We all know about the value of coaching in sports, but what about coaching in the workplace? Just like a coach can help an athlete achieve their potential, a workplace coach can guide employees to build skills, improve performance and meet their goals.
Hockey coach Ric Charlesworth said, “the interesting thing about coaching is that you have to trouble the comfortable, and comfort the troubled.” Coaches take a proactive approach to employee growth, giving confidence to those who need it and helping to pinpoint and resolve problem areas. It isn’t always easy, but research shows that coaching pays off: coaching and mentoring employees in the workplace can create a return on investment of 5.7 times the cost.
So, is it time for your team to try the coach approach?
What is the role of a coach in the workplace?
The purpose of coaching can be summarized in the maxim: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Effective coaching does not give employees the answers but rather supports them as they solve problems themselves.
Coaching is concerned with “how”: how to set and achieve goals, how to change approaches or attitudes, how to prepare for future roles. It is action-oriented and future-focused. A good coach draws out an employee’s strengths and helps them to leverage these strengths to increase effectiveness.
What is the difference between coaching and training? While training is an “event,” coaching is a process. Training may teach an employee a specific skill, but coaching will help the employee to apply those skills to their job and encourage them to learn complementary skills.
Coaching is also different from mentoring. While a mentor may guide an employee’s career development, coaching is a more formal structure with specific, measurable goals. The role of a coach in the workplace is to assist, challenge and encourage rather than direct, advise or teach.
Why is coaching important in the workplace?
Coaching employees in the workplace can lead to substantive benefits that ripple far beyond the individual. It can help bridge the gap between education and workplace experience. By helping employees build soft skills such as presence, communication and influence, coaching improves inter-employee relations and overall team functioning. This means increased employee engagement and productivity.
As the coachee becomes more capable, the coach also has a chance to grow and to feel the gratification of helping a team member to meet their goals. Coaching in the workplace improves satisfaction for both the coach and coachee. It also helps lowers turnover and creates informed and invested leaders.
What types of coaching can be applied in the workplace?
Coaching does not necessarily have to be top-down. There are several types of workplace coaching, each of which uses different coaching strategies to achieve different benefits.
Leaders or managers coaching team members can offer valuable insights and help employees change ineffective behaviors. While meeting with employees in a coaching capacity, leaders must be careful to coach and not to manage. Typical management approaches, such as giving directions or reiterating expectations, may frustrate employees in this context and make them feel micromanaged.
By pairing together employees of the same level, peer coaching allows employees to be candid about their concerns without the pressures of sharing difficulties with managers. Peers are best paired together when their problem areas are different (perhaps one struggles with interpersonal relationships and the other struggles to accept feedback) so that they can offer each other guidance and support. Employees will benefit from hearing directly from a colleague how their actions are affecting the team. With a little workplace coaching training, future peer coaches can be equipped with coaching skills to ensure effective (i.e. direct but kind) communication.
If a business has sufficient resources, it may be worthwhile to invest in an external coach who can provide an outside perspective and objective advice. Managers and employees can feel free to articulate problems without concerns about damaging relationships with colleagues. External coaches offer perspective and guidance with all the delicacy their expertise requires.
How do you coach someone in the workplace?
Different approaches to coaching will yield different results. Here are five coaching methods in the workplace:
1. Be curious
An effective coach is an active listener who offers understanding without passing judgment. A coach can help an employee to reflect on what they have said. It is important for coaches to remember that the golden rule here is: “Ask, don’t tell.” By posing open-ended questions like “What do you want to do?” or “How does this impact you?” or “Can you give me an example?”, a coach can help explore an issue so the employee can come up with a solution on their own.
2. Focus on problem-solving
Coaching should be future-focused. Coaches don’t stew in or ruminate on the past, but rather use past experiences to imagine how to approach future situations. A good coach helps lead a coachee to think of their setbacks as lessons and ask what can be done differently.
One role of a coach in the workplace is to help staff set and reach their goals. A coach will try to determine what an employee really wants and help make a concrete plan with intermediate milestones and a plan for tracking progress.
4. Performance improvement
A coach is looking for substantive, measurable change in an individual’s behavior. By offering constructive feedback and compassionately sharing personal experience (“I get it, I’ve been there myself”), coaches can connect with employees and help them to make strides.
5. Follow up
Coaching isn’t a one-time meeting. It’s a multi-week process that requires check-ins to face obstacles and measure growth. A good coach makes sure to offer as much support as is needed. By offering and accepting feedback, a coach can create a relationship of trust and open communication. This helps nurture employees to build self-awareness, take responsibility for their actions and take charge of the future.
In an article on the importance of coaching, Atul Gawande asks if the “outside ears and eyes” of coaches are important for concert-caliber musicians and Olympic-level athletes, “what about regular professionals, who just want to do what they do as well as they can?” A coach’s eyes will help you see where you are falling short, even when you’re incapable of seeing yourself. Coaching in the workplace is the best way to develop an agile and adaptable team and take your game to the next level.
Written by Valerie Slaughter; Edited by Tanya Lesiuk