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March 20, 2012

Driving Employee Engagement Through Coaching

By Beth Armknecht Miller, president and executive coach at Executive Velocity, Inc.

Employee engagement is important for retaining good employees, increasing customer satisfaction and ultimately increasing profits. In First Break all the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham describes the factors which lead to an effective workplace and concludes that an employee’s manager, not the company, is the critical link to employee engagement.

Of the 12 questions used in Buckingham’s study, three questions directly correlate to the importance of coaching as an effective employee development tool:

  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  • This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
  • Does my manager, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

So how does a manager encourage development, provide opportunities to learn and grow and show employees they care? By coaching their employees.

In The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business, by James Hunt and Joseph Weintraub, they outline a simple process that helps managers “coach in the moment” by teaching managers to react appropriately to coachable moments. Integrating this process into your work day can not only improve employee engagement, but can also increase your effectiveness as a leader. The more your employees can learn by doing, the more time you can ultimately be spending on working “on” and not “in” your business.

Creating a Safe Coaching Environment

Before you can start “coaching in the moment,” there needs to be a safe coaching environment. But what does a safe coaching environment look like?

A safe coaching environment is where employees feel safe bringing a problem or career issue to you. When an employee presents a concern to you, you act as a helper, not as an evaluator. In this environment you clearly separate coaching from performance evaluations.  Coaching then becomes an ongoing process, unlike periodic evaluations.

In a safe coaching environment you (1) look for opportunities to help your employees increase their performance, and (2) you focus on asking questions, rather than providing your own solutions.  By asking questions, your employees will develop their own solutions and be able to self-assess their own performances.

As a manager, you must truly believe that developing your employees is not only part of your job, but something that will help in your own development as well.  You can clearly demonstrate the importance of coaching to your peers and employees by focusing on helping someone else and not let your own agenda get in the way.

If all of this seems to be a leap from your current business environment, then you will need to let your employees know you will be making some changes that will be focused not on evaluating their performance, but will be focused on helping them learn and grow.  The most important task in this new environment is to follow through.  Employees will quickly become disillusioned if they are told that changes that will be coming, but they don’t observe any real changes.

At the end of the day, creating a safe coaching environment is the first step toward becoming a successful coaching manager.

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