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Employee Coaching: How to Do It and Why It Matters

Getting employees to their full potential is a workplace win-win.

But how do you get there? One really good way is one-on-one employee coaching.

A workplace with a culture of employee coaching doesn’t just pay off for workers. As Deloitte has found, organizations where coaching is made a priority have 13 percent stronger business results than less-supportive organizations, and 33 percent better employee engagement.

Better results, superior engagement and a healthier work culture — all excellent outcomes.

But how do you become a great workplace coach? Let’s start with the basics.

What is Employee Coaching about?

Coaching is a direct activity between an employee and their superior with the goal of quickly improving the employee’s job skills.

A more developed concept of employee coaching has been around for a few decades, but there has traditionally been a bit of confusion about what it involves.

Two academics, having pored through the coaching research, landing at this more detailed definition:

A developmental activity in which an employee works one-on-one with his/her direct manager to improve current job performance and enhance his/her capabilities for future roles and/or challenges, the success of which is based on an effective relationship between the employee and manager, as well as the use of objective information, such as feedback, performance data, or assessments.

As another coaching expert puts it, “Broadly speaking, the purpose is to increase effectiveness, broaden thinking, identify strengths and development needs and set and achieve challenging goals.”

Dominick Gauthier on Coaching

What does coaching boil down to? We asked Dominick Gauthier, a former Olympic mogul skier and skiing coach, and the co-founder of athlete-development organization B2Ten. (Oh, and he’s also Director of Progress here at SoapBox.)

He says that whether you’re coaching athletes or an employee, the key is making it about high performance.

Some may have a question at this point.

What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?

While the two concepts are definitely similar, there are differences. Coaching usually has a limited timeframe, is more structured and formal than mentoring and is focused on specific abilities instead of more general workplace learning.

Coaching is all about providing feedback and support for an employee to grow and develop. Good coaching means asking rather than telling, spurring thought instead of giving directions. And it’s underpinned by trust and accountability.

So how do you do employee coaching?

Learn the Basics


The first thing to know is that employee coaching is about the relationship between an employee and their coaching superior, and like all relationships it’s one built on mutual trust — trust both sides must have in order to get the buy-in the coaching needs to succeed. This is true whether the coaching is targeted to improve an employee’s flagging performance, or is about more general performance growth.


Clearly identify the “why” behind the coaching. Getting both coach and coachee on the same page here is vital for securing the necessary commitment. For things to really work, the coachee will need to have some self-awareness of what they want to change or improve/grow into. And you’ll want to set clear goals and win-states to know when the results you both want are achieved (see below).

For performance issues, identify and recognize

This is an offshoot of communication that applies for coaching when problematic performance must be improved. The key is to state that concern and gain acknowledgement. Coaches should give examples of the issue, state their expectations and, to win commitment, ask the employee for their take on the issue and if they agree it is a problem to be improved.

Set SMART goals

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else” — Yogi Berra

Your coaching goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-framed. This will keep the coaching program on track and give both parties a clear understanding of what success looks like. Each part of SMART should be set in discussion with the employee.

Be solution agnostic

Whatever solution works is a good solution. In other words, don’t enter the coaching relationship with preset ideas about which solutions you’ll want to deploy to reach the coaching goals. When discussing the way to achieve your desired goals/results, ask open-ended questions and be receptive to solutions that may require some small amount of risk-taking (for example, ones that may require more time investment).

Be the Maestro

You don’t have to be the best at everything as a coach. You just need to be able to see things from a wider perspective, and orchestrate the assistance and resources the employee needs. In other words, be the maestro — this lets you maximize the pupil’s potential.

Dominick Gauthier on Coaching

Being the Maestro means understanding the bigger picture. “Understand the athlete or the employee in (their) reality,” says Dominick. “Understand the importance of everyone and put the best package together.”

Give good feedback

Providing feedback is the keystone part of coaching in that it helps keep things on track and progressing to reach the desired goals. It also makes someone feel recognized for their efforts, contributes towards coach-coachee trust, and ensure the coaching is positive.

Feedback should be given as soon as possible after it is thought up, be descriptive and specific to the behaviour it is applied to, be about what the employee did and not cast judgment on them, and above all be calm and sincerely delivered — no emotions allowed.

Dominick Gauthier on Coaching

In this clip Dominick talks about the right way to communicate feedback: by making it about the coach’s vision for their pupil. He also describes how he coached Olympic gold medal skiers Alexandre Bilodeau and Jennifer Heil.

Harness the power of employee ideas.