How to Coach Your Employees (and Yourself!)

As a manager, you are often asked for advice—or you want to give advice—on soft skills that will help your team members perform better. For example:

  • Suzanne wants to let other team members speak during meetings.

  • Jose wants to stop getting into the details of his direct report’s project.

  • Delilah got feedback that she needs to show a little more enthusiasm at work.

  • Moriah needs to communicate more about the big picture and purpose of the team’s work.

Nearly every coaching conversation is one of wanting to achieve a new result that requires a change in behavior—that is, adding a new skill or dropping an old habit. Usually the desire to change behavior is based on feedback or on personal reflection. Recognition and a desire to improve a behavior is pre-requisite to success. As a manager of others or yourself, follow these steps to improve the likelihood of behavior change:

Articulate precisely why the change in behavior is important. This is the reason or reward for the hard work.

  • Suzanne has realized that no one else is speaking up, and she doesn’t want to feel so lonely making all the decisions herself. If others speak up the ideas will be more creative, there will be more buy-in and she won’t feel so responsible for all the ideas.

  • Jose is overwhelmed at work. He spends far too much time in project meetings. If he spends less time in the details, he will be able to have shorter work days.

  • Delilah realizes her get-down-to-work-attitude has changed the group culture. She misses the energy. If she role models the behaviors, others will feel like they have permission to be excited too.

  • Moriah found that employees were waiting for her to give them directions on next steps they should take. If employees felt they could take initiative, deadlines would be met or exceeded.  

The usual next part of the coaching conversation is to identify a specific change in behavior that might lead to these desired results. This is usually the most creative and easiest step.

  • Suzanne chose to count to 10 before speaking in a meeting. This is enough time for others to fill the silence.

  • Jose developed a strategy to ask his team to always bring at least two specific suggestions to fix a problem.

  • Delilah thought to walk around the office everyday, asking 2 different people each day about successes this week.

  • Moriah wants to make the purpose statement of the strategic pillars of the project front and center.

After a coaching meeting, there is often a great deal of excitement. However, the follow through in between conversations wanes. To reinforce the behavior, have each person develop a trigger to remind them of the excitement that existed at the end of your conversation—and that now is the time to practice their new behavior.

  • Suzanne holds her fingers in her hands whenever she hears a question during group meetings. She then counts each finger (under the table). This is a physical reminder.

  • Jose is triggered whenever someone comes to his door. He has a script. “I really want to help you out. Rather than digging in right now, please think about it and bring me your two best ideas.

  • A 10:30 alarm reminds Delilah to get up from her chair each day to go out and ask someone new about their success. She keeps a checklist in her desk of each person so she talks to everyone within a week.

  • Moriah uses the beginning of each meeting as her trigger to read the purpose and strategy.  

As a coaching manager, here is a summary of steps:

  1. Make sure there is awareness and a desire to improve by having the employee clearly describe why a result or desired outcome is important to them.

  2. Work together to identify a specific action they think will help achieve the desired result. Even if you don’t think it will work, let them own the behavior.

  3. Develop a trigger that will remind them of your conversation, their desire to change the behavior, and the action they decided upon.

Finally, follow up on the conversation in your next meeting. Reflect on their success by asking questions. How did it go? Did you see anything new? What have you learned? Would you do anything different?

And the process continues.