Coaching is an important part of the day-to-day interaction between leaders and their teams. Effective coaching can help employees capitalize on their strengths and address their weaknesses, making a valuable difference in employee performance.
Leaders who coach their teams create an environment in which employees can perform to their potential. Google’s “Project Oxygen” study found that the most important leadership quality of a great manager was the ability to be a good coach. The study observed thousands of managers’ behaviors and concluded that listening, asking probing questions, and offering constructive feedback helped managers positively impact employee performance and effectiveness. Here are some practical tips leaders can use to successfully coach their teams.
Coaching doesn’t have to be delivered after an employee has done something well, failed to do something, or made a mistake. In fact, some of the most effective coaching happens beforehand. For example, providing suggestions and pointers to an employee before they make an important presentation to senior management, rather than after, not only helps the employee anticipate questions or comments that could come up, but also helps to build confidence.
Connect and Communicate
One of the most important ways to effectively establish a successful coaching relationship is through making a connection with employees before launching into coaching. People are often more open to coaching when it comes from someone who has already taken an interest in their success. Leaders can establish a connection with individuals on their team by engaging in the following behaviors:
- Listen and establish trust – Demonstrate empathy by showing you hear others’ concerns and are attentive to their needs.
- Invite a conversation – Develop rapport by saying, for example, “Tell me how that project is going,” or “Let’s talk about what’s working/not working on the team.”
- Ask good questions – Facilitate a conversation by asking open-ended questions rather than telling employees what to do.
Adopt a Continuous Learning Approach
Coaching teams includes helping individuals make continuous adjustments to their behavior and approach to their work. Leaders can encourage continuous improvement by also showing a desire to learn and improve themselves. A good way to deepen the impact of coaching is with training opportunities that teach employees new ways of doing things, equip them with the skills they need to succeed, and give them chances to practice what they learned.
Coach in the Moment
Real-time feedback helps employees connect the dots between what they did, the result, and how to achieve a different or better result the next time. Coaching someone on something after days or weeks have passed often dilutes the value to employees. Coaching in the moment helps employees put suggestions and ideas into practice in real time, helping them to learn as they go.
While coaching can offer valuable support to employees, it can’t be used as a crutch. At the end of the day, even with the benefit of coaching, employees must be held accountable for the outcome of their actions. Coaching is most effective when coach and employee agree on the area to be worked on, establish a plan for tackling it, and, where necessary, develop a timeline for specific improvements and follow-up. A detailed plan and timeline will help employees see the expected outcome of coaching.
Be Positive and Balanced
Effective coaching is not pointing out everything someone did wrong, nor is it offering praise without balanced, constructive feedback. Employees need to know when they are effective or not, so coaching should include a balance of positive feedback and tough conversations when necessary.
Monitor and Evaluate
Coaching teams isn’t a one-and-done task. In fact, employees can benefit from ongoing coaching that reinforces key messages that have already been delivered. Following up after initial coaching shows that you care and are invested in employees’ long-term success. Ongoing monitoring can also help to keep employee performance on track and prevent individuals from falling back into old habits.
Effective coaching can benefit employees at all performance levels, and being a good coach is a valuable skill for any leader to possess. In reality, leaders don’t automatically know how to be good coaches, but they can be taught with leadership development that offers practical strategies for coaching teams toward sustained performance improvement.