Unprecedented change, fewer workers than are needed, and a new generation with different values from past generations characterize the work world of today. These changes present unique challenges and opportunities if a company wants to attract and retain the best employees. Using coaching to help employees learn and grow can create a positive climate and make your organization the employer of choice.

Employees are being asked to do more and to do it faster, often without adequate training. When a mistake is made, coaching can help the employee learn in a way that builds his self-confidence without making him feel foolish or criticized. This builds employee loyalty and willingness to go the extra mile or take risks, because the employee feels supported. Millenial employees are characterized as being unwilling to jump through hoops and less promotion oriented than earlier generations. They expect to be involved in decision-making and treated as a part of the team. They are more responsive to coaching and less willing to “take orders.”  Coaching is a supportive process of helping people find their own solutions to problems which creates stronger, empowered employees.

What is a coach?

A coach is someone who has a different or broader perspective than the employee. The coach should be an unbiased observer who offers feedback to help the employee and who has no hidden agenda. A coach helps the person learn and improve. The coach may be internal or external to the organization. Coaching may be her primary role, or may be a set of behaviors that a manager uses to lead her staff. The key to being a good coach is recognizing “coachable moments” and taking advantage of the opportunity they provide.

What is a coachable moment?

A coachable moment may come when something good or something bad has happened.  Perhaps a person has just been promoted and is feeling overwhelmed with the new responsibility or has been asked to make a presentation to the leadership team for the first time. When facing a new and exciting challenge, having a coach to help through the rough spots can make all the difference in success or failure. Transition times have been recognized as particularly difficult for employees, and many organizations offer coaching at those times.

Sometimes the coachable moment occurs when a colleague gets promoted and the person starts to wonder why she didn’t get the promotion. Maybe she lost a big account or blew a major presentation. When the person is feeling vulnerable and open to help, coaching can provide reflection and pathways to improvement.

How can you learn to coach?

Often managers say they have too much to do and don’t have time for coaching. My response is that coaching takes no more time than the other ways of managing. Instead of doing more, substitute coaching behaviors. Do more “asking” and less “telling.” One example of using coaching to help an employee problem-solve is given below:

Larry is responsible for completing a team report and presenting it to management. He asks his boss, Pat, how to solve the problem of not getting feedback from other team members in a timely way in order to improve the quality of their joint report. The typical boss behavior is to tell Larry how Pat would solve the problem and stop there.This approach is problematic in two ways. First, maybe Larry didn’t see how he might be contributing to the problem when he asked Pat for help. A coach will be looking for what is getting in Larry’s way of getting his need met. Perhaps he didn’t make a request of the team to have the feedback to him by a certain day. Or maybe he wasn’t clear about what form he wanted the feedback in. A coach will take Larry through an assessment of what might be contributing to the problem.

The second reason why Pat’s solution may not work in that what works for Pat may not work for Larry. Pat may have position power that ensures that Larry’s peers provide requested feedback. Or, maybe Pat makes clear requests. If Larry tries to implement Pat’s suggestion, he may lack some of the skills or characteristics that don’t limit Pat.

One way for Pat to use coaching instead of telling is to ask questions that help Larry get a sense of what is causing the problem. Once he has a clear view of the problem, then Pat can again ask questions to help Larry find the solution that will work best for him.

Benefits to Coaching

In coaching, the goal is to help the person learn to diagnose his own problems and find better solutions. In the end, the employee will be more skillful and less dependent on the boss. The result is that over time, the boss who coaches will need to spend less time than the boss who gives answers.

A coaching atmosphere creates trust and builds support. Coaching is the opposite of judging. A coaching relationship helps people work out issues and find their own answers through the skillful use of probing questions. Coaches help employees recognize their strengths and uncover their blind spots. They can offer additional possibilities and options that employees had not considered in evaluating their situations. A great coach helps people do their best work.

When you recognize coachable moments with subordinates, take advantage of the opportunity and coach them to better performance and greater job satisfaction.