Part III: How to Coach an Employee

There is no greater investment than one in people. Technology, equipment and systems are all essential, but without well-trained, motivated employees, none of this matters. Hiring good people is of course part of the key, but even the best employees sometimes need a boost in their skills, performance or attitude. That is where a little coaching can go a long way.

Coaching doesn’t need to be outsourced, and it doesn’t need to be long term. Just three to four sessions can be enough. It’s not therapy, and it’s not a disciplinary act. The goal of a coaching is to give a person new tools to help them excel in their jobs.

How do you know if an employee needs coaching?  Customer complaints, conflicts with other employees, a decrease in work performance or ethic, or a weakness in a particular skill are all signs. Typically, you don’t coach for an one-time mistake or event. Coaching is helpful for patterns of behavior. Once you decide an employee needs some extra help, there are four steps you take to coach:

Step 1: Meet with the employee to explain your concerns and the coaching process. Make sure you have concrete examples of the problem. For example, if you feel an employee is disorganized, you should have at least three recent occasions in mind that describe the behavior and impact.

Check in with the employee to see if he has the same perception of his performance.  If you plan to do the coaching, explain that you would like to help. If you have someone else in mind, ask the employee if he would be willing to meet with that person. In other words, coaching shouldn’t be viewed as punishment, and it works best when the employee actually wants the training. It’s useful to explain it as a perk as opposed to a punishment by saying something like “I value your work, and that is why I want to invest some time and energy to make sure you have the tools you need.”

Step 2: Set goals. Spend at least part of your first session clarifying what specifically the employee feels he wants to accomplish. You also can add your input and help him develop four or five goals. If you can quantify and timeline the goals, all the better. For example, if the employee decides that he needs to get his office in order, you help him decide what steps he needs to take, and by when.

Step 3: Provide tools and ideas. The most effective way to coach is to share ideas that work for you, or others you have seen. If the employee needs a particular skill that you can’t teach, ask him to make an appointment with a person who can help him. He should then provide you with a progress report. If a certain approach doesn’t work for him, help him refine it to a system that feels right. There isn’t one answer, but many. The idea is to make sure that the tools you devise fit his needs and style. This step usually takes three or four coaching sessions.

Step 4: Check-ins. The biggest mistake we make in teaching and coaching is that we don’t follow up. A one-time talk with an employee usually results in a very short-term change, if any at all. Check-ins help ensure accountability and enable you to monitor progress. Ask the employee to meet with you briefly once a month or every two months to discuss his progress. This should last for however long you feel is right, but usually about six months.

Giving people your time and care will mean more to them in the long term than anything else you could provide. Coaching doesn’t require a great deal of effort or money, but it can make or break the way your employees feel about their jobs. It not only leads to a better workforce, but a more loyal one as well.