A Simplified Guide to Coaching Conversations

How to Give Feedback

As a new manager, you wear many hats; one of which is a coach. You know what success looks like on your team. This vision requires employees to be engaged and effective. Helping each person move towards this vision can be a challenge. One on one coaching conversations is an essential component of employee development. When done effectively and consistently, they will help you connect with your employees, build their confidence and skill-sets, and create unique action plans with all. Each employee has their individual personalities and strengths. Your job as a leader is to help build upon those strengths and challenge them to continue developing. 

This “Connect, Collaborate, and Commit” protocol is an easy-to-use approach for helping develop your people:

  • Connect
    • Common Bond
    • Communicate Strengths
    • Connect Strengths to Areas of growth
  • Collaborate
    • Clarify the Target
    • Clarify the Impact
  • Commit
    • Problem Solving Potential Challenges
    • Create a Plan and Gain Commitment

Set aside an hour to dive into this content and become familiar with the included resources. Below you will find details and examples focused on helping you Connect, Collaborate, and gain a Commitment in your coaching. We have also included videos with models. It is encouraged to work with a partner, which will allow you the opportunity to discuss and role-play each section. 

Connect

Common Bond

Feedback and evaluation can be difficult for both the trainee and you, the coach. Trust and relationship are central to any meaningful evaluation and development process. To sustain quality work or make progress in areas of focus, the trainee must be in a safe environment that nourishes and encourages growth. Before digging into an analysis of performance, it is helpful to open with light, personal conversation. This approach communicates that the coach is interested in the trainee as a person and cares beyond the performance. It could be about the trainee’s weekend camping trip, the best part of her day, or an upcoming concert he will be enjoying. This phase of the conversation should be concise, but long enough to express care for the person as an individual with a life and interests beyond this work context.

  • “What is something from today you’re proud of?”
  • “How is your son’s basketball team doing?”
  • “What was an interesting thing from your weekend?”

Communicate Strengths

An asset-based approach to development is always powerful. What this means is that we build on top of what the trainee already does well. We might have the same goal for different employees, perhaps it’s that employees show empathy to customer needs. The challenge to getting all employees to arrive there is that each person is an individual and are all starting from different places. Talking just about the target is inadequate; we have to understand who each person is and what they already do well in order to help them arrive at the target. An asset-based approach builds on the skills, knowledge, and personality of the trainee and helps you build from strengths towards that target. A meaningful conversation for trainee development must start with a specific quality or action the employee does well, then later bridge into the area of focus. Communicate strengths directly.

  • “Something you really bring to our team is…”
  • “Your coworkers appreciate how you…”
  • “A strength you have is…”

Connect Strengths to Areas of Growth

Before the conversation begins, you must already have a specific goal in mind. This could be to sustain, expand, or change a behavior. The strength identified in the previous step should lend itself to this focus. Connect strengths to areas of growth to help move a trainee toward the growth goal. If you want to focus on the trainee having greater empathy for customers, the strength discussed in the previous phase might possibly be the way the trainee always comes into work with a positive attitude, smiling, and greeting co-workers in the breakroom. This strength naturally lends itself to the target, and helps the trainee see what he already does well and how that can be built upon to make progress and become even more effective. There is an art to this conversation move, and the more natural the connection between the strength and growth focus, the more meaningful it is for the trainee and the easier it is for her to do so.

  • To sustain a behavior: “Your daily positive attitude is such a benefit to our team; I’d like to explore some ways we can expand on that to even more effectively empathize with our customers. What connections do you see between how your positive presence on our team and how it can impact your interactions with customers when they have a problem?”
  • To develop a behavior: “You are a person that coworkers go to for help. You often have the expertise that will allow your teammates to be more effective. There is potential here for your growth as well. I’d like to see you more regularly reaching out to others for support. A place of focus I’d like to explore together is about enlisting the support of others in your work as well. What are some times recently where you’ve felt like you didn’t know exactly how to help a customer?

Collaborate

Clarify the Target

When we seek to help a trainee make a behavior change, it is essential they understand exactly what it success looks like in its most ideal form. When we clarify the target with the trainee, it provides a concrete destination to aim for. By clarifying the target, you are defining what excellence looks like in their role and are able to ensure they understand what is expected of them. This is a necessary step in setting them up for success and encouraging them to be fully engaged in their work.

  • “Showing up to work on time is an expectation of the job. We need you here when your scheduled shift starts each day. We are working to create a culture where everyone on the team knows they can rely on each other.” 
  • “We need you to remind our customers that you are available to resolve their issues. When they let you know there is a problem, immediately remind them that you want to ensure they have a great experience and will work to find options to ensure they are taken care of.” 

Clarify the Impact

It is important to clarify the impact the expected change will create. This can be stated directly by you or collaboratively explored with the trainee. Understanding how the change will have positive impacts creates the “why” for the trainee. This connection brings understanding to how this change benefits them and their team. Use this portion of the conversation to be direct with expectations. 

  • “In what ways do you anticipate this change will impact the relationships you have with your employees?” 
  • “I know you want to move up into a “leadership position. By getting here on time every day, you will show your teammates that you are a person they can rely on and trust will be there for them.”

Commit

Problem Solving Potential Challenges

After stating the desired outcome, partner to identify potential obstacles in making this adjustment. This is your chance to listen to their ideas, ask questions to address concerns, and verbalize your confidence in their ability to change. Be sure to be empathetic towards concerns brought up, but verify they understand the expectations of your team. 

  • “What changes will you need to make to ensure immediate improvement?” 
  • “What obstacles do you anticipate facing?” 
  • “How will you overcome these obstacles?”
  • “Do you have the resources available to make this change immediately?”

Create a Plan and Gain Commitment

After identifying potential obstacles, it is time to create a plan and gain commitment around making this new change. There are many different goal setting methodologies, and all offer unique advantages. The most important piece of any plan is ensuring you know who is doing what by when. Without specific dates and action items, plans become vague and are able to be pushed out, before eventually becoming forgotten. As the coach, your action items will primarily revolve around inspection and continued coaching. It is important to trust your trainee, but you also need to verify the change is being made. The inspection will allow you to provide positive reinforcement when the change in the trainee is made, and also give you opportunities for in the game coaching, which is especially impactful. 

  • “So moving forward you will use your strength of naturally connecting with people to verbalize your desire to take care of your customer’s issues when they explain a problem they are having. I’ll be able to see your progress by checking in with three of your customers during your next shifts in the upcoming week. We will debrief about these three interactions next Friday.”