How to coach, coaching skills

How to Coach Employees | Coaching Skills for Managers

Telling is a useful skill to have as a leader, telling people what to do and how to do it. You have years of experience, you’ve seen lots of issues and been in numerous complex situations. You have lots to share. There are many people in your organization who want your contribution to assist them with their responsibilities.

And sometimes telling is detrimental. It creates dependency, it’s slower in the long run if you always must tell, as you don’t enable someone to think for themselves, and it limits diversity of ideas as it’s always your thoughts you are perpetuating.

Coaching on the other hand builds independent and diverse thinking. It is a skill, a set of tools and a mindset. What I’m presenting here is coaching as a skill and set of tools. This will not make you a certified coach; this will assist you in using coaching skills as an option in your toolbox of leadership skills.

Benefits of Coaching

  • People learn to think their way through a situation, enabling them, making them less reliant on you.
  • People bring their ideas and thoughts to the situation which might result in new, unique solutions and more creativity and diversity of thinking.
  • It’s less work for you in the long run as you train them to figure it out (make them more independent and empower them when it is done well).
  • You don’t have to know everything all the time (which might be a blow to your ego).
  • People feel valued and heard and often are more engaged as they are genuinely asked to explore their ideas.
  • You develop leaders, grow greater talent, thereby growing the organization’s capability (and it just might be more fulfilling for you).

How to Coach an Employee

Coaching is the creation of a reflective space for the employee to figure out their own solutions and ideas in relation to a topic. This is done by the coach (or leader in your case) listening in a deep and non-judgemental way and asking open (sometimes powerful) questions that help the employee discover ideas and possibilities in themselves.

Coaching can be 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or longer – depending on the situation, topic, what they want out of it and the time you have.

  • Listening is the starting point for great communication including coaching. Through my coach training with Co-Active Training Institute (CTI), I learned there were three levels to listening¹.

Level 1Internal Listening/ Focused on self: Your focus is on yourself, your thoughts, feelings, issues. When someone mentions a topic you immediately go to your thoughts, feelings and opinions on that topic. It’s about your internal narrative or conversation.

Level 2Focused Listening on the other: Your focus is on what the other person is saying in a laser-like fashion, as though you’re under the ‘cone of silence’ in the old Get Smart TV program. When someone mentions a topic, you want to know that person’s thoughts, feelings and opinions about the topic. You have little awareness of the outside world.

Level 3Focused on the whole or Global Listening: Your focus is on everything, the space, what’s going on inside you and with the other person, what’s going on energetically. This is where intuition or gut-feel might come in; the action, inaction and interaction.

  • Questioning is the second important factor to good coaching; it’s about being curious, so the employee gets curious. Formulate your questions based on what the employee says; use their actual words to formulate questions that help them delve deeper to greater understanding. Use open questions (which can’t be answered with ‘yes’ and ‘no’). Keep the questions short (as this focuses the thinking and doesn’t confuse things). Ask “so what?” after almost any question to get the employee to keep thinking or go deeper.
  • The GROW model is a widespread coaching framework (Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward), first published by John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance in 1992. When clients have practised this they are struck by how often they just want to tell the person the/their answer; how they have so many ideas going through their own head they find it hard paying attention to what the other person is saying; how often they ask closed and leading questions; and how they want to speed up the process, even if the person is not ready. Some have been amazed at how often the coachee generated tremendous value from the exercise even if the coach had no idea what was being talked about!

Coaching for Employees – Use the GROW Coaching Model

When an employee approaches you asking what they should do about something they are working on rather than you telling them, try this approach. The following are the 4 steps in GROW, the explanation of each step and examples of actual questions you can ask to your employee in each step.

GOAL – What’s the goal?

This is to help define what, in fact, the problem or issue is. What’s the objective? What are you trying to achieve or accomplish? This can take a few minutes or quite a while, depending on what clarity the employee already has.

  • What is it you would like to discuss?
  • What would you like to achieve?
  • What do you want to get from this discussion?
  • What would you need to happen for you to walk away feeling that this time was well spent?
  • What do you want to be different? What outcome do you want?
  • What would you like to happen that is not happening now?
  • Can we do that in the time we have available?
  • Will that be of real value to you?

REALITY – What’s the current reality or situation?

It’s valuable to explore this area so the employee is very clear what is going on. This could highlight assumptions they have and gaps in knowledge – about the situation or themselves!

  • What is happening at the moment?
  • How do you know that this is accurate?
  • When does this happen?
  • How often does this happen?
  • What effect does this have?
  • How can you verify that this is so?
  • What have you or others done previously about this?
  • What other factors are relevant?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What is their perception of the situation?
  • What have you tried so far? What did you learn?

OPTIONS – What are the possible options?

This is where you want them to brainstorm about alternatives. Continue having them generate ideas until they’ve reasonably exhausted the options.

  • What could you do to change the situation?
  • What alternatives are there to that approach?
  • Tell me what possibilities for action you see.
  • What approach/actions have been used in similar circumstances?
  • Who might be able to help?
  • What are the benefits of that option? What might the problems be?
  • Which options are of interest to you?
  • Would you like suggestions from me?
  • Would you like to choose an option to act on?

WILL DO OR WAY FORWARD – What’s going to happen? What will you do? What’s your way forward?

This is the time to have the employee define next steps and create accountability. What will they do? When? How will they ensure success?

  • What are the next steps?
  • When will you take them?
  • What might get in the way?
  • Do you need to log the steps in your diary?
  • What support do you need?
  • How will you enlist that support?
  • How will you know you are making progress?
  • What else needs to be done?

How to Coach Employees – The Don’ts

  • Don’t necessarily try to complete all four steps at one time.
  • Don’t just focus on O and W, spend time in G and R, as so often people skim over these and later find out they were solving the wrong problem!
  • Don’t work so hard. Let the employee do the work. For example, using their actual words in your questions, pausing and being in silence so they can figure it out.
  • Don’t use closed questions. Use open questions that ideally start with WHAT, at least initially (WHY makes people defend what they just said, HOW focuses on doing and you might be jumping to a solution before clarifying the true problem).
  • Don’t use assumptive questions – a question that comes from an assumption you’re making. For example: “What makes you uncomfortable about this?” Only ask this if they’ve told you they are uncomfortable, not if you’ve assumed they are. Ask them: “What are you feeling about this?”
  • Don’t ask leading questions – where you include possible ideas or solutions to lead the person in a certain direction. For example: “What are your plans to cut costs, reduce headcount, cancel a shift, or limit travel?” Notice you’re leading them down a path, probably the typical path you would be pursuing.
  • Don’t answer when someone says, “I don’t know.” This is an easy way out for an employee especially if you’ve always just given the answer in the past. Either be silent to let them think or ask something like “if you did know, what would you say/do?” or “if some part of you knew, what would it say?” or “what would an expert on this say?” This line of questioning helps people find their resourcefulness within.

Coaching Employees – Top Tips:

  • Use a compassionate and curious tone of voice rather than making it an interrogation.
  • Acknowledge them through the process, noting what they do well and how they are being during the journey (e.g. “You’re open. You’re reflective. You’re creative. You’re courageous for trying something new and unknown”).
  • Encourage the employee at the end of the process with their identified actions, e.g. “Those are some good actions you’ve identified. Go for it. You’ll be great at that” (be more specific, related to the actual action).
  • Champion them, stand up for their potential and value, especially when they aren’t feeling it, by saying what you see when they are at their best.
  • Silence is good, it means someone is thinking and isn’t that what you pay people for?
  • Practise, even if it’s just asking one question, before you jump in with the solution.

What aspects of your leadership would benefit with a coaching style of leadership?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to assess your coaching leadership style and to experience the benefits of being coached first-hand.

¹ Witworth, Laura and Karen Kinsey-House, Henry Kinsey-House, Phillip Sandahl. Co-Active Coaching. Davies-Black Publishing. P34-40, 2007