Providing coaching and feedback is a critical part of every leader’s role.

Employees are less likely to meet performance targets or be prepared for future responsibilities if they don’t have effective feedback on how they are doing.

Without this vital communication, employees are less aware of their skill level, how they are perceived by others, and what their impact on the team and organization is.   This can undermine employee development, productivity, and motivation.

To be most effective, coaching and feedback should be given on a regular basis.   Yet, most leaders struggle to do this frequently enough and often hold poorly planned or executed discussions.


Here are 7 keys to coaching employees effectively using well-managed conversations:


1)  Clarify your coaching objective


Before rushing into a coaching discussion, it’s critical to know what you hope to accomplish during the meeting and beyond.   While the need for coaching is often triggered by some performance issue, coaching can also be used as a motivational tool, a retention strategy, or to clarify career interests.

If your primary goal is to provide feedback and guidance on a performance problem, decide what the overall message to the employee is that you need to convey.

If necessary, write down some talking points to keep in your pocket in case you need them.  Think through the tone that you want to come through, and make sure it matches the severity of the performance issue.  You want to be clear and confident in delivering your message.

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2)  Find the right time to hold conversations

Even the most well-planned coaching sessions can be difficult if the timing for you or the employee isn’t right.

Think about when you’re best prepared to hold the discussion as well as what else is going on with the employee or team.

That being said, never wait too long to give performance-related feedback.    Ideally, you and your employee talk on a regular basis so you can address issues early.  Avoid waiting 3-4 months before choosing to discuss an issue.

On the day that you hold the discussion, try to keep some slack in your schedule in case the meeting runs longer than expected.   Alternatively, be prepared to stop the discussion and resume it later if the meeting becomes too heated or unproductive.  Always remember that your role is to manage the flow of the meeting, and if it feels out of control, it is sometimes better to pause it.


3)  Begin sessions with your observations and goals for the meeting

Clarify how you think the employee is currently doing and what you want to focus on during the meeting.

If it is a performance issue, than state your perceptions in a candid yet sensitive manner.  Be clear on why this issue is important, and if relevant, how it impacts the rest of the team.    

Keep these initial comments brief and to the point so that you can quickly assess the employee’s reactions and allow them to process what you are saying.   Avoid long monologues that don’t give the employee room for questions.


4)  Get the employee’s point of view

After your opening remarks, quickly get the employee to respond with their initial thoughts.  You want to quickly establish that this is a two-way dialogue and get the employee talking.

If this is a performance issue, then ask if the feedback makes sense, and why they think the problem is happening.  Keep your tone non-judgmental and receptive to new information.

Recognize that some employees may be uncomfortable, defensive, or in disagreement with your views of their performance.

Give the employee time to regain their composure if they become upset.  Avoid becoming defensive yourself or back-peddling on your message.  Use empathy statements such as “I can see how you would feel that way…” or “I know this may be difficult to hear…”


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5)  For performance issues, uncover any skill or motivational concerns

As the discussion unfolds, it is critical to determine why the performance issue is happening.   Keep probing with open-ended questions to uncover if the employee doesn’t have enough knowledge or skill to meet the job standards, or whether it’s more of a motivational problem.

If it’s a skill or knowledge concern, determine whether some additional direction, coaching, or mentoring would fix it, or whether more formal training may be needed.

Alternatively, if motivation is the issue, all the training in the world won’t help someone who just doesn’t want to put forth enough effort.  In these cases, your role will be to determine if the motivational issue can be solved with more interesting tasks, addressing a problem with a co-worker, etc.  Keep digging to try to get to the root cause.


6)  Guide toward discovery of their own solutions and build commitment

The real finesse of a coaching conversation comes when it is time to generate solutions and a plan forward.   If this is a career discussion, then most likely the employee will be highly motivated to help think through ideas for career paths or developmental suggestions.

But for performance issues, it may require some skilled probing, encouragement, and restraint from solving the employee’s issue for them.

Continue to ask, “What are some other things you could do here to solve this?” You must get the employee to take ownership of the issue.

This will build more commitment to the solution and help build their problem solving skills in the process.

Keep in mind that while you might not approach the problem in the exact same manner, he/she is the one who must make the change in his/her performance.    That being said, if you strongly disagree with a particular strategy the employee suggests, seek a workable compromise.


7)  Express confidence and support while reinforcing accountability

Remember that even with good coaching and feedback, at the end of the day it’s up to the employee to meet performance expectations.  Your role is to provide direction, resources, and guidance, and then allow your people to step up to the challenge.

Be supportive and make it clear that you are here to help employees with their development and improvement efforts.

Express your confidence in their ability to make progress and accomplish their goals. Set follow-up meetings as needed and continue to be available for more coaching and feedback.   Reinforce that you are a resource who is invested in their success.

However, if you meet with continued under-performance or lack of motivation that doesn’t seem resolvable, take assertive action to move towards managing the employee out of the organization.

Never allow an unmotivated and under-performing employee to take up a valuable seat in your company.

By acting promptly, you can ensure that the motivation and productivity of the rest of your team isn’t impacted, and that your business can thrive.   

DIVE DEEPER:  Boost your confidence and self-perspective as a leader by mastering how you think about your life story here.

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