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Coaching: The best way to develop, engage and retain your employees

Coaching: The best way to develop, engage and retain your employees

When the word coaching comes up in conversation, people are quick to imagine themselves sitting uncomfortably on a therapist’s couch discussing their thoughts and feelings.

But employee coaching doesn’t deserve its soft and fluffy reputation. In reality, it’s more about supporting and challenging your employees to identify solutions and outcomes that increase their performance, their success and their development.

Coaching is an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove - you need to be just as comfortable holding people to account for their performance as you are at being empathetic and understanding. 

In an age where organisations are embracing flatter structures and people are working across multiple project groups and disciplines, it’s up to you as a leader to pinpoint where your employees are saying they want to develop their skillsets and careers, and to help them succeed in doing so.

Shouldn’t a manager just tell people what to do?

When it comes to effective management, there’s one particular school of thought that argues it’s better to simply tell people what to do – and in some scenarios, it is. 

For instance, if you were trapped in a burning building, you wouldn’t want a fireman to start asking you hypothetical questions like “How would you handle this situation?” - you would want them to tell you exactly where to go and what to do.

In the workplace, there are some situations where it is appropriate to hand out clear and concise instructions and expect them to be followed to a T. 

Back in the 1960s and 70s, command and control leadership was the norm, and while there are benefits to this approach, there are also plenty of downsides. For instance, this style of leadership creates a culture where colleagues wait to be told what to do, and become fully dependent on you, which stifles development and initiative. It also means that you as a leader spend all your time and energy resolving the problems faced by your team, rather than focusing on the important things that make a real difference. 

But it’s largely a question of judgement as to when a leader should step in and coach. Most research and studies indicate that you should be spending a large proportion of your time coaching your employees rather than resolving problems for them.

So, what makes a good coach?

You’re curious.

People don’t go into work every morning and decide to be bad at their jobs, or to deliberately sabotage their performance. In most cases, they simply need a helping hand.

A good coach recognises that there’s often more to a person’s behaviour than meets the eye, and ask themselves questions like “Why are they behaving like this?” and “What’s the real reason behind their failure?”

You’re great at listening.

What sets you apart as a listener is your desire and ability to listen to understand, rather than listening to respond. Listening to someone talk is about as basic as breathing or putting one foot in front of the other, but we often listen to people without actually hearing what they’re saying.

A good listener is respectful and non-judgemental, and they let the other person finish talking before they speak. They also show an interest verbally as well as non-verbally.

You can empathise with others.

You know how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try your best to relate to them and their situation. You also understand that everyone is unique, and take the time to get to know them before suggesting solutions.

You give constructive feedback.

Your feedback is objective and fact-based, focusing on what you see and hear rather than what you think or like (this can easily come across as personal interpretation or judgement). 

To ensure your feedback is heard and absorbed, you keep it short, simple and concise.

You’re patient.

Rather than expecting immediate results, you’re prepared to give people the space and time they need to improve their performance and reach their goals. 

As a coach you also need to be able to “dance in the moment” – in other words, feel comfortable on your feet, as a coaching conversation can often take plenty of twists and turns, and often in an unplanned and unstructured way. 

You don’t jump to conclusions.

You realise that people are complex beings and that they have things going on that you don’t fully understand or aren’t aware of – that’s why you don’t leap to a judgment or conclusion without getting to know the full facts first. 

You ask the right questions.

You don’t have all the answers, and you’re not an expert on every topic or subject field, but you know how to help people succeed by asking them the right questions. Questions like “What makes you say that?” and “Why is this happening?” can help people reflect on their behaviour and circumstances and see things from a different perspective.

Make use of the GROW method.

While there are number of useful techniques for employee coaching and development, the GROW method is one of the most effective. Practical, pragmatic and relevant to most workplace situations, the technique is useful for setting targets/objectives in a very engaging way. 

Grow infographic

Firstly, establish an end Goal – a clearly defined objective or specific challenge that the employee wants to achieve or resolve, such as meeting a specific sales target or an issue with a colleague. Then help your employee analyse the Reality of the situation by judging if their goal is a realistic outcome or not, taking into account their previous behavioural patterns and the context. The third step is to explore all the different Options - looking at potential solutions to the problem and examining all the challenges standing in their way. Lastly, start mapping out the Way forward by planning all the different steps needed to achieve the goal, and setting specific targets like dates and actions.

Test out these useful techniques.

In our experience working with many clients and individuals over the years to provide coach training or 1-to-1 coach support, we have found there are many techniques that prove useful when having those coaching conversations, such as:


When the employee agrees to a goal, use the scaling technique to uncover how they’re truly feeling about the situation. 
Ask them to rate how confident they feel about reaching their goals between 1 and 5. If the answer is below 5, ask them what they could do to make it a 5 – this provides useful insights into why they might not be feeling completely confident. 

Open questions. 

Ask questions that prompt the employee to reflect on their situation from a different lens, such as “What alternative ways of looking at this are there?” or “Help me to understand why…” This approach takes the pressure off of the individual and gives you a good insight into their inner thinking. 


At the end of a discussion with an employee, show them that you’ve heard what they’re saying and are on the same page by summing up what they’ve said in a clear and concise manner, essentially mirroring their main points. 

Rather than simply telling people what to do, coaching requires you to invest time with your employees to push them to develop their own solution to the challenges that lay in front of them, ensuring that you’re there to support them.

To increase engagement and retention, as well as help everyone on your team to achieve success, it’s also highly rewarding for you as the coach – you’ll find that most people achieve more than they believed they would at the very beginning of the conversation. 

Our experience, insights and expertise comes from designing and delivering coaching workshops for managers at all different levels, as well as providing 1-to-1 coaching through our accredited coaching network.

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