In many organizations, workplace coaching has found its way to the forefront of the employee engagement challenge. It is no secret that one of the most important (if not the most important) relationships in an organization is the one between manager and direct report. To accept this truth is to also acknowledge that this relationship is a significant determinate of employee engagement.

What is really meant by employee engagement, and what are the factors that contribute to it? This question can and often does have a variety of answers, depending on which research is chosen as a point of reference. Gallup, Inc., a historically noted and respected authority on the impact of human factors on workplace performance, published research in 2013 to provide greater insight into what contributes to high and low employee engagement, the cost of poor engagement, and strategies to help businesses address and resolve their engagement issues. There were several noteworthy findings from this study, but three stand out as solidly making the case for workplace coaching as both “good business” and a “leadership mandate”:

  • To leaders, Gallup chairman CEO Jim Clifton says, “The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all of the rest – is who you name manager … When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”
  • Engagement has a greater impact on performance than corporate policies and perks.
  • Seven in 10 American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.

What are the obvious consequences to organizations saddled with poor engagement? For one, the bottom line: Companies with a high percentage of workers who do not feel connected to their work, their managers or their employer take a substantial financial blow to productivity, customer satisfaction and overall profitability.

Secondly, today’s business environment requires that companies innovate faster than ever just to stay relevant and in existence. Low employee engagement, demonstrated by low morale and motivation, negatively impacts an organization’s ability to consistently and rapidly turn out high-quality, new products that both differentiate and reinforce competitive advantage.

So, how does workplace coaching fit into this dilemma? Coaching is not a panacea for all that’s wrong in organizational life or “the” fix to low or poor employee engagement. Workplace coaching, however, has gained prominence as one strategy for strengthening manager/employee relationships, which is a big step toward improving employee engagement.

In organizations, there are multiple workplace coaching strategies at play. Executive coaching is often used when a senior or high-ranking leader stands to benefit from working with a professionally trained external coach on a specific issue or challenge. Often, executive coaches are secured to help leaders grow and gain strength in a specific area, clarify purpose and goals, or to improve self-awareness.

Performance coaching tends to focus on fixing a problem or issue related to performance. These conversations, though crucial, are often difficult for both employee and manager. Taking a coaching approach can help to remove some of the discomfort. Additionally, when delivering performance coaching, it’s not good to take a one-size-fits- all approach. Tailor these conversations to the level of the employee performance: high performer, middle (or average), or low performer. Based on level, the conversations should be very different.

Coaching for Development

Coaching for development can be the big game-changer. When done well, it is a huge step toward strengthening the relationship between manager and employee. When this relationship is solid, employees, according to research, tend to be more engaged, feel valued and take greater pride in their work, all of which can lead to higher levels of productivity and stronger bottom-line results.

What does coaching for development look like? A prerequisite to any effective coaching relationship is mutual trust and respect. Once they are established, coaching for development starts with the manager’s becoming curious about what’s important to the employee. It’s about asking questions, not telling and supporting, not driving. It’s also important to let the employee guide developmental conversations, with the manager asking thoughtful, powerful questions that open the door to greater exploration of the employee’s needs and wants.

Another aspect of coaching for development is for managers to give employees the latitude to openly express themselves without judgement as they detail their concerns, frustrations, successes and opportunities. Positive reinforcement is always good, and negativity should be eliminated.

A huge benefit of developmental coaching and making coaching part of managers’ leadership arsenal is that managers need not have the answers, nor should they feel responsible for defining another’s path. As a manager, this should be very liberating. Coaching for development is about partnering with and empowering employees to frame their own future and visualizing and evaluating multiple options, knowing that their manager is a willing cheerleader and partial enabler of their success.

Coaching is a reciprocal engagement between two parties. When one wins, the achievement can cascade from the employee to the bottom line. The volume of research around this subject, and publicly available data that provides the benefits of coaching, should leave no doubt that managerial coaching is good business. Leaders who can transition to becoming a great coach can transform employee engagement and, potentially, bottom-line results.

Want to learn more? Come to the Training Industry Conference and Expo in June and attend Janet’s session, “Manage as a Coach: Transform Employee Engagement and Relationships.”