4 Steps to Coaching and Developing Employees
You arrive at your office, coffee poured, and you’re ready to tackle the day. There’s a knock on the door and your colleague asks if you have a couple minutes to chat. Seeming bothered by something, you invite them to come in. Quickly they share they have been increasingly frustrated by their growing workload and are struggling to find time to finish their work. Their displayed frustration heightens as they continue sharing.
What do you do in this scenario?
- Tell them what to do.
- Tell them about a time that you had the exact same thing happen.
- Regret inviting them in, your coffee is about to get cold.
In the short-term, the first two options get them out of your office quickly and you back to your day. In the long term, you become less of a colleague and more of a firefighter, putting out whatever fire brought to you. Unless firefighting is the business you are in, it is not sustainable to play this role.
Another choice would be practicing the skill of coaching. At a high level, a coach’s job is listening and asking open-ended questions that help the other person see, think, and solve their problem on their own.
First, it’s important for you to discern the opportunity. If it’s a new employee coming to you, there is probably a lot of information they don’t know. In this case, they have a legitimate dependency on you for learning. There also may be situations where you can solve something together where collaboration helps build confidence and trust between colleagues. Finally, there could be people who consistently come to you because they’ve learned that you’ll fix whatever the issue is. Let’s be honest, it feels good to help people and you’re someone who likes to get stuff done and keep moving. But, the person who continues coming to you has learned to be dependent on you and in the end, they are not developing, and you may feel like you’re doing two jobs.
Once you’ve discerned it’s an opportunity for coaching, it will require a deeper level of listening called, empathetic listening. Allowing you to see how the other person is thinking. Turn off your computer screen, make eye contact, and silence your inner thoughts. Your attention is entirely focused on the other person at this time.
Next, you’ll shift to asking questions but keep in mind, not all questions are created equal. There are three types of questions: closed, leading, and open-ended. Let’s take a look:
A closed question: Did you try planning ahead? They will respond: Yes or No. This gives you little, if any, information.
A leading question: What’s frustrating about this? This gives you more information, but you have potentially led them to think they are frustrated about the problem.
An open-ended question: What’s important to you about this? This allows the person to respond with their own thoughts and evaluate how they are thinking and feeling.
After you’ve asked an open-ended question, watch for your colleague’s nonverbals. You’ll know it was a good question when the person you’re coaching breaks eye contact to look at the floor or the ceiling. Bingo, this means they are thinking. However tempting it may be to fill the silence, don’t. It’s important for the coachee to evaluate and articulate their thoughts and feelings on their own, as it increases their learning, furthers their thinking, and shifts their perspective on the root cause of the problem. It’s in that dance between asking open-ended questions and listening for their response that you are creating space for their development to occur. Often, you will both discover the problem they first spoke about, isn’t the real problem.
Lastly, the final step in coaching is getting your colleague to consider the next steps. How can you tell your coaching is working? Again, look for nonverbals – are they sitting up taller? Are they leaning in and engaged? Listen to their tone of voice – do they sound more confident? These are signals the conversation is wrapping up. When this happens, shift your questions from open-ended to closed. Closed questions will allow the person being coached to commit to their next action and hold themselves accountable.
For example: What do you want to do? Which option are you choosing? When do you want to do that?
Showing up as a coach to your colleagues by listening and asking open-ended questions makes them feel heard and empowered. By definition, to empower is to give someone the authority or power to do something. When someone feels empowered to take ownership of their own challenge, it leads to creative solutions, strengthened relationships, and built trust.