As leaders, we want the best from our employees, and we can achieve this goal by wanting the best for our employees. Companies can improve and achieve growth when leaders engage in employee coaching. Coaching creates an environment of cooperation when employed successfully.

Many leaders believe that employee coaching is something you do when you need to correct an employee’s behavior; they think you can change employee behavior through a disciplinary coaching session. Others believe that employee coaching is something you do annually when it’s time for performance reviews. Then we have leaders who want to bring out the best in their employees and have periodic one-on-one meetings to discuss critical issues. While all three approaches have a certain degree of success, effectively coaching your employees requires more intention.

We must approach coaching with the idea that we want the best for our employees. While employee performance is a benefit of effective employee coaching, it should never be the primary goal. We want to create a work environment where employees thrive and contribute positively to the team. Most employees want to do their best, and it is our job as leaders to make this possible. When employees are at their best, everything else falls into place and our workplaces become an environment of collaboration, agility and teamwork. Our goal should be to serve the best interests of employees. So, where should we begin?

Do What Comes Naturally

While many formal coaching programs can help you build your skills, there are many skills you can build on right now. The most essential and straightforward coaching skill to remember is to be genuine by being yourself through honesty, humility and confidence. People are more likely to achieve their goals when they trust you. Trust is built by demonstrating ethical, honest behavior with kindness and compassion. Your words must be consistent with your actions, body language and tone. It is essential to show positive regard by treating employees with dignity by valuing them as contributors to the team.

Build Your Coaching Skills

Coaching skills only sometimes come naturally. Fortunately, these skills can be acquired. The first vital skill to learn, in order to be a better coach, is active listening. When engaging in conversations, set aside your work and be attentive and observant of your speaker. It’s essential to maintain eye contact to let employees know you’re listening. You can also lean in to show that you’re engaged, and clarify what you think you heard when discussing key ideas or issues. It’s also essential to ask employees to clarify key points for understanding and emphasis.

If something is ambiguous or has multiple meanings, ask them to describe it to you to improve learning. Paraphrasing is a simple technique to let someone know you understand, to get deeper meaning and to encourage dialogue. Rephrasing, summarizing and reflection are simple techniques worth learning more about.

Ask Open-ended Questions

Coaching is not an interrogation, and it is not the time for yes and no questions. Open-ended questions create growth opportunities by inviting the employee to share in the conversation. Using open-ended questions can create a meaningful dialogue and reduce the opportunity for short one-word answers. Open-ended questions often begin with “what” and “how.” An example of a “what” question is, “What would it take to make your job more satisfying?” An example of a “how” question is, “How could we craft your job so it would be more challenging for you?” Why, who and where questions can come across as accusatory, requiring specific techniques to use them effectively.

When Employees Do Something Right

Catching someone doing something right is the most accessible opportunity to invite them into a quick coaching session. These sessions can be one minute, one hour or longer if the meeting sparks other ideas and growth. It’s essential to be open to whatever happens and create an environment of opportunity. Let them know they are worth your time and energy. Use body language to gesture and show that you are excited about their performance or ideas.

When Employees Need Encouragement

When an employee is experiencing difficulty in their life, it often manifests in their work. When confronting employees in these situations, it is vital that you are grounded and that your emotions are stable. Identify barriers to improvement and believe in the employee’s ability to change. This is an opportunity to empathize with employees and what they are going through and to determine how to help them.

Practice empathy by putting yourself in the employee shoes and active listening to communicate effectively. At times, employees may need someone to listen to and understand them. Affirm the employee’s feelings and gently encourage them to see the events as they occurred. Suspend judgment and avoid a condemning tone without regard to their emotional well-being. Avoid bringing up their history and limit the conversation to current issues.

Annual Performance Reviews

A key aspect of coaching is the co-creation of goals. When you work together with employees to create goals, you’re creating a plan for future success. Utilize achievable specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound (SMART) goals that you create together with the employee. Praise employee achievements with specific instances. Remain positive and highlight particular areas of growth. It is essential to identify any areas of improvement and work together to find solutions. Include employees in finding solutions to encourage growth, improve buy in and increase the likelihood of success.

One-on-One Sessions for Continuous Growth

Holding annual performance reviews without continuous feedback is unfair to employees because it does not give them the timely feedback they need for growth and success. Attempt to have one primary goal per session to thoroughly uncover an issue and provide the employee with something they can consider further outside of the session. One-on-one sessions can be held weekly, biweekly or monthly to provide commitment, growth and collaboration. These sessions are a great time to review the goals set in the performance review. Discussing employees’ performance and goals is a significant step toward creating a positive coaching environment.

Looking Ahead

It’s essential to remain curious when coaching employees and to gain an understanding of their daily challenges and opportunities. Healthy communication obtained through coaching is critical to a long-lasting, meaningful working relationship that exceeds expectations and creates an environment of continuous improvement.