Why Does Coaching Make a Difference?

Read any employee engagement article or leadership blog, and it becomes clear that coaching employees well leads to employee engagement and retention. Coaching provides opportunities for in-the-moment feedback that helps drive performance success and knowledge transfer. What’s more, employees crave feedback; in a Zenger Folkman survey, 92% of employees said feedback (good or bad) helps them improve their work.

Think of your favorite athletic team. When it’s struggling on the field (or the court, or the arena), the coach steps in. Good coaches analyze problems and find gaps and causes. They do it quickly and effectively, and the team plays better.

How Does Coaching Apply to Training?

People improve their performance through practice and coaching, and trainers can guide that process. The foundation of the “trainer as coach” approach is practice: performing the new or changed skill in a safe and trusting environment. But coaches go one step beyond improving performance; a good coach improves potential.

Coaching is a tool in the training tool kit that helps move the learner performance bar. When it is incorporated into training, learners will do what is required better, more quickly and more effectively. This performance is measurable.

How Do I Sell It to My Stakeholders?

While on-the-job coaching seems straightforward, doing it effectively is more than just following someone around while he or she is working and providing in-the-moment feedback. A thoughtful and deliberate program that includes the trainer as a coach will lead to a more effective transfer of learning than a program that is put together as an afterthought.

Communicating the “why” and “how” behind using the trainer as a coach is one of the best ways to bring stakeholders on board. Once you have done so, ensure that you have a good sense of the on-the-job performance outcomes: what the learner needs to be able to do. Be sure that you know what good performance looks like. Then, build that practice into the overall training plan. Include your stakeholders in your program development so that you have internal champions, and build in a process to communicate progress.

How Do I Prepare My Trainers?

As you build the program, make sure that the relationship between the coach and the trainee is well defined and that the goals, actions, responsibilities and timelines are well communicated. If trainers have concerns about not being an expert, remind them that sometimes, the expert is so good at the role that they forget to pay attention to the small things. The trainers, on the other hand, are hyperaware of the steps for each process and will likely not use any shortcuts.

Consider the flow of the program and any prework or prerequisites that are needed before the coaching begins. Taking this step is important to ensure that, before any coaching begins, the leaner has a context and a base level of knowledge.

Do not make evaluation an afterthought. As you build the program, consider how you will know it was successful. Keep in mind that successful performance often includes the process of learning by making mistakes. If the coach allows the learner to make mistakes before offering corrective feedback, and the learner has the opportunity to reflect on his or her own performance, it creates a solid transfer of knowledge. Build in information about how to help learners reflect; ask questions that give them the opportunity to remember what good behavior or actions look like so that they can assess their own opportunities more effectively. When evaluation is completed, even if the program is a measured success, continue to evolve the program measurement as the subject matter evolves.

Consider certifying your trainers as coaches, and teach them good coaching behaviors. A certified coach is a great selling point to a stakeholder; it tells them that there are standards. As you certify your trainers, teach them how to be fully present while giving feedback, listen well, and approach challenges or setbacks with curiosity.

Good coaching provides structure, accountability, safety and empowerment for learners. It helps them answer difficult questions and gain insights. It cultivates them and gives them confidence to perform their role, reduces the fear of asking questions, and creates a support structure that will drive their engagement and improve organizational success and retention.