Understanding Your Coaching Role

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Apr 09, 2024

By AMA Staff

Coaching, in the context of performance management, means bringing the right people onto your staff and developing them continually so that they do their jobs well all the time. Think in terms of baseball, football, or volleyball coaches. They first recruit the right people, assess training and development needs, and work to improve the skills of all. You’re a coach in just the same way.

As a coach, for instance, one of your jobs is to hire top staff. Then, if at any point your employees lack the skills they need to do their jobs well, your job is to train them. Analyzing training needs is, in fact, an ongoing responsibility, since skill needs change as the demands of the workplace change.

Besides making sure your employees have the skills they need, as coach you need to ensure they understand your organization’s values and mission. Otherwise, your employees may create problems for themselves or for you.

There is a belief that is critical to coaching that employees like to do a good job, and they want to get positive feedback and encouragement. Sitting down with a worker to discuss his or her recent efforts won’t be demoralizing. If it is done tactfully, you can move the individual to a point where they can do a good job and where, consequently, they’ll get the positive feedback and encouragement they want.

To make this happen, you have to tell an employee exactly what you want and why. Present the big picture and his or her role in it. For example: “I will get calls from customers when they don’t hear from us about the status of their orders. Keeping them abreast of the status of their orders is a promise we make to our customers. Your responsibility is to process this information and send e-mail updates to them. Since I got a few calls this morning, I am assuming that you haven’t sent out all the letters yet. Is that so?”

If the employee says yes, then the manager might explore the reasons why there have been delays. More important, together with the employee, the manager would come up with a plan to address any obstacles in completing the work on schedule. In the meantime, he might suggest, “Make print copies of the information. If a customer calls, I’ll be able to answer his or her questions. Given our plan, I should be able to assure the client that in the future he or she won’t have to call.”

If the employee needs to learn a new skill, you might want to both tell and show the person what to do. Finally, you sit with the individual as he or she does the job. As the employee is learning, you should be there as his or her personal cheerleader. That assumes that you believe the individual can handle the job. If you have some doubts, go back and offer further training. Effective coaches don’t leave their employees to sink or swim. They recognize that there is a learning curve and they make a point to help their employees who are on it. Interestingly, as a coach, you need to accept that your employees will make mistakes and—most important—that they can learn much through the process of getting it wrong and then finding out how to put it right. Your role is t be there and congratulate them when they get it right.

Coaching Like a Pro

Coaching is something you begin from the first day an employee arrives on the job, when you discuss the individual’s responsibilities, your expectations, the unit’s role in the bigger corporate picture, and the company’s mission and strategy. Thereafter, schedule to meet with the employee one-on-one at least once a month.

Many managers argue that they don’t have the time to coach each and every one of their employees on a regular basis. However, ask yourself, “What will it cost in time or money if my employees don’t have a clear view of operating priorities or plans, or lack of critical skills, or are encountering problems that impede progress?” The cost in time and money will be considerably more than the time you’d spend in coaching. In other words, coaching is preventative maintenance.

While coaching mostly involves one-on-one meetings, bear in mind that it can also take the form of group sessions. The intent of these meetings is the same as one-on-one sessions—to better prepare employees to do their jobs. Group sessions can thus provide information on action plans, focus on skill-building activities, or remedy small group performance difficulties before they grow beyond control.

How can you go about coaching your employees?

Question employees about work in progress. Give feedback. There is no such thing as too much feedback about job performance. Praise for a job well done reinforces that behavior and increases the likelihood of its continuation. Suggestions for improvement tell employees you think they are capable of doing better.

Should you see any problems, ask open-ended questions, for example, “What’s keeping you from doing an even better job than you are now?” or, “Is there anything we need to talk about?” and, most important, “How can I help you?”

Once you have developed the knack of asking such questions in a non-threatening way, you should be able to uncover problems that may not otherwise come to light. You might identify a skill deficiency. Sometimes, too, you may discover more about an employee’s interests and aspirations. This may suggest ways to redesign the job and thereby stimulate above-standard performance.

Besides being a skilled listener, you should be alert to what’s happening on the plant, service, or office floor. Practice management by walking around, and then discuss what you observed with the employee. Jot down casual comments or follow-up thoughts you can discuss during one-on-one meetings you hold with staff members each month.

About the Author(s)

AMA Staff American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.