Good leadership is about more than just developing strategies and delegating tasks. Excellent leaders are skilled at helping others gain new skills and guiding them on a path that leads to performing better and reaching personal goals. When this aligns with organizational goals, everybody wins: Employees enjoy personal growth and a work environment that supports it, and organizations build a high-performing, engaged, and loyal workforce.
When leaders are actively invested in developing employees’ skills and competencies, they will see their efforts bear fruit. In addition to strong training and development programs, coaching plays a valuable role in developing and engaging talent day to day, leading to a broad range of benefits such as empowered employees, improved performance, and higher engagement.
1. Empowered employees
Coaching helps empower employees to come up with solutions and implement their ideas. This benefits the organization because empowered employees know they have the freedom to be proactive and make decisions that will improve the company.
Why Empowerment Matters
When employees understand the boundaries and freedoms that have been defined for them, they are able to use their knowledge and skills to the fullest. Research from the University of Iowa shows that employees who work for organizations that promote employee empowerment are more engaged, take more initiative, and report greater job satisfaction. When employees are granted the autonomy to make decisions within their scope of expertise, not only do they feel valued, but they also make their organization more responsive, more innovative, and, ultimately, more productive.
How Coaching Helps
Identifying the appropriate level of autonomy for individuals is not as simple as using a template. Because each employee has a different working style and every task has unique requirements, boundaries have to be determined at the individual level. Often, when an employee has too much freedom, they can feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, when they are too restricted, they can become frustrated and disengaged because their talents are not being used to the fullest.
When employees work directly with coaches to determine the right balance between freedom and restrictions, they are able to grow to their potential. As employees learn and develop, their boundaries should be adjusted to continue the cycle of empowerment. Communication is a critical element of this process. Coaches must both listen to the recommendations of empowered employees and have the ability to provide the honest feedback that will help them grow.
2. Improved performance
Another benefit of coaching is that it can greatly improve individual performance.
Why Performance Matters
Most employees want to do a great job. In addition to providing training and the necessary resources to do the work, organizations that also provide one-on-one coaching are able to improve individual performance, which ultimately leads to better organizational performance.
However, Gallup research shows that traditional approaches to performance management are falling short and not reaching stated performance management goals. Only two in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. When only 20 percent of employees feel motivated, it is nearly impossible to achieve organizational excellence.
How Coaching Helps
The importance of ongoing interactions in a coaching relationship cannot be overstated, especially when the goal is to improve performance. It starts with providing clear direction for a specific task or goal and laying out a path to achieving it. If the interaction stops there, the employee might be able to successfully complete the task based on the clear direction, but if that’s all they get from their manager, it’s a missed opportunity for improving performance.
A good coach will periodically check in—ideally, at least once a week—to discuss the progress that has been made, help overcome any hurdles, and highlight areas for improvement. This continued engagement enables the employee to make incremental (and sometimes drastic) improvements that will allow them to become an overall better performer. Modeling behavior is important, but even the sharpest employees cannot rely on observation alone. When coaches explain why something is done a certain way and how that method evolved, employees gain new knowledge and can apply it to other work.
3. Higher engagement
Improving employee engagement is a goal for many companies, and coaching is one way to get individuals to stay tuned in.
Why Engagement Matters
Gallup estimates that the cost of poor management and lost productivity from employees who are either not engaged or are actively disengaged is between $960 billion and $1.2 trillion per year. This loss can have a major impact on the bottom line, especially for companies with larger workforces.
Despite this dismal statistic, the modern workforce wants to be engaged. Employees want to understand how their roles connect to the larger team and to the organization as a whole. According to the Gallup study referenced above, employees who strongly agree that they can link their goals to the organization’s goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged. Unfortunately, only 44 percent of employees say that they can see this connection.
How Coaching Helps
Engagement is directly linked to the frequency of communication with a manager and the content of those conversations. The same Gallup report indicates that employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3 times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less.
Gallup has also found that employees who have had conversations with their manager in the past six months about their goals and successes are 2.8 times more likely to be engaged. This is a substantial return for a relatively small investment of time and energy from a coach. However, only 20 percent of employees say that they have talked with their manager in the past six months about steps to reach their goals, indicating a lost opportunity for increasing engagement. It’s clear that communication needs to happen more frequently and that it must address employee goals and successes.
Goal-setting through coaching also leads to better engagement, but only 30 percent of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in the process of setting goals. These employees are nearly 4 times more likely to be engaged than other employees, but for the ones who are not involved in goal-setting, the consequences can be damaging. According to Gallup:
“Unfortunately, the majority of workers tend to sense an unfairness or injustice in how their performance is managed and evaluated. They are held accountable for work that they don’t always have the tools or support to accomplish successfully, and they often are not even invited to a conversation about how work could be done more effectively.”
Coaching can help eliminate these negative feelings. Actively setting goals together, creating milestones to achieve them, and tracking progress along the way give employees the chance to be involved in their own development and feel that their leader has their interests in mind.
Creating accountability through coaching and goal-setting also helps improve engagement because employees own the results of their actions and behaviors and are accountable to both themselves and their coach. When individuals know that they are responsible for completing a task or behaving a certain way—and have the skills and competencies to do it—they are motivated to stay engaged and meet their goals.
Develop Coaches Within Your Organization
The benefits of coaching extend beyond just increased engagement, better performance, and empowered employees. Developing leaders from within the organization helps build the leadership pipeline and grows institutional knowledge.
Teaching leaders how to be coaches also helps them become better at their jobs. They learn how to give and receive feedback, set measurable goals, and track milestones. They must also model the behavior they want to see in their employees, which means they are more accountable for their own actions and behaviors. All of these skills can be applied in future leadership positions, as well.
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. Just like any other skill, coaching can be taught through experiential learning. It can also be honed over time through real-life practice and additional training to learn new techniques and approaches. If you want to empower employees, improve individual performance, and develop an engaged workforce, consider making an investment in developing coaches within your organization.