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How to Coach Great Employees

How to Coach Great Employees

How do you coach great employees? First, it’s important to acknowledge that employees, even the best ones, can do with some coaching. I often encounter this belief in the corporate world: “We hire employees with the skills they need to do their job.”

But your company hired someone with a carefully detailed resume, who interviewed well and appeared to be a positive addition to the team and culture. Most likely, the candidate didn’t have to demonstrate a variety of high-performance skills that are mission-critical to day-to-day work. It’s only later that you’ll learn how well his or her resume comes to life. For example:

  • Does the employee foster strong relationships with customers?
  • Does he or she deliver compelling presentations?
  • How well will the employee implement cost-savings initiatives?

Thorough hiring practices can only do so much. Time and circumstances are the true test. Luckily, your company can solve most discovered performance gaps through effective coaching. Organizations embrace coaching to different degrees, but there are always steps you can take to improve the hiring process, retain talent, and ensure your company remains competitive. Here’s my advice on how to coach great employees.

Advice on How to Coach Great Employees

  • Remove any stigma from coaching (if it exists)
  • Make coaching part of the culture
  • Adopt the coaching mindset
  • Utilize a coaching skillset

Remove Any Stigma From Coaching

One of the greatest drawbacks to effective coaching? People often don’t like admitting weak areas so they tend to rationalize important skills (communication, organization, presentation abilities) as not essential to their role.

You might hear an employee say, “I’m a marketing guy, not a professional speaker.” However, that still leads to a diminished overall professional “score” and a less effective employee. The truth is, great employees aren’t just hired – they achieve greatness through ongoing personal development, which you can foster through coaching.

In a perfect business culture, when poor performance is observed, there should be a productive path to explore ideas for improvement. However, another limiting belief, “feedback is corrective,” can lead to managers who are disciplinary rather than developmental. As a result, full-feedback disclosure is usually only reserved for the semi-annual performance review or an uncomfortable meeting. There are more productive options.

Make Coaching Part of the Culture

According to Bersin and Associates, organizations with excellent cultural support for coaching have 13 percent stronger business results.1 Why is this? When two people communicate in a collaborative spirit and brainstorm options for an improved future, there is deeper engagement, greater trust, and measurable progress.

Although companies hope to hire magic employees who can perform all facets of their jobs superbly, the reality is that employees often have talent gaps. The solution: coaching your great employees.

For example, you might have an employee who’s a clear communicator in small meetings – but fumbles when he stands before an audience of 30 people. If your company needs strong presenters to pitch products to new business channels, this becomes a problem. However, this is easy to remedy if your organization embraces coaching. With coaching, you already have a ready-made path to support the employee and develop skill.

That’s why it’s so valuable for organizations to possess strong learning cultures. When organizations encourage coaching, employees are no longer as concerned about how they’re perceived. Instead, they realize they’re encouraged to find solutions for moving their performance from good to great.

This begins with a coaching mindset.

The Coaching Mindset

Coaching involves both a mindset and a skillset to be most effective. If the coaching opportunity isn’t handled properly, it will lose steam and prove unproductive. I believe that all business is show business, and taking a moment to think through your individual roles and “get into character” is essential.

Adopting the right mindset is the first step because it drives the entire framework, from setting the agenda to identifying the end result. Furthermore, the mindset should be curious rather than intense to drive a developmental agenda. Although it is frequently the coach’s intention to do a good job and push for results, it can feel threatening to the coachee who must sit back and become a part of the coach’s plan, rather than be at the center of the agenda.

Coaching is a collaborative discovery process and the opportunity to identify solutions should be deferred to the coachee, with the coach offering guidance and commentary where appropriate. The coach should take an interest, not a position, and use communication skills to draw out the best ideas.

A coachee can relax and recognize the reality that, as they say in the south when you’re inside the jar, you can’t read the label.

The Coaching Skill Set

Frequently, coaches believe their role is to serve as an inspiration. When the coachee struggles with an issue, it’s tempting to jump into the conversation with personal anecdotes. But coaching great employees isn’t about presenting a list of options to the coachee; it’s about drawing out possible solutions and adding ideas where needed. An open-ended question such as “What are some ideas that may help you better navigate ‘x’”? is more productive than providing options; moreover, asking, rather than telling, helps the coachee feel ownership over the idea.

Both parties should understand that coaching is a process, not an event. Improved performance outcomes require regularly scheduled coaching meetings. Most importantly, both the coach and the coachee should be accountable for the next steps. When the coach offers to locate a resource, there must be follow-through. When the coachee agrees to improve a skill (preparation, listening skills), the coach should specifically seek to observe improvements in those areas.

Since coaches don’t need to be subject matters experts on every skill, there should never be a shortage of people willing to step up and participate in the established coaching process. Draw from an internal coaching pool, reliable external coaches, or set up a mentoring program to make all of your employees coach and develop the learning culture.


I’ve presented my ideas on how to coach any employee and I hope they’ll help your organization achieve its business goals. Hire the best candidates, but remember there are no perfect candidates. Perfection is a quest, not a status. By providing regular access to coaching, you’ll retain, engage, and develop your most important investment: Talent.

1. “High-Impact Performance Management: Maximizing Performance Coaching” bersin.com. Last modified August 2011. http://marketing.bersin.com/rs/bersin/images/111511_ES_HIPM-Practices1_SSG_Final.pdf

To learn more, visit Ken at his website.

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