COACHING YOUR EMPLOYEES
TO BETTER PERFORMANCE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Section I Welcome 1
Section II Getting Started 7
Section III Getting Down to Business 7
Section IV Appendix 30
Coach Your Employees to Better
Today you will learn to be better supervisors and managers
by becoming better coaches. In order for you to accomplish
the goals of your job, you must rely on the skills, abilities
and ultimately, the performance of your employees. You
are only as good as your people. In order to maintain and
enhance the reputation of USD, the desired level of
performance from our employees is not satisfactory; rather,
it is outstanding. Research suggests that the difference
between satisfactory and outstanding is in the employees’
discretionary time and energy. Coaching allows you to tap
this discretionary pool of potential by increasing employee
commitment to quality and productivity.
The purpose of this training module is to give you the skills
and abilities to coach your employees to help them achieve
their specific performance goals. Through practice of the
methods that you’ll learn from this training, your
performance as a coach will improve.
SPECIFICALLY, YOU’LL LEARN HOW TO:
¾ Provide informal feedback that motivates employees to
performance at higher levels.
¾ Effectively communicate with your employees to
ensure the coaching process is a good and comfortable
experience for both of you.
What Is Coaching?
Coaching Clarifies Performance Expectations
Coaching is a process by which supervisors stay in touch
with their employees. Most of us respond to the personal
touch. We want our managers to know who we are and our
individual development needs. We also want to be listened
to when we make suggestions. We do not want to be taken
for granted or simply told to follow along when policies
and practices change.
Coaching involves carefully observing your employees as
they do the various tasks of their jobs. Mere walking
around will not help managers get the best from their
employees. Coaching involves interpersonal interactions. In
fact, every conversation with your employees is potentially
a coaching conversation because it’s a chance to clarify
expectations, priorities and competencies. It’s also a chance
to hear ideas and involve employees in the processes of
planning and problem solving. When you coach, you
provide feedback on work actions that you’ve observed.
You have to tell employees what they did right, wrong, and
ways they can perform better.
While a variety of coaching methods are discussed in this
training module, there are two criteria for successful
¾ Hold one-on-one conversations.
¾ Focus on performance or performance-related issues.
First, coaching is a personal conversation tailored to the
specific needs of the employee. It is an iterative (repeating)
process in which the manager discovers the employee’s
needs and then matches information, guidance,
understanding, and resources to these needs. One common
supervisory mistake is to assume the circumstances of the
situation and spend the entire discussion telling the
employee what he or she should know, what he or she
should do, and how he or she should change. This wastes
the potential of a discussion that focuses on the specific
needs of the employee because it never gains any input
from him or her.
Second, coaching includes any topic that concerns the
employee as a performer. There are no topics or problems
that a supervisor should not discuss with an employee if
they affect the employee’s performance. For example,
coaching about careers is a way to keep good performers at
the University. Coaching about personal sensitivity to
others is a way to help employees maintain an awareness of
the social context of their performance. And coaching
employees about particular skills provides them the
opportunity to demonstrate accurately their special
What Coaching Isn’t
Coaching isn’t bullying employees or asserting your
authority just to show who’s boss. Coaching isn’t about
differences in personality, likes or dislikes. If an
employee’s problems do not affect the person’s
performance, there is no reason for the supervisor to
discuss them. In addition, coaching does not focus on
placing blame. If your goal is to find blame, you will have
to address the same issues time after time. Coaching does
not focus solely on the negative performance behaviors.
The result will be resentment for both you and your
employee. Coaching should be a good experience for both
your employees and you.
USD’S Coaching Process
Each time you coach an employee, you’ll follow a specific
sequence of events.
Here are the components of the coaching process with a
brief discussion of what’s involved.
Careful Observation 1
In order to rate your employees on how
well they are achieving their
performance goals, you must observe
firsthand how they carry out their tasks.
Get the performance facts through spot
checks, discussions with colleagues, and work-sampling
Confronting – Approaching, Providing
Feedback, and Instructing Employees 2
Once you have the facts, you need to
confront the employee to discuss what
you’ve observed, explain how you feel
about what you’ve seen, ask the
employee to respond to what you’ve
said, and mutually develop a work plan to improve poor
performance or to sustain outstanding performance.
Documentation – Maintaining Good Records 3
You must keep regular notes on your
employee’ s performance. Noting the work
plan and general observations of their work
in written form provides you with a way to
keep track of both their developmental
needs, as well as their performance
throughout the year.
Observing Employee Performance
Naturally, you have to watch what your employees are doing to ensure that they
are performing correctly and safely. However, observing isn’t just casually
watching employees as they perform their duties. It includes inspecting not just
the results of their work, but also how they perform their work on a periodic basis.
It is easy to observe from available reports that someone’s productivity has
decreased. However, you still do not know what is causing the diminished
productivity. As a supervisor, you must know what inappropriate behavior is
causing the diminished productivity before you can select an effective solution to
One way to gather such information is to conduct spot checks. Spot checks
involve focusing on a particular individual’s work behavior. That is, consider the
¾ Sequence of actions as he or she carries out tasks.
¾ Utilization of available resources.
¾ Quality, quantity and timeliness of output.
While you conduct these spot checks, it is important that you perform them at
irregular time intervals. If you set a particular day within each month to conduct
the inspection, your employees will perceive the pattern over a short period of
time, and their behaviors at that time may not be representative of performance
In addition to spot checks, you can also gather performance facts by listening to
and talking with others who are on the receiving end of that employee’s work.
Such individuals may include colleagues, supervisors in other departments.
When talking with others, be careful to focus on actual
performance rather than on gossip or the employee’s
personality. For example, don’t ask others how they are
"getting along with Bob." Rather, ask them to comment on
the final results of Bob’s work. The goal of observing is
identifying both good and poor performance in terms of
issues such as quality, timeliness, and efficiency.
Another work-sampling technique is to gather reports,
records, and other documents that the employee has
completed. Although it is not necessary to maintain every
single document the employee has completed, you should
keep a few examples of both good and less-than-
satisfactory examples of the employee’s work.
Approaching, Providing Feedback, and Instructing the
Now that you are armed with performance information
through careful observation, you are ready to confront your
employee to discuss your findings.
During the confrontation stage you should:
¾ Approach the employee at the appropriate time.
¾ Tell the employee the work-related facts of what you’ve
¾ Explain how you feel about what you’ve seen.
¾ Ask the employee to respond to what you’ve said.
¾ Mutually develop a work plan.
Confrontation involves noting exceptional performance,
correcting performance problems, developing commitment
to continual improvement and maintaining positive
relationships with employees. Confrontation is not
criticism; the differences are outlined below.
Focus on Problem Focus on Person
Specific Feedback General Feedback
Emphasize Change Emphasize Blame
Goal is Fostering a Strong Relationship Goal Is Venting Feelings
The Approach 1
One of the most important things to remember about
starting the discussion with the employee is to pull that
employee aside to ensure a private conversation. This is
particularly important if what you are going to say is
negative. Never embarrass an employee in front of others;
you’ll create ill feelings, and the employee will be more
concerned about being embarrassed than about improving
his or her work.
You should choose an opportune moment to approach the
individual. Make sure that you and your employees have
sufficient time to go through all the steps in the coaching
process. At minimum, you should devote 15 minutes.
However, if the problem is significant, it may take more
time. Therefore, schedule your time accordingly; this may
involve making an appointment with the employee.
Also, make sure that you are in the proper frame of mind. If
you are experiencing a bad day that has nothing to do with
your employee, give yourself some time to cool off before
approaching the employee.
2 Employee Response to Your Feedback
As you tell your employees what you have observed, only
discuss the work behavior. Remember to leave personality
issues aside; they have no place in this discussion. Your
employees need to know when they’ve demonstrated
effective as well as improper performance such as not
following the right procedures or using a piece of
However, when you relay the information you should
remember to keep the following in mind:
You must state precisely what the goals are and how the
employee either satisfied or fell short of the goal. Examples
include: "I expect everyone in this department to attend our
training sessions; I have not seen you at the last two
sessions." And, "Unless there is an emergency, our rule is
that time-off requests must be submitted at least two weeks
prior to actual usage; you are not complying with this
LIMIT THE CONFRONTATION TO A SINGLE ISSUE
Begin the conversation with the most recent example. Don’t
store instances and then hit the employee with them in
rapid fire. Consider the following positive example: "A
colleague complained to me this morning about the way
you responded to him on the telephone. According to my
colleague, he said that he wanted to find me, and you just
said that you had no idea where I was and then hung up."
At the end of your presentation of facts, include a phrase
about change. For example, "I need all project members
present on time at our weekly status review; I’ d like to
know what you can do to make sure that you attend these
meetings on time; or your report was accurate, thorough
and timely; I look forward to the same outstanding work in
You should provide this feedback to employees as soon as
possible. Your discussion should take place when it' fresh
in both of your minds. Also, from a motivational point of
view, it is important for individuals to make the connection
between their actions and your feedback. Presenting them
feedback shortly after their actions will strengthen this
connection and reinforce strong performance in the future.
This is important regardless of whether your feedback is
positive or negative.
Explanation of Your Feelings 3
Now is the time to tell your employees what you think of
their performance. Remember, good coaches give both
positive and negative feedback. If your employees are
doing a very good job, it' important to tell them. This
ensures that they continue to perform well in the future. On
the other hand, if employees are not performing up to
USD' expectations, they should know this. In a later
section, we will discuss effective ways to communicate
your feelings without encouraging employees to become
defensive and angry.
4 Employee Response to Your Feedback
Because effective communication is two-way, it’s important
to ask the employee what their reactions are to your
feedback. When employees are confronted, they will react.
Typical reactions are to make excuses or to rationalize their
performance, to take the offensive, to deny the existence of
the problems, or to become passive or docile. It’s essential
to really listen to the employee to get more information.
When you aren’t getting the performance that you expect
from your employees, you need to find out why. Some
possible reasons for poor performance are:
¾ Obstacles that are beyond the employees’ control.
¾ Insufficient knowledge.
¾ Negative consequences follow strong performance.
¾ Positive consequences follow poor performance.
IS GOOD PERFORMANCE BEYOND YOUR
Some employees are quick to point out that good
performance is out of their control because of unreliable
equipment or failure in the services or work of others, such
as unfinished pre-work. Your role as a supervisor is to
determine if in fact there are obstacles that are outside the
scope of the employees’ control. One of the best ways to
determine whether or not these obstacles exist is to discuss
the performance problem with the employee. You must
keep an open mind regarding your employees’
explanations. Often managers make up their mind in
advance that the reason for poor performance is poor
attitude, lack of self-motivation or stupidity. Instead of
writing these explanations off as excuses, managers must
investigate to collect additional facts. This is also true in
situations in which employees’ performance benefits from
circumstances beyond their control.
Examples of valid obstacles beyond the employee’s control
¾ Nondelivery or late delivery of supplies.
¾ Late or incorrect reports or data.
¾ Conflicting instructions.
¾ Equipment failure.
¾ Inclement weather.
¾ Illnesses and deaths of others.
If these problems exist, then it is unfair to place the blame
on your employee. Rather, you should look for ways to
help your employee by removing these obstacles as best as
you can based on your knowledge, experience, and
organizational influence. You may not be able to eliminate
some of these obstacles, but you may be able to help lessen
their impact on performance. By acknowledging and
discussing these obstacles with your employee, you have
recognized the problem and have shown your willingness
to find a solution.
DO EMPLOYEES HAVE SUFFICIENT KNOWLEDGE?
Often poor performance occurs because managers assume
that employee learning has taken place, and employees
have adequate knowledge to do their jobs. You may want
to examine your training programs to ensure that the proper
information is included in the sessions, and the focus is on
learning rather than teaching. Another reason for
incomplete knowledge is the assignment of experienced
employees to train new employees. Experienced employees
are not always the best instructors. All individuals you
place in "training positions" require training experience. As
in the case with obstacles beyond the employee’s control,
you need to acknowledge this problem and take action to
ensure that the employee receives the appropriate training.
IS GOOD PERFORMANCE PUNISHED?
Just as behavior followed by positive consequences will
increase in frequency, behavior followed by a negative
consequence will decrease. Sometimes employees think that
bad things will happen to them if they perform well. For
example, your employee may see no benefit to performing
well because then he or she has to do the work of others. Or
if one employee is responsible for doing a less-desirable job
such as performing extensive data entry or working on a
project that requires many late hours, doing this well may
mean that the employee is stuck with these jobs and has little
opportunity to get more pleasant tasks. As a manager you
need to be aware of this and may decide to distribute the
workload more fairly.
In addition, some employees may not want to work harder
because of peer pressure. In work units at any organization a
person gets in trouble with co-workers if he or she works
faster or longer than the rest of the group. It’s possible that
employees are more concerned about what friends think
about them than what their supervisors think of them. While
your employees may not come and tell you about such
negative consequences to good performance, it’s important
that you take this into consideration.
To remedy this situation, you need to change the
consequence by doing one of the following:
¾ Eliminate the negative consequence.
¾ Provide an immediate positive consequence for the same
performance to outweigh the negative consequence.
IS POOR PERFORMANCE REWARDED OR
Another reason for poor performance may be that your
employee believes he or she is rewarded for poor
performance. For example, some employees think that if they
ignore a supervisor’s request, eventually the supervisor will
give up and assign the task to another employee. The result is
that poor performance is being unintentionally rewarded.
This may also occur when an individual who performs a job
poorly gets taken off that job and is given less-difficult tasks
to do. Other employees may feel that if they do not perform
their jobs well, they also will be rewarded with easier tasks.
If positive consequences follow poor performance, the
solution is to change the consequence by:
¾ Removing the positive consequence.
¾ Arranging for positive consequences to follow good
Hearing what your employees have to say is also important,
because it’s possible that the employees may have
information that you would not have access to through
observation alone. The employee’s information may change
the work plan. For example, you may approach an
employee thinking that she doesn’t know how to perform a
particular task correctly. After bringing this to her attention
and then hearing her comments, you discover that the
equipment is malfunctioning. The problem has now
changed. Now you decide to act on two issues. One is to
get the equipment fixed, and the second involves teaching
your employee to recognize equipment failures more
quickly and to notify you of such occurrences as soon as
A Work Plan Charts a Clear Course 5
As you can see from the last example, the work plan will
naturally come from the discussions with your employees.
Three things must occur before you can get to the work
Each time managers confront employees, they introduce the
possibility of change. And each time they introduce change,
they introduce the possibility of resistance. Improving
performance requires that managers accept the
responsibility for managing the resistance they have created
by introducing change to the employee. One way to
manage this resistance is to reduce the negative emotions
associated with resistance. By encouraging the employees
to explore their opinions, feelings, reasons and excuses,
managers can help them to transform their negative feelings
into verbal behavior.
GATHER ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
A manager begins a confrontation session with a point of
view; the manager has an opinion about a performance
issue. However, there is the possibility that the manager’s
perception is not accurate. By encouraging and stimulating
the employee to explore issues and causes from the
employee’s point of view, the manager may discover more
about the actual situation. As a result, the employee is not
inaccurately accused of a performance problem or praised
for fortunate circumstances.
AGREEMENT ON PROBLEM AND CAUSE
Through the defusing of resistance and discovery of
additional information, the employee and supervisor must
come to an agreement on both the problem and the cause or
causes. This agreement is facilitated through effective
communication skills, which we will discuss in the next
Once you have reached an agreement, you are ready to
develop a work plan. The plan should outline the next steps
that will be taken. This includes what the employee should
do and what you will do to help him or her. For example,
the plan may be that you spend more time going over the
equipment with the employee so that he or she can better
anticipate breakdowns. This is a learn-by-doing approach in
which you actually demonstrate to the employee how she
should perform the tasks. This instruction then becomes a
key component of the plan. The employee is expected to
perform as shown.
It is crucial that the plan be mutual between you and your
employee. If you want to improve performance, it’s
important that the employee agrees with the plan. Even if
you can’t get the employee to absolutely agree, it’s
important that he knows what you expect and why you
Doc um ent at i on – M aint a inin g G ood R ec or ds
Write It Down!
It’s critical for you to keep regular notes on your
employees’ performance. Noting the work plan and general
observations of their work in written form provides you a
way to keep track of both their developmental needs as well
as their performance throughout the year. You can rely on
these records when discussing past performance with the
employee. In addition, you can check these notes to see if
the employee is improving according to the work plan, or if
he or she needs further instruction. Documentation is
especially important when you’re concerned about potential
disciplinary or safety issues. It’s important to remember to
write down good performance as well as bad, so that you
will have a balanced and fair picture of your employee’s
work. It’s always important to recognize achievements
when they occur.
In order to ensure that your notes are kept together and can
be found readily, Buck Consultants has designed forms to
document your notes. Each form should be specific to a
particular observation. Keep all of your forms together in a
safe and confidential place. You will find a copy of USD’s
coaching form in the Appendix.
Adv ant ag e s t o G o od Coa ch ing
What’s In It for You, Your Employees, and the
University of South Dakota?
There are a number of benefits to good coaching. Good
coaches tend to have positive relationships with both their
subordinates as well as supervisors. Employees tend to
respect supervisors who make clear their performance
expectations and treat them in a respectful and fair manner.
In addition, executives appreciate good coaching skills in
their supervisors because these supervisors tend to cause
senior management less headaches. That is, they are less
likely to have personnel problems and tend to meet job
HERE’S A SUMMARY OF OTHER BENEFITS:
¾ Clarification of performance expectations
¾ Accurate descriptions of problems and their causes
¾ Identification of performance shortcomings
¾ Greater understanding of more-difficult tasks
¾ Plans to improve performance
¾ Increased technical skills
¾ Increased learning pace
¾ Commitment to continual learning
¾ Greater understanding and commitment to the
¾ Venting of strong feelings
¾ Changes in point of view
¾ Good relationships between supervisor and employee
¾ Good relationships among employees within a
department or division
Com mun ic at ion s S ki l ls f o r Co ac hin g
Being able to communicate with the employee in a way that
reduces defensiveness is the key to effective coaching. The
skills required to reduce defensiveness are listening and
accepting the employee’s point of view as legitimate, even
when you disagree, and stating your own point of view
without implying that the employee is incompetent. Good
communication is honest communication - honest at a
deeper level than just stating the facts correctly. At its most
successful level, your discussion with your employee
during the interview will be done so that there is:
¾ No defensiveness
¾ No need to play games
¾ A high level of trust.
One of the key elements in gaining another person’s trust is
demonstrating a basic and genuine respect for that person.
This does not mean you must approve of everything the
other person does. But it does mean providing ideas and
asking for feedback, rather than scolding or demanding. It
means being helpful rather than critical.
This is called unconditional respect. Even though you may
disapprove of or disagree with a particular action, you show
basic acceptance of the individual and realize that like you,
he or she is entitled to an opinion.
have an assistant
turns in reports
late or half
don’t assume the
person is lazy
and ignorant, but you want to change the poor performance.
You approach it as a problem for the two of you to solve
The way you communicate unconditional respect is by
being empathetic. Empathy is feeling the same way the
other person feels. It is not agreement. It is just an
understanding of what it feels like to be in the other
The first skill in communicating is the ability to listen - not
to just hear the words, but to understand the feelings and
The second skill you’ll need to develop is active listening.
Active listening is more than just the ability to listen. It
means letting the other person know that you understand, or
at least are trying to understand.
A key element of active listening is the ability to
paraphrase what the other person has told you. This means
that you relate, in your own words, the gist of what the
other person has told you. You do not repeat what he or she
has said, but instead you attempt to reach the emotional
level of what the person has communicated and try to
confirm the message.
As an example, suppose you have told your employee that
he spends too much time talking and doesn’t get his work
done on time. You can see his temper begin to rise and he
says, "I don’t talk more than anyone else. Why are you
doing this to me?"
You may be tempted to say, "I’m not doing anything to
you. I’m just telling you what I saw." A statement like that,
however, isn’t empathetic and doesn’t communicate any
respect for the employee. It also is a good way to start an
A better response, using active listening, is, "You think I’m
being unfair." In most cases, the employee will say yes (if
that is what he was thinking) and will then give you his side
of the story. Your active listening opens a dialog with him
that allows the two of you to get to the bottom of the
problem and solve it as a team. If the employee does not
respond, you may go further and say, "I wonder if you
could tell me how you view the situation."
Using “I” Statements
The second aspect of effective communication is asserting
yourself in a nonjudgmental way so that the employee does
not become defensive. To do this, you use an "I" statement.
The "I" statement tells the employee what you feel and
want, not what’s wrong with the employee. How would you
respond if someone said to you:
You’re being obnoxious VS. It makes me tense when you talk so loudly
Just once could you shut up I get angry when you interrupt me because I want
and listen? you to listen to my point of view.
Notice in the second example that there are three major
parts to the "I" statement:
¾ Feelings: angry.
¾ Cause of feelings: when you interrupt me.
¾ Reason action causes feelings: I want you to listen to
my point of view.
The purpose of the "I" statement is to allow the other
person to hear you without trying to explain why they did
what they did, and without feeling humiliated or angry.
That way they can enter into a more reasonable dialog with
you. In addition, it is simply a more respectful way to speak
to people. It assumes that they are your equal, that you are
not given special powers to judge and criticize others.
People will respond to you in a more open, trusting way
than if you are critical.
Common Barriers to Using These Skills
Active listening and making "I" statements
don’t come naturally to most of us. They are
learned skills. And in our culture, there are
several common barriers to using these skills
successfully. By being aware of these
barriers, you can overcome them.
¾ Yes, but. Instead of paraphrasing, you respond with
"yes, but" as an introduction to your own differing point
of view. Instead, you need to listen attentively,
paraphrase and then go on to make an ’I’ statement.
¾ You may be too self-conscious and allow your
discomfort to interfere with trying out the skills.
Remember these are learned skills that take time to
develop and master.
¾ You may see these skills as manipulative. Some
supervisors are tempted to try to get the employee to
think they are empathizing, when in fact they are just
trying to soften the employee up. Over time the
employee sees through the ploy and trusts these
supervisors even less. Keep in mind that the reason you
use these skills is to keep the conversation going. Your
employees will see you as manipulative only if you
¾ You’ll find yourself using "funny" language when you
are paraphrasing. For example, you may say, "Let me
share with you what I think" when your normal way of
speaking is to say, "Here’s what I think. "
¾ It is sometimes difficult to paraphrase when you
disagree with something someone has said. The trick
here is to remember that you will have an opportunity
to use "I" statements later in the conversation. There is
no more important time to actively listen than when you
disagree, because it is this kind of communication that
makes it possible to resolve disagreements in a
Su mm ar y
In general, coaching involves conversations between
supervisors and employees regarding employee
performance. The goal of coaching is two-fold:
¾ Improve poor performance.
¾ Maintain strong performance.
Coaching can also be viewed as a person’s management
style. Typically it is used to describe supervisors who:
¾ Devote energy toward building commitment rather
than controlling employees.
¾ Maintain high levels of interpersonal contact with their
¾ Continually strive to enhance the development of their
Not all managers are coaches - only the superior ones. The
good news is that all supervisors can learn the coaching
practices outlined in this training module. Learning and
using these practices can be a powerful strategy to motivate
employees to excel in their performance by enhancing their
commitment to both their own development as well as to
USD’s, in general.