employee describes their situation.

Questions to ask:
  • How would you describe the situation?
  • What advice would you give someone in your shoes?
  • What have you tried already?
Discuss Options:

Determine all the possible options for achieving the goal. Employees should start by sharing their possible solutions followed by any ideas the manager may have.

Questions to ask:
  • What else could you do?
  • What if this or that constraint were removed? Would it change things?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of these options?
  • What obstacles stand in the way?
  • What do you think is the strongest solution?
Commit to a Way Forward:

You have now explored the potential solutions. Now it’s time to lock one in. Help the employee establish their way forward.

Questions to ask:
  • What steps can you take today/this week to resolve the problem?
  • What obstacles might you come across?
  • How can we eliminate them?
  • Who else on the team could help you?
  • How can I help you?

Coaching Scenario Examples

Since all coaching conversations are different, we don’t know how the employee is going to respond to the manager’s questions. But we’ve put together this sample coaching conversation to give managers a general idea of how to ask questions in response instead of telling employees what to do. 

Sam (Employee): Hey, thanks for making time to chat. I wanted to talk about how I’ve been struggling to manage my time effectively.

Kristin (Manager): No problem at all, Sam. That’s what I’m here for. How did you realize this was becoming an issue?

Sam: Well, I’ve got a bunch of projects going on all at once, and if I don’t juggle them constantly, I feel like I’m falling behind. I know I need to get everything done, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

Kristin: I get where you’re coming from. What would you consider a win in tackling this challenge?

Sam: If I could just get through everything on my plate without feeling overwhelmed, that’d be a big win for me.

Kristin: Makes sense. So, what steps have you already taken to try and tackle this?

Sam: I made a big list of everything I need to do, but honestly, it stressed me out more seeing it all written down.

Kristin: I can see how that would feel stressful. What do you feel like your options are for dealing with this?

Sam: I’ve thought about asking for less work, reaching out for help, or even just working more hours to get it all done. Maybe setting some boundaries or creating a schedule could help too.

Kristin: Those are all good options to consider, Sam. Which one do you think would work best for you?

Sam: I think reaching out to you and some team members for help would probably be the most effective.

Kristin: That sounds like a solid plan. Adding more hands to the mix could definitely lighten the load. Who were you thinking of asking for help?

Sam: I reckon Hunter could lend a hand with the Sales project, and Savannah might be able to assist with copyediting.

Kristin: I agree that those two would be great people to reach out to for help, and feel that their specific skill set would make them good resources for those projects. What’s your next move?

Sam: I’ll shoot them a message later today and see if they’re up for a chat to discuss it further.

Kristin: Perfect. Let’s touch base next week to see how things are going.

Sam: Thanks, I appreciate it.

Best Practices for Better Coaching Conversations

Avoid closed-ended questions: Notice, that none of the sample coaching questions were closed-ended, something that could be answered with yes or no. A coach should generally avoid these questions because they don’t lead the conversation to any discoveries. The coach should be pulling information out of the employee by diving deeper.

No stacked questions: Managers should not ask more than one question at a time. An example of a stacked question could be: “What time did you clock in this morning? Why were you running late?” Only ask one question at a time. The problem with stacked questions is that the manager may not get the answers they are looking for and may instead overwhelm the employee.

Don’t interrupt, jump to conclusions, or fill quiet time: Encourage your managers to allow employees time to think. If there is silence while they’re thinking, instruct the manager to allow it, and don’t interrupt or try to further explain the question.

Coaching is an incredible workplace tool, and once implemented you can start seeing tangible results amongst your teams. If you’re ready to start teaching your managers how to become better coaches, check out our ebook coaching template for managers, Developing the Coaching Skills of Your Managers and Leaders.

And talk with a BizLibrary Representative! Our stacked library of online training content contains tons of lessons on coaching in the workplace and developing great leaders.

Chat with us to learn how we help orgs build successful employee training programs!

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