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9 Min. Read

How to Coach Employees: 5 Best Practices

Coaching employees can be one of the most challenging parts of a manager’s job. Managers shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that even though they have their own objectives to fulfill, most or all of their staff members will be looking to them for leadership and guidance. Here are 5 best practices to coach employees:

  1. Coach Employees by Building Trust
  2. Get to Know Each Employee
  3. Involve Employees in Setting Goals
  4. Put Goals and Other Expectations in Writing
  5. Frequently Follow up and Provide Feedback

1. Coach Employees by Building Trust

You can’t coach employees if they don’t trust you.

Build that trust first, by being a role model. You want them to emulate your leadership qualities. You can do that by:

Sharing Information

Often a manger is reluctant to share certain information with team members, it could be about budgets, strategy or new initiatives. If you’re considering not sharing something, ask yourself if it’s information the team really needs to know, and if it is, then either share it or get permission from upper management to share it. This kind of transparency can go a long way in building trust with your team members.

Do What You Say You Are Going to Do

An ineffectual leader is one who doesn’t follow up on promises made, or keeps changing his mind. If you’ve committed to a course of action, or even just a task, make sure you do it. Your team will notice if you don’t, and then the next time you casually say “I’ll handle it”, they may not believe you.

As well, be careful about changing your mind. Follow a course of action to its conclusion, rather than always changing course midstream. If the plan absolutely has to be revised, be clear on the reasons why. This will help to get buy in from your team.

You can avoid these types of situations altogether by ensuring you have all the proper information you need in order make an educated decision, at the beginning. If you don’t have what you need, it’s better to delay deciding, then to change things up later. Changing things will only frustrate your team members and those in other departments that may have committed resources to the endeavour. You’ll lose a lot of respect if you keep changing the plan.

Not Participating in Office Gossip, Ever

This is a biggie, and can really affect staff morale with its toxicity. Do not talk about other people behind their backs. If one of your team members leads you in that direction, do not agree or disagree, instead ask how they are trying to solve the problem. Or if it’s a peer, steer the conversation elsewhere.

Remember, if you participate in office gossip, chances are whatever you say will be repeated. And, what does participating in office gossip say about your leadership? How will your team members know you’ll have their backs? They won’t.

2. Get to Know Each Employee

If you’re new to a department, and you have a number of reports, take some time to get to know each of them. Find out what each team member is good at, what they like in particular about their jobs, and where they hope their current positions will take them.

Sit down privately for an hour, for a chat. Find out what they do in their personal time (if they’re willing to discuss it), if they have kids and what other types of external responsibilities they have. Perhaps a team member has an elderly parent who often needs help, or maybe another likes to work from home often because of a long commute. These are things that will help you understand where your team members are coming from.

Then, when it comes time to direct them, there’s a better chance they will feel you already understand them.

3. Involve Employees in Setting Goals

You’re going to need to set goals for your employees, but don’t just do up a list that you read back to them in a meeting. Set their goals together. Ideally, you ask each of your team members to do up their goals first, then send them to you. Take some time to read them and make some notes, before you meet. Then go over them together. This means you are making your employees part of the process. They will appreciate that.

Keep in mind that with goal setting, you’re not just compiling an employee to-do list and noting some areas for improvement, you’re going to want to talk about ways your employees can stretch and do things they haven’t done before. These “stretch assignments” will allow them to grow within their roles. Stretch assignments are likely to make staff uncomfortable at first, because it means working on something they haven’t done before, and it may mean learning new skills. However, you should coach them by presenting stretch assignments as opportunities, something your team can add to their resumes, under “skills”.

You’ll find that the goal setting process is very stressful for some of your team members, especially if they have to stretch. To combat this, tell them exactly how you are going to measure success. This way there is no question about whether they meet their objectives are not.

Let’s give an example of measuring success.

Tom is a salesperson for a media company, selling digital ad space on monitors in food courts, subways and shopping malls.

Tom has been performing very well, always meeting his sales quota. As such, his manager, Jessica, feels he is the perfect person to start selling a new product the organization is rolling out – digital ad space on airlines and in airport executive lounges. Although Jessica has some stats to help him with a sale, Tom is a little worried because he’s never had to sell on these types of screens before. So, they work out the expectation together, which is this: Tom will only have to sell three ads for the new airline initiative, in two weeks, along with his regular sales quota. That is how they will measure success.

Tom is happy because now there’s no guessing involved – if he sells three, then he’s met the objective, and he knows Jessica will be satisfied.

Obviously, Jessica will want Tom to sell more, and soon, but right now this is a new area, so she hasn’t set a high benchmark. She wants Tom to go into this with a clear head, as opposed to frantically looking for solutions.

4. Put Goals and Other Expectations in Writing

You should always put goals or any other expectations, in writing. This can be particularly helpful if there are a lot of things going on within your department.

For instance, with Tom, his goals are already listed in the online HR portal at his company. However, this new assignment regarding selling ads in airlines and lounges is something new. Jessica should email Tom after their discussion, to recap it and the expectations.

This may not seem like a big deal, but imagine that Jessica has twelve sales people she needs to keep track of. Putting things in writing will help both her and her team members to set priorities, and to plan. This is also helpful if Darlene has committed to doing something too. Say she knows a company, Mason’s Mobile, that she thinks would be particularly interested in digital ads on airlines. She mentions to Tom that she knows a contact over there that she can introduce him to. Her later follow up summary email to Tom could go something like this:

“Tom, as per our talk today, the expectation is that you will sell 3 ads in two weeks for the new airline initiative, in addition to your regular sales quota. As discussed, I will reach out to Mason’s Mobile, separately, to do an email introduction to my contact there. Let me know if I can be of further assistance, and thanks for taking this on. We know you can do it, Tom!”

Email is a good tool for documenting expectations, because both parties now have it in writing, and can refer to it easily later, if need be.

5. Frequently Follow up and Provide Feedback

Coaching employees means you need to follow up with them regularly, and provide feedback. One way to do this is through the setting of regular status updates.

Status updates are weekly or biweekly meetings where a team member will give you an update on all their current projects. During this time, you are not only getting valuable information, but you can also see if a team member is on track for meeting his goals for the year. Remember to include that as part of the discussion.

Let’s give an example using Tom again. Biweekly he meets with Jessica to let her know how his sales are coming along, and if there any problems.

At his next status update, Tom mentions he has lost a big client due to budget cutbacks at the client’s company. Jessica asks how he thinks he can handle this. Tom knows that Jessica likes her team members to bring potential solutions to the table, so he mentions that he thinks he can fill that gap with other clients by offering them a 15% discount on their first three months of expanded ad coverage, if they commit to a six- month deal. Jessica likes that and approves the idea.

Jessica then asks about Tom’s overall sales quota for the year. This quota was set as part of Tom’s goal setting four months earlier. Tom feels that if he is able to expand coverage of the existing clients with the new deal, the clients will stick with the plan past the six month time frame, and Tom will meet his quota. In other words, if there are no other cancellations this year, and his suggestion works, Tom is on course to meet his objectives.

Jessica agrees with this analysis, and knows they will talk about it again next time they meet.

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