Being a manager has never been easy, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. The workplace is more unpredictable than ever before. We require more from our managers, expect more from them, put more pressure on them, and yet (in many cases) continually fail to prepare them for their roles.
Employee coaching is just one additional need that calls upon managers’ insights and expertise.
The fact is, their employees also want to do well at work. They want to feel connected, empowered, and do work that has meaning and purpose. Empowering managers as coaches — not commanders — can help bridge that gap between leaders and their teams.
And the need for coaching has never been higher. In order to retain and grow top talent, more companies are becoming proactive in their approach to employee development. That means ditching your company’s same old training programs for an approach that supports — and develops — the whole person. More than just teaching skills, coaching helps individuals better understand themselves and the way they work. This leads to greater job satisfaction, improved retention, and collaboration within (and across) teams.
Th benefits of an effective employee coaching program
When managers take on the role of coaches for their teams, they get far more than just performance improvement. Here are 5 benefits of workplace coaching:
- Increased job satisfaction
- Create a culture of feedback
- Develops psychological safety
- Helps identify skills and superpowers for career growth
- Empowers employees that want to lead
When coaching employees, you’re empowering each individual as a leader, capable of thinking, problem-solving, and taking reasonable action. Agile companies understand that isn’t a “nice to have” — it’s a key part of exponential growth.
The traditional, hierarchical structure of leadership and management doesn’t work in a fast-change world. Companies responding to rapid change need to push more decision-making out and down through the organization. But in the current, widespread model of management, employees aren’t at all well-prepared to do that. That’s where the manager coaching team comes in — to model behaviors of collaboration, risk-mitigation, horizontal and vertical communication, alliance-building, and rapid re-prioritizing.
Employee coaching examples
So in practice, what does employee coaching look like, and when do you use it? Coaching is most effective when you can target specific behaviors and competencies that can be improved over time. This approach to coaching is at the heart of BetterUp’s Whole Person Model, which combines essential skills with the psychological resources that allow individuals to adapt to change and sustain performance.
Coaching doesn’t only have to come into play when an employee is struggling. In the past, employers saw coaching as a nice way to address poor performance. However, coaching and feedback shouldn’t feel punitive — it should be embraced as a regular (and welcome) part of workplace culture. Here are several different examples of coaching and how it can make a difference:
Employee coaching examples and scenarios:
1. Specific skills coaching
2. Sales coaching
3. Personal productivity practices
6. Career growth
1. Specific skills coaching
While working with a new customer success representative, a manager notes that they have a high number of unresolved tickets. Rather than telling them to “get through the backlog,” the manager works with that employee to create a process for resolving and escalating customer issues.
A sales representative with a history of excellent sales is transferred to a new territory, where their numbers suffer. Working with their manager, they are able to identify where the disconnect is. Together, they craft new messaging and reach out to the sales enablement team, who builds content to help them reach buyers in the new market.
3. Personal productivity practices
At work, there are usually multiple systems in place at any given time — the larger systems of the company, team-wide processes, and individual systems. Sometimes these clash with one another.
By paying attention and having conversations about routines, best practices, and resources with an employee, managers can help them streamline their individual processes. This isn’t the same as micromanaging, but rather, an inclusive practice built on respecting and understanding individual differences.
Coaching isn’t just for those who are underperforming, but effective coaching often has a positive impact on performance.
For example, an employee with a few negative experiences at their past job feels anxious when asking for feedback or participating in performance reviews. Instead of reaching out to team members for support, they try to figure everything out on their own.
A manager who understands the importance of coaching can help support this new employee with — paradoxically — more feedback. By making it a regular part of the culture, not something that only happens a few times a year, the company normalizes feedback as a necessary part of growth.
Strong communication skills are necessary to thrive when working within and across teams, as well as with a manager. Perhaps more than any other skill, communication has the biggest impact on belonging, long-term development, leadership skills, and psychological safety.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to talk about communication at work. Take the following example:
An employee is highly effective in their role, but can be abrupt with their communication — particularly when using asynchronous tools like Slack. Because of this, there have been several complaints about their brusque tone to human resources. When confronted about it, the employee is shocked — reasoning that they were just saving time by keeping messages short and to the point.
Many of us could go years without realizing that people — especially people at work — take exception to our ways of communicating (or not communicating). While it may be challenging to work through at first, working to develop an employee, manager, or team’s communication skills pays dividends. According to BetterUp’s research, improved communication has a positive ripple effect on job satisfaction, productivity, retention, and even burnout.
6. Career growth
Many employees are afraid to initiate career conversations with their manager. They fear that it will make them seem uncommitted, unhappy, or as if they’re plotting to take their manager’s job. But there are very few “terminal” roles out there. High-growth companies understand that people want to challenge themselves, land new roles, and make more money — and that’s a positive sign.
Instead of waiting until someone is already interviewing outside of the company, managers can support their direct reports with career conversations. These conversations are uncommon — after all, only 9% of leaders report having career talks with their teams. But in a coaching culture, these conversations happen all the time.
Tying the long-term goal (getting promoted, creating a new role, or even a career change) to a short-term action plan improves employee engagement. When your coachees see that you care about their growth, they’ll have greater investment and ownership in the team goals.
Of course, managers still have full-time roles, and while an ad-hoc coaching session can be useful, many managers aren’t equipped to be full-time coaches. Besides, who coaches the manager?
The benefits of a workplace coaching program can be compounded with professional coaching support. Some circumstances may be ongoing, complex, or beyond the skill (and available time) of the manager.
Some of these circumstances include:
- Mentoring new or first-time managers
- Ongoing training and development
- Dealing with uncertainty/ambiguity
- Developing an improved work/life balance
- Returning to work after a career break or sabbatical
- Getting through a rough patch in the employee’s personal life
In these cases (and many others), both parties certainly could benefit from coaching. But it may make more sense to provide coaching at scale — for managers, executives, and employees.
Key employee coaching skills to develop
A good coach can empower their employees for long-term growth, help them develop new skill sets, and foster a trusting relationship between coach and employee. But what does it take to be a good coach? What skills do managers need to have to drive not just employee performance, but growth?
The coaching process should be goal-oriented, with clear objectives and action steps that the coach and employee agree upon. Active listening, communication, and time management are key components of successful coaching conversations. A manager’s coaching style should be adapted to the individual needs of the employee, and constructive feedback should be given in a way that is both positive and helpful. Finally, coaching sessions should be regularly scheduled and structured in a way that allows for consistent progress.
Key skills for managers to hone as coaches:
- Active listening and perspective-taking
- Ability to deliver timely, actionable, and continuous feedback
- Modeling desired behaviors in the context of work
- Inclusive leadership skills
- Career coaching and planning
- Setting SMART goals and re-evaluating them when necessary
- Interpersonal skills to communicate, build trust, and create psychological safety
- Skills to lead effectively in a fully remote, hybrid, or in-person environment
- Holding others accountable to expectations and individual priorities
Final thoughts on employee coaching
If you’ve ever had a car get stuck in the mud, you know that spinning your wheels, just doing the same thing you’ve always done, doesn’t work. When something is stuck — whether it’s a car, a project, or a team — everyone gets out to help get things moving again.
The best leaders understand this distinction and know when to apply it. They often jump into the trenches with their teams and work alongside them. Leaders get that the way they show up for their teams — not just when things are great, but every day — is the difference-maker for their employees, and ultimately, their outcomes as well.
Managing and coaching are distinct skill sets, and there are times when one or the other will be more helpful than others. You won’t know, though, until you get in the trench and get muddy — which is why every manager benefits from both a coach and developing a coaching mindset. Learning to blend the two is the best way to keep your team engaged and growing as you navigate the path ahead.