How to Support Coaching in the Workplace

Performance management norms have been shifting for a long time. With the pandemic’s disruption causing us to rethink the fundamentals of HR, it’s time to implement coaching in the workplace. Unlike traditional performance management, performance coaching is more collaborative. Coaching conversations empower managers to help employees achieve their full potential at your organization.

“Building coaching into performance management not only helps the employee grow in the short-term to achieve the task at hand,” says Kara Dennison, SPHR, executive career coach and CEO at Optimized Career Solutions, “but also helps them grow long-term while driving retention, trust and loyalty.”

Here’s how you can facilitate improved performance management by implementing coaching in the workplace.

Identify New Leadership Competencies

First, identify the skills that empower a coaching mindset — especially in a hybrid work environment. Don’t hire or promote someone to management solely because they’re a high performer. Prioritize looking for leadership and coaching ability instead.

Emotional intelligence is a vital skill for enabling managers to coach performance. They need to be able to build trust with their employees, demonstrate genuine investment in their well-being and collaborate with employees to improve performance. A high performer may possess these abilities, but it’s by no means guaranteed. An individual whose personal performance is strong but who struggles to work with others is unlikely to coach effectively. 

Communication is key, too, Dennison says. In addition to formal performance check-ins, she notes that a performance coach must be able to sustain an ongoing conversation around performance. In a digital environment with so many distractions, quick and straight-to-the-point communications are most effective, meaning the coach must be able to engage while staying on topic and schedule.

As performance coaches, managers should be able not only to help employees succeed, but support them through times of transition so they can continue to do so. Performance coaches can look around the corner and help an employee proactively prepare for changes. As you develop succession plans and look for new hires, add these criteria to job descriptions for leadership roles.

Training to Support Self-Awareness

Don’t just rely on external hiring to find the leadership competencies managers need to support coaching in the workplace. HR can train managers to improve their communication and build trust through ongoing performance conversations. Develop training modules to help managers build habits of offering on-the-spot guidance and feedback. Pilot a training program in the HR department. This provides a model for other managers to observe as they learn to become performance coaches.

The goal is to prepare managers so they can foster a learning mindset among their reports. A key to this is training managers to adopt active listening so they can facilitate better conversations with employees. “A good listener is going to hear what is being said and then take the employee through a process of self-discovery,” says Lillian Davenport, SPHR, principal and leadership career coach at EndView Solutions, LLC.

Employee coaching should empower employees to think independently. Teach managers to ask open-ended questions when addressing performance with employees. They should prompt employees to identify, on their own, what went well in a project and what didn’t. Employees need to achieve their own “aha” moment. Coaching in the workplace can help them get there.

Modify Policies and Processes to Enable Coaching

Shifting from an exclusively formal performance management model to one that embraces coaching in the workplace requires a holistic, cultural approach. Integrated support from policies and processes is invaluable. “HR has a part to play in helping to ensure that the right organizational structure is in place,” Davenport says.

Identify the behaviors you want to see from managers and build them into their performance assessment infrastructure. Reward those behaviors. Make sure your policies and processes enable and incentivize the behaviors you want to see. Only then can you successfully implement coaching in the workplace and begin to reap its benefits.