Investing in people—it’s a surefire way to either take teams to new levels of performance or waste everyone’s time. The difference? Effective investment of resources, which comes down to understanding what employees need to do their best and then mentoring them to get there.
Companies that ignore this investment end up spending more on turnover costs as employee engagement falters, spending hours to find new employees and recoup lost productivity as new team members re-establish all those skills their veteran predecessors had in place: relationships, tips and tricks, and an understanding of the company’s big picture.
On the other hand, companies that take career coaching seriously recognize that “hire slow, fire fast” slogans may sound sexy, but they don’t produce the kind of culture that keeps people engaged. Investing in career development is a long-game strategy.
Good coaching is a mindset as much as a process, and its guiding principle is that the only way around an obstacle is through it. It’s about facing challenges head-on and cutting a trail for others to get there in the future.
Most importantly, effective employee coaching creates a better work environment for the entire company. Let’s talk about some of its hallmarks.
Start from the ground up
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the coaching process is being patient enough to build a strong foundation for struggling employees, especially when teaching things they should already know.
When people aren’t clear about the nuts and bolts of their job, it’s easy for coaches to become frustrated trying to establish high-level competencies. How do you give constructive feedback to someone who doesn’t have a clue what’s going on?
Before any coaching happens, every single company needs a rigorous new hire training program in place. Period. At a bare minimum, there needs to be a cursory review of expectations for employee performance, along with models of satisfactory work to help new hires reach their full potential and reduce the need for coaching in the future.
Introductory training should include:
Clearly defined job descriptions.
An overview of daily task processes from start to finish.
Finished products to strive toward.
Avenues to ask questions and solve problems.
Regular follow-ups to make sure things are going well.
Ideally, the interview process is where companies will confirm a new hire’s ability to do a given job, but since no two jobs are the same, interviewing can only go so far. Just because someone performed well in a past position doesn’t mean they won’t have skill gaps for their new role.
The better-trained people are from the beginning, the less companies need to coach them down the road.
Anyone can be coached
Everyone is good at something. However, rather than look for places to build, some generalize poor job performance as stupidity or laziness rather than a misunderstanding of new processes or a lack of training. This is detrimental to workplace coaching.
There are many reasons why someone may struggle at work, and not all of them are intuitive. Having frank, open discussions about where help is needed and what needs clarifying not only creates a dialogue for better coaching, but may also reveal roadblocks in a company’s workflow.
Treat coaching just like training: start small. Take a granular approach from the ground up to iron out any confusion, then review the basics to make sure there’s a good foundation to build upon.
Most importantly, express confidence in a person’s ability to improve and do their job well.
Take nothing for granted
Because no one is psychic, it’s important to clarify each and every step required to do good work. Do it early on.
Some managers think they shouldn’t have to “hold hands every step of the way,” but this is completely wrong. If there’s a problem with a worker’s ability to do their job, it is the company/manager’s responsibility to provide the needed coaching, including the basics.
While you may not have any questions about how to do a job, your team members might, and they’re unlikely to tell you about it if they worry about being resented for doing so. A patient approach brings these questions to the surface naturally, and can even build your coaching roadmap for you.
After reviewing the basics in detail, trainees should be able to explain the process back with their own understanding and approach. Repeating things back helps with memory retention and can also shed light on where things are breaking down, offering ideas for how to improve training for future new hires.
Check in on a regular basis
As team members get a better feel for handling new tasks, you may assume they’ll figure the rest of it out on their own and not need help anymore. Don’t make this mistake.
Regular one-on-one check-ins aren’t just about performance management and accountability, but also about keeping communication open, building the coaching relationship, and developing habits for improvement.
Great managers understand that rapport is key to strong teams, and checking in gives workers a chance to talk candidly about how things are going.
Be open to new ideas
Coaching offers a chance to set goals and share insights with employees who need help, but coaches should also be open to learning themselves. New hires can be some of the best workflow auditors thanks to their fresh eyes, so consider that during coaching sessions.
We’ve all worked for a company with archaic processes in place that no one liked or knew how to fix.
New hires can help give context on issues such as:
In some cases, worker time management struggles are the direct result of inefficient company processes. If it takes someone a half hour of firewall-protected file scouring to locate one piece of client information, that employee won’t be as efficient or sharp.
Consider asking for feedback about processes that could work out better.
Learn what motivates people
Successful coaching is as much about teaching as it is about motivating. People like to feel good about their work, so when a coach can get creative with motivation, good things happen.
Drumming up motivation can be difficult. Money and promotions are obvious incentives for getting people to stick to their work, but enthusiasm and social relationships take creativity to be as effective. Here are some ways to harness those incentives:
Celebrate employee progress often
Find silly reasons to throw pizza parties
Let people leave early now and then
Reward PTO for achieving a difficult goal
Announce wins to the rest of the team
Celebrating growth is at the heart of effective coaching. If employees can see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, will create the kind of workplace culture where mistakes are seen as learning experiences and resilience is more important than perfection.
If all else fails and none of this seems to work, ask employees to suggest incentives so you can plan accordingly.
Broaden their network
One of the benefits of coaching is increasing an employee’s self-reliance so they can find answers and solve problems on their own. This means building relationships with workplace specialists and veterans who can come through in a pinch, as well as having the communication skills to approach them.
Teams should interact with one another on a regular basis. Delivery teams should know development teams, sales teams should know delivery teams, there shouldn’t be any confusion about who has what job, and if there is, coaches should have some idea about where to get information.
Some companies host happy hours every couple of weeks so workers can get to know each other. Group activities are also amazing for expanding social networks and easing workplace relationships.
Meet through delegating
Don’t have time to foster an introduction? Let team members ask your questions for you. It may not be the most efficient way to get things done in the age of Slack, but it’ll create a natural meeting that doesn’t require much setting up on your part.
Beyond relying solely on managers or designated coaches, peer-to-peer relationships help to create networks for employees to share expertise and support each other’s growth.
Consider sending newbies around the office to gather information that isn’t urgently needed.
Skills vs. attitude
Employee coaching programs need to help people practice being successful. Training programs are expected to cover this but they often don’t, instead focusing on the “what” rather than the “how” and leaving new hires unsure about the proper workflow and skillsets needed to do their jobs.
Coaching should develop habits of high-quality work that lead to the completion of a project. It’s mindset training, but not any of that alpha-male garbage about domination and superiority. Instead, coaches need to help people generate their own inspiration that good results lay on the other side of hard work.
Why? Because most of us would rather be somewhere else than at work, so the time we invest in developing someone else’s dream needs to be rewarding in an intrinsic way.
This is where coaching conversations help. As people get a feel for the nuts and bolts of their job tasks through daily practice, coaches will have more context from which to explain what makes a best practice a best practice.
Rather than just providing training, coaches instill professional development philosophies that keep people giving 100%.
Digital tools help
It takes a lot of brain power to maintain focus and remain effective at work. If you have any favorite tools for staying engaged—white noise generator, time blocking apps, task trackers, etc.—share them with team members.
Along with that, YouTube and various blogs (like this one!) can provide additional coaching without taking up any of your time. Proven, data-based approaches are usually better than TED talks, but if you have a favorite non-peer reviewed resource that you think everyone could benefit from, by all means share away.
It’s also worthwhile to ask coworkers and team members for suggestions. There are lots of free resources to help people stay on task, but the internet is huge and so much information is merely sponsored content aimed at selling stuff, so find recommendations.
Support is the best coach
One irritating mentorship trend is the notion of “ownership” where someone is given responsibility over something they can’t actually influence, all under the banner of upskilling. An extreme example would be tasking a secretary with oversight of website click-through rates, but there are plenty of equally ridiculous but common situations.
More important than giving employees something they can own is giving them something to work toward and supporting them along the way.
Unless they specifically ask for it, people in need of coaching probably aren’t ideal candidates for major projects to finish completely on their own. That doesn’t mean they can’t work independently, just that now is not the time to throw them in the deep end to see how well they swim.
Be there with them as they learn new skills and get used to working on their own, then offer opportunities for them to work independently.
Support a healthy work-life balance
Since we haven’t mentioned it already, employee well-being is essential to good performance. Creating a team of workaholics is a recipe for burnout and high turnover, especially if coaching is to be involved in addition to their regular work duties.
Respect the importance of a work-life balance by encouraging people to go home when the workday is over. If they worry they haven’t gotten enough done, reassure them that you’ll be there to help them out tomorrow.
Give them positive reinforcement for putting in the hours, then give them the chance to go home and recharge.
Be the coach you wish you had
Experience is only as effective as the compassion that comes with it. Workers in need of coaching are usually aware that they are struggling, and it’s not a great feeling. Be nice, give them due encouragement, and show optimism about their future.
Leading by example is the best way to exemplify the kind of mindset you want to see in your teams. Show your commitment to helping employees improve by seeking feedback from them to improve your coaching skills.