Coaching Managers and Employees

By Donald H Tyler


There are many situations that require managers or supervisors to coach their employees rather than train them. Coaching is a process of guiding someone through a challenge or helping them to achieve a higher level of proficiency. Just as in team sports, a coach is rarely involved in the field of play during the game. They are more involved on the sidelines, and their most important work is done prior to the competition. Taking a coaching approach to managing the workforce will keep the staff members and their supervisors focused on the goals of the business and working as a team.


Coaching Basics


There are four main questions to address in any coaching situation. These questions apply whether you are coaching a new employee, a supervisor, an entrepreneur or the CEO of a company.

  1. Where do you want to be in the future?
  2. What is your plan to get there?
  3. How is your plan working so far?
  4. How can I help?


We may not see our employees or other people we work with as thinking about these questions very much. We may see them as not even having goals for the future, let alone a plan for how to get there. What better opportunity to have a positive effect on their life and their professional success?


Coaching Principles


Here are some key things to remember when coaching clients or their employees:

  • Coaching is a process, not an event. You cannot have a significant impact on a person’s performance with one discussion, one phone call, or one meeting.
  • You must identify with the other person’s current situation before you will have a significant impact on their future. Few people will take advice from someone they don’t feel relates to their situation in life.
  • Starting the coaching process can be very difficult. The initial barriers must be broken to achieve the level of rapport and confidence needed to provide quality assistance.
  • Becoming a good employee coach will reduce or completely eliminate many of the day-to-day problems that managers face—tardiness, lack of focus and motivation, behavioral issues, loyalty, etc.


The Coaching Process


Laying the groundwork:

  1. Develop a rapport with your client that allows you to have some influence on their performance and that gives you credibility.
  2. Learn to ask questions rather than make statements. Coaching is not about teaching people what you know. It is a matter of helping people understand their potential—and encouraging them to achieve it.
  3. A key part of coaching is building people’s self-confidence. The process must be positive, not negative or disciplinary.
  4. In the coaching process, the coach usually learns as much about their potential as the person being coached. Learn to enjoy the process and the experience.
  5. Coaching is only one of the processes that need to be occurring in the workplace. It should never replace accountability, following established rules and procedures, or hard work.


Getting Started:

  1. Remember that this is a process, not an event. Coaching is done more on an informal day-to-day basis, rather than in planned meetings.
  2. Develop questions and a process that you are comfortable with. Not everyone has natural skills when it comes to asking questions. Anyone can develop the necessary skills if they see it as an important part of their responsibilities.
  3. The questions you ask should be open-ended and non-threatening. If you find that people are getting defensive from the questions you are asking, rephrase them, change your physiology or reduce your intensity level—be more patient.
  4. Remember that most people will increase their efforts if they are tied to something personal, such as time, money, family, security or other personal interests. Find ways to relate the workplace issues to personal issues.
  5. Questions that are effective in the coaching process:


General questions to learn basic information:

  • What would you do if you had more personal time?
  • How would it change your outlook if your work was easier and less demanding?
  • Would it be important to you if we could find a way to make your position more enjoyable?
  • If time or money weren’t limiting, what would you do differently?
  • Is there anything that could be done to simplify your position without impacting production?
  • What do you feel are the most important things you do every day?
  • Of all the things you have to do during the week, which ones do you feel have the greatest impact on production?
  • If we could find a way to make your more rewarding, what would you be willing to do to accomplish that?
  • What are some of the things that you would like to do that you don’t have time to do right now?
  • If your spouse or family could change anything about your job, what would they change?


Questions that focus on making changes:

  • Are there some things that you do every day that you feel aren’t necessary to keep production at a high level?
  • ?

  • Are there some ways that we could evaluate efficiency and make some minor improvements?
  • What do you think are the most important things for your business to focus on?
  • Which production numbers do you feel are the most important to the operation?
  • Pick one area of production and give me 3 ways to improve production in that area?
  • How can I personally help you become more efficient?
  • How can I personally help you enjoy your job better?
  • ?

  • If I were you, and you were me, what advice would you give me to improve my skills?
  • ?

  • What do you think are the most important issues to your co-workers right now?
  • ?

  • What could you personally do to make this a better place to work?
  • What do you think other people could do to make this a better workplace?
  • If you could do anything different during the day, what would it be?
  • Which areas do you feel you need to spend more time on?
  • Which areas take too much of your time?
  • What are some specific things you feel you could do to become more efficient?
  • Do you feel that people have enough input?


Follow up questions when progress slows:

  • What affect would it have on your family if you liked your job more?
  • Let’s back up a minute…… what would you like to do that you can’t do now?
  • It seems like we’re not making any progress, could you help me understand why?
  • Tell me again the things that are important to you……….


How to handle some specific situations:


People that get defensive:

  • Be sure you are relaxed and non-confrontational. Be patient.
  • Ask them about their reasons for working here and what they would do differently.
  • Use some “half-sentences” such as;
    • “I’m not sure I understand…….”
    • ?

    • “So what you’re really saying is……”
    • ?

    • “And because of that you are…….”
    • ?

    • “It sounds like what you really want is to……”
    • ?

    • “Help me understand what you are saying…..”
    • “And you are most frustrated about……”
    • ?

    • “And so what you really want me to do is…….”
    • “And if you were in my shoes you would…….”


People that lose interest in the conversation:

  • “Let’s back up a step……. What did we want to accomplish here?”
  • “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”
  • “I’m stuck, tell me how we can move forward from here….”
  • “So what you really think we should do is……”
  • “If you could narrow it down to one thing, what do you think we should do?”


People who want to be a lone-ranger and not take any help or advice:

  • “So what you think we should really be doing is…..”
  • “So what you are saying is that you think things are going just fine…..”
  • “There’s probably not really anything that you feel we should change—is there?”
  • “How do you think we should address ________ issue?”
  • “How do you think people should be evaluated?”
  • “How do you think a business should be evaluated?”
  • “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”
  • “If you don’t mind me asking, how do you feel about yourself?”
  • “If I were to give you a score on your performance right now, what do you think it should be?”


Individuals that just don’t want to change:
Remember that most of the time people don’t change out of fear or because they are just not willing to move out of their comfort zone. They need someone to be patient with them and give it time. It is very critical to hold them accountable for their actions and duties.


The best way to get people to move off center is to give them the impression they are being left behind. If they can see that other people are taking new responsibilities, becoming more efficient, and are increasing their self-confidence—then they will feel like they need to make personal progress themselves.


Ongoing strategies:

  1. Remember to have a long-term plan for what you want to accomplish. Your process should have clear-cut objectives, timelines and targets.
  2. As you have success in each area, develop new areas and objectives to keep the process going and to assure that growth continues.
  3. You will find the appropriate opportunities to make specific suggestions and provide detailed advice. Use those teachable moments in a positive way and praise the employee for the progress they have made.
  4. Don’t give up on yourself or on others. You will crash and burn a few times and you won’t feel like you are making progress. This is normal.
  5. Stay focused on your objectives and the objectives you set with your people for them.
  6. Remember that this is a process. It may seem like “three steps forward and one step back” most of the time—because it is.
  7. People make progress at different rates. Keep in mind that people will become uncomfortable with making changes and will want to go back to old ways because it is more comfortable. This is where it is important to keep encouraging them.
  8. Remember that you are going through changes too. Be patient with yourself.


Other Hurdles in Coaching


Personality Differences:

  • In the simplest sense, people have a “motor” and a “compass” that determine their personality.
  • Our “motor” determines our speed. We can be fast-paced and outgoing, or we can be slower-paced (methodical) and reserved. Slower-paced people aren’t lazy, they just are more deliberate and methodical in their approach to tasks and decisions. Our “compass” determines our direction. We can be task oriented, or we can be people oriented. Task oriented people are focused on form, function, process and purpose. People oriented individuals are focused on relationships, emotions and group interactions.
  • These two aspects, our motor and our compass, then create four different personality types. “Dominant” people are outgoing and task oriented. They are decisive, direct, determined and action oriented. “Influencing” individuals are outgoing and people oriented. They are inducing, impulsive, imaginative and inspirational. “Steadiness” people are reserved and people oriented. They are stable, secure, supportive and sentimental. “Cautious” people are reserved and task oriented. They are careful, calculating, compliant and are critical thinkers.
  • It isn’t important to fully understand each of these personality types. What is important is to realize that each of these personalities views their job, their family, their personal situations and their interactions with others in a very different manner. We know that a Dominant person will approach a problem very differently than a Steadiness person. The Dominant person will tend to attack problems and accept the risk very easily, but a Steadiness person will be very reluctant to “make waves”.
  • When we interact with each personality and help them work through their professional and personal challenges, we must realize that their personality has an affect on their communication style.


Generational Differences:
This is the first time in the industrialized world that there have been four socially separate, culturally different generations in the same workplace. Here is a review:

Who they are When they were born Their basic “motto”
Builders Born 1900 to 1945 “Everything is Black and White–no gray areas”
Boomers Born 1945 to 1965 “Challenge the Rules”
Gen-Xer’s Born 1965 to 1980 “Everything is relative—No absolutes”
Netser’s Born 1980 to 1997 “I have my beliefs and you can have yours”


It is very important to remember that within each generation there are significant variations. The values of the “Builder” generation can easily be found in members of the other generations. The workaholic nature of a Baby Boomer will be found in other generations as well.


The following descriptions give us a clue to the developmental background of each of these generational groups. By understanding these general differences between the generations, we will get a general sense of how to help members of each of these generations, and how to approach them when they are faced with decisions that need to be made.


What Society was like during their development:

Builders Boomers Gen-Xers Netsers
85% of people went to church nearly every Sunday, and if you didn’t go to church, people thought you were a communist. Neil Armstrong walks on the moon, the Cold War. Space Shuttle Challenger, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez. Communism falls, low inflation, Oklahoma City, Gulf War, Princess Di.
People fought for clear-cut causes. Things clearly seemed “right” or “wrong”. Ken and Barbie Dolls, Yo-Yo’s, Superballs, Lava Lamps, The Beatles. “Baby on Board” signs, “Where’s the Beef?”, Smurfs, ET, Cabbage Patch Dolls. Internet, e-mail, CD-ROM, Caller ID, “Smart Bombs”.
Polio vaccine, Sputnik, Alaska and Hawaii become states. Oral contraceptives (The Pill), Valium, Weather satellites, Diet Sodas. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, “We Are The World”, “The Cosby Show”, “A-Team”. Clarence Thomas Hearings, Monica Lewinski, O.J. Simpson, Unabomber.
Dr. Spock was the parenting expert. Hula Hoops, Pogo sticks, Frisbees, stuffing phone booths, TV dinners. “Beverly Hillbillies”, “Laugh-In”, “Phil Donahue”, “The Brady Bunch”. Fax machines, ATM’s, Cell Phones, Rogaine, CD’s, DNA testing. “The Simpsons”, “Roseanne”, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Ally McBeal.
“Lawrence Welk”, “I Love Lucy”, and “American Bandstand” Watergate, ERA, Three Mile Island, Gas rationing, “Health Food”, Inflation. Designer jeans, Preppy Look, Denim, the Mini skirt returns. WWJD, Tickle-Me-Elmo, Barney, Nintendo, Tattoos.


What each Generation prefers

Builders Boomers Gen-Xers Netsers
Personal notes, they don’t get this e-mail stuff…… Keep in touch any way that is convenient for them. Communicate in a way that is clear and shows you care. Keep in touch. Communicate with e-mail or cell phone.
Talk to them in person, don’t just leave messages. Rules are great if they work for me. People that keep their strong opinions to themselves. ? People that hold their relationships in high regard. ? Personal development is more important than personal accomplishment.
?People that are loyal to their family, church and the company. “I’ll do just fine in my personal life without your input, thank you.” Rules that are fair to everyone as evenly as possible. “So long as you listen to my problems and care, you can give me some advice.” ? They can accept any point of view, so long as they aren’t asked to choose which one is best.
Others that understand the importance of our heritage and patriotism. Play to have fun and for personal satisfaction. Watching is almost as good as playing. A workplace where the people are just as important as the product. ? Opportunities to experience diversity. ? Environments where technology is fully utilized.
Play to win.? Pure morals and ethics. Others who accept them, even when they know their flaws. People that don’t need firm commitments. Play to be on a team, play to not loose. ? An atmosphere of tolerance.


We can easily see that each of these age groups view the world much differently. We must recognize these differences as we work with them and provide counsel and guidance for them in their businesses.


Cultural Differences:
Cultural differences are another area to consider. As we work with people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, we need to learn about their values and their priorities. Cultural differences vary between different parts of the country as well. It is important to know “acceptable” and “unacceptable” practices that are rooted in tradition. Though many times these are the main barriers in encouraging change, they are important to recognize and consider during the process of investigating new business options and opportunities.


Emotional Intelligence and Maturity Level:
We shouldn’t overlook the affect that maturity and emotional “IQ” have on a person’s ability to adapt to change. Many people have the intelligence, the experience and the know-how to take on new business strategies and greater risk, but they lack the emotional fortitude to make the commitments needed for major changes in their personal lives and business. Their “comfort zone” is very small. They have great difficulty taking risks. Their desire to keep things consistent and stable outweighs their instinct to adapt to newer technology and other business opportunities.


As advisors and coaches, we must recognize that these individuals will struggle more than others when making decisions. They will need more support, more time to make a decision, and continual follow up after their decision is made.




It is important to realize that helping people overcome personal, professional and business challenges goes far beyond understanding the facts and available information. As advisors we need to recognize that many of our clients do extensive research and reach logical conclusions for what they should do to position their operation for the future. The main challenge for many of them is overcoming their experiences, personality style, cultural mores or maturity level.


Coaching our clients in areas such as employee management, decision making, planning, agronomic decisions or financial planning requires that we account for their personal behavioral characteristics.