Get more out of your employees: 10 principles guide your coaching

By Michael R. Clark

The need for managers and supervisors to be able to coach employees effectively is greaterWorking business people. today than ever before—for several reasons. Consider, for example:

• Employees in today’s workplaces are being asked “to do more with less.” This means companies are demanding the successful completion of more and different tasks than required in the recent past. Employees need to be taught how to do them.

• Many job applicants lack the literacy and/or math skills necessary for the jobs for which they apply. As a result many teaching-learning moments will occur between the supervisor and employee for acceptable performance to occur.

• A number of research findings show that approximately seven out of ten employees in the 18 to 35 age group believe there are no absolute ethical standards. In their view, honesty or honest actions depend on convenience. This either requires closer supervision or coaching employees to higher ethical standards.

Fortunately there are “tried and true” coaching strategies that managers and supervisors can use to improve the performance of their employees, both quantitatively and qualitatively. If you apply the following coaching principles, you will motivate and modify your employees’ performance towards much higher levels.

1. Expect employees to be successful. There exists a body of research that suggests that employees in general will perform according to expectations. As a supervisor, if you think certain employees will be successful, then they probably will be. But, if you think employees will not succeed, then they probably won’t. The reasons for this generally exist within the relationship between the employee and supervisor.

2. Assess current performance first. You must know the specific levels at which employees are performing, before you can coach effectively. You can usually determine the level through a combination of observation, performance feedback conversations, and normal monitoring of work. A written performance improvement plan is recommended for all employees.

3. Know how to address nonperformance issues. As a supervisor, you have three basic approaches to handle employee nonperformance issues: Avoid the issue altogether, which usually doesn’t solve anything; threaten the employee with a negative sanction, which may stop or fix the performance issue in the short run but only creates other problems between the supervisor and the employee; or collaborate with the employee to fix the issue. Collaboration is the preferred method.

4.Clarify expectations. Employees need to know what success means, as well as what it means to perform at the highest level, the lowest level, and everywhere in between. Show your employees what the expectations are for each level, and then let employees choose to perform at a given level for their own reasons. (Of course, each level of performance comes with its own rewards or consequences.)

5. Check for understanding. Do not assume that employees understand verbal communications, even when they say, “I don’t have any questions.” People differ in many ways and have different life experiences, which affect understanding. Because of these differences, we make mistakes when we communicate with each another. The only way to account for differences is to make sure the receiver (the employee) of a message understands the message, so the sender (the supervisor) must check the receiver’s understanding by asking a few questions about the message.

6.Use the 2+2 strategy. This amounts to talking to employees about their individual performance for at least a couple of minutes every couple of weeks. Supervisors talk to employees about work all the time. They don’t, however, usually talk much about the employee’s individual performance except when an issue arises, or during the annual performance evaluation process. Make it a point to  talk with employees about their performance at a minimum a couple of minutes every couple of weeks.

7. Reward good behavior. Use positive consequences (rewards) for desirable behavior (performance). Identify ways to reward both employee performance and effort. At a minimum, use verbal praise when it makes sense. One way to determine how to reward employees is to actually ask them what would be rewarding to them.

8. Sanction nonperformance. Nonperformance is undesirable behavior. Use negative consequences to change undesirable behavior. A technique called “corrective feedback” can be used to deal with any type of performance issue.

9. Give specific, timely feedback to employees. Give performance feedback to employees, on a consistent basis. Also, it is acceptable to give general feedback, such as, “That was an excellent effort;” however, the feedback is more powerful when it is specific. For example, say, “That was an excellent effort. I especially liked the way you showed empathy to the customer, and then asked how you could help and didn’t pass the person to someone else.”

10.Use the “pull style” coaching as much as possible. Telling employees what to do (“push style”), is easier than pulling the solution out of them through questioning and guidance (“pull style”). But, as a result of using the “pull style,” employees are more likely to be accountable and will also grow much more because they are learning to think on their feet and solve their own problems.

This list of 10 coaching principles is not exhaustive, but if you use them consistently, you will find employee satisfaction and accompanying performance levels will rise to higher levels—which is the point of coaching.


Michael Clark

Michael Clark is a senior consultant/trainer for the Division of Continuing Education, University of North Florida, where he specializes in developing and conducting management/supervision training programs.  He is also owner of MRC Consulting, which specializes in the creation and implementation of both organizational and management/supervision development strategies. He can be contacted by e-mail ( or by phone, either 904-620-4200, or 850-545-1451.


Want more information on coaching?

The tips in this article came from these reference materials, where you can find more ideas on coaching your employees:

• Why Employees Don’t Do What They Are Supposed to Do, Ferdinand Fournies, McGraw-Hill, 1999.

• Coaching for Improved Work Performance, Ferdinand Fournies, McGraw-Hill, 2000.

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