This session was recorded on December 16, 2021.
We all want to enable our employees to reach their highest potential. In this webinar, Marisa Stribling from Mineral, our HR Partner, will discuss coaching in the workplace with a special focus on ways to encourage employee development and growth using a coaching management style.
Marisa also will explore the ways to give employees room to overcome problems and discover their own solutions. You’ll leave with tips on effective coaching and tools for honing your coaching style.
All right. Welcome everyone. I’ll give everyone just a minute to join here. We’ll start in about 30 seconds. Welcome. Welcome. All right. Wonderful. Looks like people are pouring in. Glad all of you can join me today. Okay. Well, I’m just going to go ahead and get started and we’ll just jump in. Again, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m really excited to welcome you to our training, Effective Coaching: Engaging Your Employees. Before we begin, I would love to introduce myself very briefly. So my name is Sarah. I’m an HR training specialist who’s been with the team for over six years. I previously worked on the front lines of the Human Resources Department at Starbucks and I’m happy to call the Northwest my permanent home. Okay. Again, let’s go ahead.
So just some quick housekeeping items before we get to the meat of this, we will email you the recording of this presentation and the PDF of the slides within 24 ish hours. I will hold a poll later on, so I hope you’ll participate in it, just stay tuned for that. And then finally, please use the Q&A box for any questions you have. I will be able to answer as many as I can during the brief Q&A session at the end. And I really do tend to run over a few minutes for this webinar. So if you’re on a tight timeline, just be aware that if you miss the Q&A portion that will be included in the recording that’s sent to you.
Okay. Today I’ll start by setting the stage so that we’re all on the same page as to what coaching means and what the basics are. We’ll then dive into the differences between coaching and progressive discipline. I’ll discuss some coaching questions and then end with best practices for having coaching conversations. Finally, again, all try to leave a couple minutes at the end for questions you may have. I do hope that by the end of this session you’ll have a better understanding of how you can begin to use coaching in your own workplace. Okay. So let’s officially jump in now.
So we’ll define coaching in more depth in just a little bit, but at this point, it’s important to clarify how I’m going to be using the term coaching in this presentation. Coaching is sometimes used as a generic term about giving employees performance feedback often when things aren’t going well, but for the purposes of this presentation when we talk about coaching, we’re talking about a management style that encourages employee growth and development, and it’s also useful to contrast what coaching isn’t. So it’s not progressive discipline or the ongoing performance management process.
Okay. So for the purpose of workplace coaching, this is to help enable your employees to become “star performers.” With coaching, the goal is to give employees feedback that they’re actually going to apply. You do this by using a format, giving employees room to overcome problems and discover their own solutions. Coaching provides an environment that really engages your workforce and helps foster independence within your team. It helps your employees develop in their careers and reach full potential.
So coaching is a process that if you haven’t done it before, it can take a while to get used to, but ultimately it can yield great results for you and your team. When you learn a coaching management style, it’s something that you can just informally integrate into your day to day management of your team. Much of your coaching will be informal as part of your ongoing conversations with employees, but you can also have formal one-on-one coaching meetings with your employees as the need arises. So for example, if you see untapped potential, maybe training that needs to be reinforced if you’ve gotten employee in a new job or if you see an employee that’s struggling a bit, maybe.
So a really common question is whether you should use performance evaluations or coaching and the answer is both. So the two are not mutually exclusive. Coaching focuses on helping employees advance their career development over time and helps employees do their current jobs more effectively. Coaching focuses on continuous improvement throughout the entire performance management cycle. Now, I don’t have time to discuss performance evaluations in this session, but if you’ve been using coaching on a regular basis, there should be no surprises when it comes to performance evaluation time.
The Harvard business review guide to coaching employees defines coaching as, a style of management primarily characterized by asking employees questions in order to help them fulfill their immediate responsibilities more effectively and advance their development as professionals over time. So the fact that this style of management is characterized by asking questions of employees is really important. Among other things this helps employees become problem solvers and not just look to their supervisor for all of the answers. So we’ll talk in more detail about how to ask these questions towards the end of this webinar.
Now, one thing about a coaching approach is that it’s not a so-called top down approach. It puts ownership of the employee’s performance with both the manager and the employee. The process of resolution is created between the manager and employee and it becomes the employee’s responsibility to find ways to solve any issues under the manager’s guidance. Coaching requires regular and open communication between the employee and the manager. It requires trust between the manager and the employee. I’ll talk more about creating the conditions for successful coaching shortly.
Also, coaching empowers the employee to take an active role in their career development and empowers the employee to be solutions focused when looking at issues related to their job. This approach enables employees to learn a lot, but it can sometimes initially take a bit more manager time. It also may not work in all workplace environments, the company has to be supportive of such an approach. Very bureaucratic top down style organizations that are more commanding control so to speak may not be the best candidates for coaching.
Studies have shown that a coaching style of management can create greater employee engagement and commitment, improve performance, and accelerate talent development. Coaching can create a positive work environment. When employees are coached, they feel supported and encouraged by their manager and the company. Retention can improve as employees are more loyal and motivated when their bosses take time to help them improve their skills. When performance increases, ultimately, this means that customers are better served and it can have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. I suspect you’ll probably agree that these are some pretty good arguments in favor of a coaching style of management.
All right. So before we learn more about how to coach let’s again, go ahead, compare and contrast coaching and progressive discipline. Sometimes people aren’t sure how coaching relates to progressive discipline, so I do want to spend a few minutes talking about how these things are different and when each one is appropriate.
Now, I’m guessing most of you are probably familiar with progressive discipline. Progressive discipline typically follows the steps of verbal counseling, written warnings, other consequences, and then finally termination if the behavior does not improve. So while progressive discipline does help protect the employer from liability resulting from discrimination charges and lawsuits, it often fails to bring about the kind of behavioral change that transforms employees with performance concerns into fully functioning committed team members.
Now, a benefit of progressive discipline is that it provides clear expectations and consequences for failing to meet those expectations. However, the system can be seen as inflexible. If it’s not applied consistently, it can be viewed as discriminatory. HR and management have to make judgment calls about when to deviate from the prescribed steps. For performance related matters, progressive discipline can also be difficult to implement in a positive solutions focused way as the format can be viewed as a series of punishments.
Another thing is that using company disciplinary procedures to address employee issues, puts the ownership of the issue on the manager and the human resources’ department. The employer is then asked to take whatever course of action the manager and HR decide on. This can create compliance, but it can also create resentment and no true change in the employee. So unlike coaching, there is no employee ownership of the solution, with progressive discipline employee behavioral change may be motivated by fear and it may happen only when the employee is being closely monitored. So this can be a negative way to motivate an employee which unlike coaching doesn’t increase morale or engagement.
Now, a final pitfall of progressive discipline is that often it’s used after termination decision has already been made. It can be really common that a manager might have decided that an employee just isn’t capable of changing or they may have waited until a situation got bad and is simply creating documentation to reduce that employer liability. It’s really common that we see situations that a manager hasn’t had the difficult performance conversations and then just gets so frustrated that they want to terminate the employee’s employment. So in that case, the documentation is basically just serving a compliance step. So this really misses the point that when done well, corrective action can correct behavior and actually motivate employees to turn their behavior around.
Okay. So with all of that said, it is important to note that there that some situations really are better suited for progressive discipline than coaching. Progressive discipline will generally always be appropriate for certain policy violations like sexual harassment or most types of misconduct. In these situations, it is important to ensure that the employee has written notice of the infraction and that there’s documentation for the file of what happened. It’s important to make it clear that these situations are disciplinary in nature. Some employee performance problems could be handled in certain situations or workplace environments with progressive discipline and in others with coaching. Or in some cases when coaching hasn’t worked to improve performance, progressive discipline can then be the second step used.
Okay. Let’s shake things off, switch things up here. Let’s jump into a poll. I am really curious about this. So let me launch this. So before today, how confident have you been with that distinction between coaching and progressive discipline? Has it felt super clear to you? Is it obvious? Has it been maybe a little murky? Have you already been learning new things? So looks like about 25% of you have participated so far. I’ll give you a few seconds here. I’m really curious. Up to half of you. This is great. You are so quick. I’ll give you another few seconds here, up to 60% of you. Let’s see if it can get to 70%.
So I will go ahead and close the poll in about 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. Okay. Ending it now. This is super interesting. Let me share the results with you. So it looks like it’s a little neck and neck, about half of you had confidence in the general area which is great and makes a lot of sense. I love that 33% of you it feels like you’re very, very confident in this. And then also, yeah, we’re all learning, sometimes it’s hard people just don’t realize that there’s like such a distinction between the two. So that’s really interesting. Thank you so much for sharing.
Okay. Still moving on here. Before we talk about the specifics of how to coach, we’ll talk about some important things that need to be in place to make coaching management style effective for you. So for coaching to be effective, the right environment just has to exist. Managers using a coaching style should see themselves as a facilitator that helps the employee achieve their highest potential. In the next several slides I’m going to talk about some of the behaviors that managers should exhibit to be successful coaches. And again, no one’s asked this yet which is wonderful, but do know that you’re going to receive an emailed copy of this PDF of these slides? You can always refer back to these behaviors later.
So first and foremost, trust is an essential ingredient in coaching relationships. Trust enables the employee to be open to the lessons that from coaching. Trust means that an employee will believe their manager is providing coaching for the purpose of developing them and not just as a means for getting the job done. Without trust, employees likely won’t be fully truthful about their goals and weaknesses or about how they see their role in the organization. Think for a second about a manager that you didn’t trust, how likely is it that you would really confide in them about areas where you knew your performance needed development? Chances are, you’d be worried that they could just use that information against you in some way. On the other hand, in a trusting relationship where you feel like a manager has your back, you are so much more likely to be open.
Now, I’d like to introduce a concept called a growth mindset. A growth mindset is one that assumes your employees can learn. In contrast, a fixed mindset is the belief that a person won’t make progress. If you ever found yourself thinking, ugh, my employee will never be able to accomplish this task or he just doesn’t get it, then you are thinking with a fixed mindset or the belief that a person will not make progress. Don’t be too hard on yourself because we have all probably done this at one time or another. I’ve been guilty for sure, but keep in mind, low expectations severely limit your ability to coaching an employee. While there are occasionally people who are unable to develop most often the actual barrier is the belief that a person won’t make progress or succeed.
A fixed mindset leads you to do things like not delegate to do things yourself that the team could do and provide answers instead of allowing the team to learn by doing. Adopting a growth mindset or one that assumes that your employees can learn means that you focus feedback both positive and negative on employees’ efforts to you achieve their goals and not on their inherent abilities. When employees fail, you focus on learning from the experience and understanding the areas where doing something differently could have resulted in success.
So here are some ways to shift to a growth mindset. First, assume positive intent, so you want to appear curious when speaking with employees not critical. Even in the face of what appears to be a negative situation, allow yourself to remain open to other perspectives. You may learn that there was a perfectly logical reason for your employee to do what she did. If a situation didn’t work out well, but there was a logical and positive reason behind it, focus on the learning that can be found in the situation. So in other words, instead of focusing on a situation as a mistake or a failure, take a positive focus and look at the lessons that can be learned from the situation.
And then you’ll always want to listen more than you talk, allowing the employee to really feel heard. This is a strategy that builds trust with employees. You’re also allowing the employee to find the solution instead of giving it to them. Then you also want to keep the mindset that the employee has the solution and the manager’s role is to facilitate their finding the wisdom within. Well, it can definitely take some practice once an employee has been trained in their job, resist that urge to tell your employees how to do something. Allow an employee to think through things on their own, always ask before you advise.
Allowing the employee to come to their own solution will facilitate their development. It will allow them to learn more than if you’re telling them what to do, creating employee buy into the solution and allowing you to remain open to other possible ways of doing things. And then it can be really tempting to do this, but don’t say what you would’ve done differently. A coaching mindset recognizes that there are many ways to get a job done and many different work styles that can all be effective. Your goal is not to create another version of you. Focusing too much on your own personal work style can be limiting to an employee’s development.
Okay. So now I’ll give some guidance and some specific tips on how to talk to employees when you’re coaching them. Again, it is possible I might run a couple minutes over, but we will be sharing a recording with you. So if you miss the end I certainly understand then you can always revisit. Okay. I guess as a reminder, let’s go back to our definition of coaching. It’s a style of management primarily characterized by asking employees questions in order to help them fulfill their immediate responsibilities more effectively and advance their development as professionals over time. So developing the style really is about learning to ask powerful questions in your everyday management interactions. Instead of giving the employee an answer or telling them how to do their job, more of a command and control style, with a coaching style, you assume the employee has that wisdom within to come to the answers on their own.
Sometimes you may know a possible answer or sometimes as is the case with employees who handle very specific technical information, you may not. If you provide an answer, you limit the possible outcomes. You’ll generally want to ask open ended question questions, that is, questions that cannot be answered with just yes or no. Open ended questions require a thought process to come to an answer. So when employees are involved in creating this solution, they’re much more likely to buy into whatever the result is. For the most part, you’ll want to avoid narrow questions that are directive. So for example ask, what is the next best step to take, as opposed to, what type of meeting do you need to have in order to move the project forward? So the broader questions are the more the employee thinks about the possible options and responses.
Then finally, generally, try to avoid questions that start with why as they often make employees feel defensive. Asking why can imply that you think the result was wrong or appear to judgmental. You can ask something like, tell me about your thought process instead of asking an employee why they didn’t or did do something. So this assumes positive intent and then comes across as curious and non-judgmental.
On the screen, you’ll see some examples of open at questions versus closed questions. In the first example you can ask what’s the status of the project which gathers more information and isn’t just answered in a simple yes or no that you’ll get by asking if the person is finished with the project. Asking, “Well, you won’t do that again, right?” Is judgemental. It will be empowering and likely make your employee feel bad. So instead say, “What can you learn from this?” That takes a situation that could be viewed as a mistake and helps turn it into a more positive opportunity for learning.
When employees are given a supportive environment that allows them to learn from things that might otherwise be viewed as failures within reason, of course, this can have a really positive impact on their development. They can definitely quickly apply these lessons to similar scenarios in ways that might not otherwise have happened if you had phrased things differently. Then in the final example, how many times have you simply asked an employee if instructions are clear and the employee just said, yes, only for you to realize later that they didn’t actually understand. Providing an opportunity for them to repeat an assignment back will demonstrate any areas of miscommunication. So it can be better to say something like, just to make sure we’re on the same page will you tell me your understanding of the assignment? Something like that.
Okay. I know that’s a whole lot of information and we’ve stayed pretty high level to help pull all of this information together. Let’s look at some practical examples of how you could implement coaching in a few different situations. It’s important to remember that coaching doesn’t always mean that an employee isn’t performing well. So just to reiterate, coaching is used to help continually improve performance and develop employees. So we’re going to talk about using coaching for problem solving situations to help with project management and giving employee feedback.
Okay. So first let’s talk a bit about problem solving. I’ve managed a number of employees over the years and it’s very common that employees and particularly entry level employees come to managers with questions about how to do tasks that they can solve themselves. I’ve found that they do this because either they don’t have confidence in their problem solving abilities or because they aren’t confident that they have the authority to make a decision, or sometimes they just don’t want the responsibility for making a decision or perhaps they don’t realize they know the answer. They simply need to talk it over with a manager to help see the situation from a different perspective. I know that sometimes it can be quicker to just provide an answer, move on, but ultimately you’ll make your job easier in the long run when you help empower the employee to learn to come to their own solutions.
Now, depending on the situation, there’s all sorts of coaching questions that can elicit your employee’s problem solving ability. So you’ll see a few examples on the screen. Asking the employee to tell you about the situation and what they’ve already done gives you context. You can even use a coaching stand by, tell me more about that to learn more about the situation. Asking what the employee proposes gives permission for them to try to solve the problem. In the event the employee doesn’t have an immediate solution to the problem you can try a variety of approaches. Asking the employee what their goal or desired outcome is can help give them clarity on this point.
It’s surprising how often for employees try to make a decision, but they haven’t articulated a clear end result or desired outcome. So in doing this, it can sometimes make the path to get to the goal much clearer. Asking a question like, what are some different ways that you might approach the situation? Or maybe what could be your next step or what options do you have. These get the employee thinking about potential solutions. Depending on the employee’s responses, you could ask follow up questions that relate to the various options. So maybe, what are the pros and cons of each approach here? This has the employee and not the manager identify the strengths and weaknesses in each of the options that they’ve presented. So this means that the employee has to use critical thinking skills to come up with the responses.
Then finally, you can ask the employee to identify which approach they think is most effective. When an employee has participated in problem solving and identifying a solution, they’re much more likely again, to be bought into the solution. They will oftentimes also be able to apply the same thought process to other situations which of course helps their growth.
Then another scenario that you might have as an employee who needs help project managing a task. This can be quite common when an employee is a highly technically skilled employee or is really good at management, but maybe doesn’t have much project management experience. Sometimes large projects that will extend over multiple months or years can just really feel overwhelming to employees. Sometimes they just really need help breaking them down into smaller parts to help create a project plan. So asking some simple questions can help them stop seeing the project as daunting and overwhelming, and really just help them break it into manageable parts.
So, first, it’s important that they have a clear picture of the end result. Often an employee has been given a large project, but they don’t truly have that clear idea of like what’s expected of them or the manager’s idea of the end result and the employee’s idea are wildly different. Sometimes the employee is envisioning a much larger project than the manager is imagining, sometimes the reverse. It’s important to ensure that your expectations actually are aligned. So a question like, “What will a successful final outcome look like?” That question can help you determine what the employee is envisioning and ensure that you’re on the same page. You could also have the employee do a visioning exercise. Do you imagine that the project is finished simply by saying, imagine that you’re finished with the project, describe it, describe this final product. This gets the employee into a creative problem solving mode.
Now, if this is interrupted by the employee describing obstacles to get to the final product, you can say things like, for now, let’s pretend that obstacle doesn’t exist, just describe what you want that final product to look like. However, you will want to take note of the obstacles so that later you can ask additional coaching questions to make sure that any obstacles don’t get in the way of success, but again, for now, you just want the employee thinking about that final product and not getting distracted by potential problems.
Once the employee has an idea of the end goal, there’s a couple ways to break the project down into parts using open-ended questions. So one is to work backwards from that final deadline and ask what needs to be done by certain timeframes. And another is to ask what needs to be done immediately. So in other words, if you need to complete this project by January 10th or let’s say November 10th, it’s almost a year, what needs to be done in the next three months, what needs to be done by the end of next September, that sort of thing.
Then you can have the employee create a project plan that breaks these tasks down even further as needed. You’ll also want to ensure that the action items and the dates that the employees committing to are actually attainable, they’re actually realistic. And then finally, you can ask a question about what the employee will do to ensure success. So this helps keep the conversation focused on the positive, but can also pull in some strategizing about the obstacles mentioned earlier in a positive context. One thing to watch out, be sure that you don’t just accept any limiting beliefs at face value. So in other words, you really want to challenge an employee’s assumptions that they can’t do something or challenge unfounded assumptions that there are limitations that will stop them from getting something finished. Your job when coaching employees is to help them grow, is to help them motivate and to move outside of their comfort zone.
Okay. Final slide right here. We are almost through. Another time you might use coaching questions is as an alternative to providing feedback when one of your employees completed a task. You could provide constructive criticism right off the bat, but it can be much better and more effective if you facilitate the employee coming to their own conclusion about what worked well and what could go better. So let’s say that your employees bring you a PowerPoint presentation that you think needs more work to have the intended message to clients. Some managers might review the presentation, mark it up, then go over it with the employee to explain why they made that it’s they did. So while there might be some learning in this for the employee who created it, it’s a lot of work for the manager and it’s more directive of an approach.
It can also create dependence on the manager for assistance like that in the future. So pause for a second with a coaching approach, you could ask the employee a question like, “What’s the desired message of this presentation.” If the employee doesn’t have a clear message, then this can be clarified, but assuming there’s a clear message, then you can follow up with the question, “How effective do you think this current draft is communicating your intended message?” And remember, do not ask, “Do you think this current draft is effective at communicating your current message?” Because that’s a totally different question, it’s closed and it will only give you a yes or no and it can also put employees on the defensive.
Again, an open-ended question requires them to think and assess the strengths and weaknesses and what they created. You can then follow up with questions about how the employee could strengthen the delivery of the intended message because the employee is coming up with the answers, they don’t feel like they’re being told what to do or being micromanaged. So assuming the manager is supportive and there is that trusting environment, the employee feels like they’re given room to grow and learn.
Now, assuming you have some specific feedback in mind that the employee didn’t point out, you might ask a bit more of a pointed question, but again, do try to keep it open ended and with the employee, making the observations wherever possible. For example, if there’s a section that you think is confusing in the order it’s in, you might say something like, tell me about your decision to put this slide after the section about the new product lines, that way you can hear the employee’s rationale for the decision prior to giving any feedback. The employee may realize on their own that there could be a better placement for the slide or you may realize there’s a logical reason for the current placement or there could be another possible solution of course.
Okay. I know we covered a lot of information in our half hour. I know I sped up towards the end, but truly if coaching is new for you, just take away from this that it might take a while to get a hang of using the open ended questions with the coaching approach, but it can really be worth it when you see the results in increased employee performance and that self sufficiency. So I’m going to review the questions you chatted in. I know I’m already four minutes over. I sincerely apologize for that. I’ll probably just take one questions. Let me take a look here and there’s only a couple. Let’s see. So someone said, oh, this is interesting. This is branching off to the side, but this is interesting. Someone wrote, “I just found out that my team lead has been using her own coaching forms. Is this okay?”
Yeah. Generally speaking, an employer, a company should have consistent forms that all managers, all supervisors, all leads are using to make sure that the documents are legal and that no issue exists that could cause a problem down the road. It’s really never a good idea to have individual managers going rogue and using their own documents and actually another important piece here, you wrote team lead. So a team lead generally, isn’t the person handing out discipline or performance reviews and this would include coaching. And actually, if it is truly related to coaching, documentation and writing, the coaching, that’s no longer a verbal reminder or a coaching session, but it’s turning into written documentation of a performance issue or whatever it’s for.
So that would actually need to be placed in the employee’s personnel file. So all in all, talking through this and thinking out loud, I am thinking it is not a good practice to let your team lead or any of your management staff use their own homegrown documents and whether a lead is trained in management skills and is the appropriate person to handle coaching and discipline, that may be something to consider reviewing within your company as well, but really good question. I’m glad you’re thinking that.
Okay. I’m going to answer one more question and then I will let you go. So someone wrote, “I’ve heard you’re supposed to document all performance conversations. Is this the same with coaching?” Yeah, that’s a really good question. So it is not the same with coaching. Ideally, you’re incorporating coaching into your, again, your day to day management of employees and the focus of it is continuous improvement and development. So if you start documenting all of these conversations, it can seem like your conversations are disciplinary when really that’s not the intention.
So if you’re having formal coaching sessions, then maybe you want to document some agreed upon action items or summarize the coaching session in writing, but with the focus of coaching for the improvement, it’s not on documentation in the same as it is when you’re looking at performance that isn’t meeting expectations. So where you’ve shifted to counseling and there’s performance issues, then it can be good to get some of this down in writing. So I hope that helps.
Okay. I am six minutes over. I apologize, but I really appreciate all of you being here and sticking with me. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the day. And again, we will email a PDF of these slides and this recording, and you’ll receive it within about 24 hours at the email address you registered with. Thank you so much. Have a great rest of your day.