Effective coaching conversations

By Jeremy Wilson July 01, 2014 Industry News

As a manager or leader you’re going to have performance-related conversations with employees who are not performing to expectations, or are doing a good job but need some refinement.

This is a firm discussion when it needs to be, as well as one where you show a real interest in their thoughts and opinions while focusing on a key outcome. It is not a (potentially) witnessed performance-related meeting as part of a performance management programme.

It is one where you believe the coachee has real potential and you want to invest in them. It is about making them aware there needs to be positive change and you have their interests at heart, as well as those of the business.

Alternatively this is simply an attitudinal or behavioural “conversation” where better processes or behaviours are discussed and agreed upon.

I find these meetings to be so much more effective where there is preparation and a framework, with a conclusion, agreed outcomes and then a follow-up meeting. I would expect any manager to be having regular set one-on-ones with their team members and if you are doing this, well done but this article can serve as a refresher or a reminder to operate with structure and follow-up.

It’s proven that coaching conversations are best carried out with mutual preparation, so make a time to meet and give the coachee some insight as to the basis of the discussion.

As an overview, a coaching conversation is based on the following key points:

Set the tone and state the purpose – Forget the social stuff and immediately state the purpose with seriousness and intent. For example: “John, as you know the purpose of this discussion is to look at better ways of planning and prioritising tasks. At the end of the meeting we will agree on your improvements moving forward.”

By doing this you emphasise the formality of the occasion. Also, over time, your staff member will come to realise that these meetings are occasions to listen, learn and converse seriously. There’s no reason why it can’t be friendly and conversational in nature once you get going but it’s up to you to lead the meeting and set the tone.

With a performing coachee who you are looking to “tweak”, let them set the agenda by asking them about possible coaching subjects.

Share your observations and then switch the floor – Communicate your observations: “I’ve observed that you seem to spend time on non-valuable activities”.

Don’t make the common mistake of saying something like “it’s been reported to me”, because it’s ambiguous and can immediately gain a defensive response.

It should be between you and the coachee. Then get the coachee to respond with their feedback – this is your turn to listen.

Discuss the impact and the bigger picture – Bring in real and confronting truths about where things are at. For example: “To carry on doing things the way you are will affect your sales results and therefore your standing in the team. The impact on the business is a loss of sales revenue and opportunity”.

Then gain some commitment to moving forward together: “My expectation is that you will perform in the following manner”.

Set expectations, gain agreement – This is where you agree on the required improvements and talk about how it’s going to happen. Ask the coachee to tell you how things are going to change for the better and to add their feedback on the results they expect.

You can then refine the requirements and agree upon them: “So we’re agreed that you will prepare before sales calls, review prior purchases , decide on the specials you want to discuss…” etc.

Set the follow-up – Set a time in this meeting to meet again and discuss outcomes. In the next meeting you can receive feedback, review performance and continue to set performance goals.

End positively – Make your coachee aware you believe them competent and skilled. Empower them with your closing comments and let them know you will be following their improvement with interest.

Show them passion and commitment to working together on continued growth. Always finish these meetings warmly.

When coaching, be wary of these common mistakes:

  • Not allocating enough time for the meeting (leave an hour at least).
  • Getting emotional. If your coachee gets emotional then stop the content meeting until they have reset themselves.
  • Doing all the talking.
  • Letting the coachee switch blame: it should always come back to them, how they can change, what they can do better, how they can affect their situation.
  • Not following up. You must have a follow-up meeting.

The best thing about coaching? It’s a great way to learn about your people and is an essential skill for a leader striving for growth.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Harvard Business Review: “The goal of coaching is the goal of good management: to make the most of a company’s most valuable resource”.


Jeremy Wilson is General Manager of Build People, a search recruitment business with contacts across hardware, consumer goods, electronics and FMCG. Call 021 732 788 or visit www.buildpeople.co.nz for more information.



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