employee coaching
Training & Learning

A Practical Guide to Employee Coaching for L&D Teams

Everyone has days where things just aren't going right, and it feels like the entire world is working against them. Maybe a project was going really well, and suddenly the number of deliverables increased the day before the due date. Or perhaps it's getting stuck on the last step of a project and not being able to figure out how to get over the hurdle.

No matter how hard everyone tries to do their job well, sometimes life throws curve balls that knock them off course. Having the support of a coach can help your people push through all of these issues and solve tough problems when they’re feeling stuck.

What is employee coaching?

Coaching employees is the process of developing employees' job performance and helping them reach their professional goals. In short, coaches help employees set goals and find ways to achieve them. The ultimate goal of this partnership is to help the employee succeed.

Coaches help employees develop skills that will be useful to them as they work toward their goals—whether that goal is becoming better at a skill or preparing to move forward in their career. It’s about more than just enabling employees to learn how to do their jobs better—it's about making them feel smarter, more confident, and happier in their job.

The difference between coaching, mentoring, and training

Coaching, mentoring, and training share some characteristics, but they all have different methods and purposes. Training is a more structured process and usually concentrates on teaching people how to do something specific. For example, you could take a training course on how to create pivot tables in Excel or another tool that the company uses regularly.

On the other hand, coaching includes helping people adopt new behaviors rather than simply teaching them how to perform a task. For instance, imagine your manager has asked you to start running meetings but you find it difficult to lead under pressure. Your manager would coach you through the process of facilitating meetings by asking what types of situations are most challenging for you and modeling ways for you to work around those challenges.

Like coaching, mentorship is a relationship where you learn from someone else’s experience, but it’s more about absorbing a mentor’s knowledge and less about receiving direct instruction. A mentor's job is to advise people based on their personal experiences, but it's up to the person being mentored to decide how they want to apply that advice.

Related: The What, Why, and How of Mentorship Programs at Work

Coaches help employees develop skills that will be useful to them as they work toward their goals.

The benefits of coaching employees

It's a common misconception that coaching is only for executives or problematic employees, but that's simply not true. Any employee—regardless of their skill level or status—can benefit from coaching. Coaching finds the potential in your employees and develops their nascent talents. It helps team members complete tasks and achieve their goals by fostering an environment where people feel safe to take risks and grow professionally. When employees are actively learning how to do their job better, they’re more content, and that improves long-term retention.

Effective coaching also helps your people identify new skills and tools they can use throughout their careers by giving them the opportunity to work through issues holding them back. This builds confidence, which allows individuals to become more innovative and engaged in the work they do every day.

Your people aren’t the only ones who benefit. Coaching helps your organization’s bottom line by increasing employee engagement, which boosts productivity while decreasing work-related stress and burnout potential. It can also create collaborative feedback loops that promote a healthy environment for both giving and receiving feedback.


employee coaching at 360Learning
Here's a real-life example of coaching at work at 360Learning. We offer a program to help women develop into leadership positions, called Women@360 Development Coaching. One-to-one coaching sessions delve into topics like managing remote teams, developing listening skills, and successfully managing internal mobility.

Coaching helps your organization’s bottom line by increasing employee engagement, which boosts productivity while decreasing work-related stress and burnout potential.

The role of an employee coach

Coaches help employees set goals and find ways to accomplish them by providing support, learning opportunities, and accountability. They guide employees through the ups and downs of work and navigate them to greater success by helping them figure out their strengths and weaknesses.

One of the most important parts of a coach's job is to help employees understand themselves better. Coaches listen to people's stories about themselves and their careers, then ask questions that bring out their values, strengths, past accomplishments, and vision for their future. They use all this information to help people create a powerful plan for moving toward their goals.

A good coach:

  • Listens for specific details about how someone wants to grow and creates appropriate goals and action plans around those aspirations
  • Asks open-ended questions to get to the root of what an employee is trying to achieve and encourages them to come up with their own solutions
  • Provides thoughtful and actionable feedback on how well the person is doing when it comes to achieving their objectives
  • Keeps an employee on track by giving them direction and motivating them when they feel discouraged or blocked
  • Holds the person accountable for reaching their goals while offering support and guidance along the way

Popular types of employee coaching

Coaching comes in many forms—it can be relaxed and informal, or it can be more structured. It can even be a combination of the two—casual enough to allow the coach and employee to build a connection and still structured enough to keep both people on task and moving forward.

Differentiating between employee coaching types is useful when deciding which approach will best help your employees learn the skills they need to succeed.

One-on-One Coaching is a coaching relationship where someone more knowledgeable or skilled works with an employee to provide constructive feedback and direction. This method allows a coach to spend time observing a person's work and habits to determine how they can adapt and grow.

Team coaching helps a group of people work toward the same goal while improving performance. A coach observes a team in its normal work environment and provides feedback and suggestions for improvement to the entire group, individually, or both. This method of coaching can reduce conflicts because there’s a facilitator to make sure everyone is heard and aligned on the same goal.

Peer-to-peer coaching is an informal method where employees share their experiences with each other to boost each other's skills and knowledge. This works especially well in situations where one employee is trying to learn a new skill. Anyone can participate in peer coaching, and it can be as simple as connecting two people to observe each other, ask questions, and provide feedback.

Performance coaching gives team membersa deeper understanding of their job requirements, identifies competencies needed to meet those requirements, and uncovers ways to improve their performance. A big part of employee performance coaching is helping employees change behaviors that are preventing them from reaching their full potential and creating roadmaps for future professional development.

In-the-moment coaching is an informal type of coaching where someone—usually a manager—helps an employee through a situation in real time. For example, let's say an employee is at a team meeting where a big project is being discussed and their manager notices the employee looks extremely nervous. Immediately after the meeting, the manager can take the employee aside (in-person or virtually) to talk about it and ask questions like, "I noticed you looked really nervous during the team meeting. What's going on, and how can I help?"


How to get started with employee coaching

Adding coaching inside your workplace can be done gradually and without an enormous amount of effort up front. Your team can use a variety of methods to get started:

  • Incorporate coaching into your 1-on-1s. Management and leadership can take some time during each meeting to brainstorm with employees about how they might tackle a specific challenge they’re facing. This can be a personal or professional challenge, like improving communication skills or getting help with a specific project.
  • Encourage colleagues to share their knowledge. Some people feel most comfortable learning from coworkers who are in the same role as them or have similar experiences. Encourage employees to create peer mentorship programs within their teams. These are great opportunities for more experienced employees to teach and guide those who have less experience.
  • Develop courses that teach coaching skills. Design at least a few courses that teach the basics of coaching and provide a variety of coaching tools and techniques. This helps spark more interest in coaching and gives those interested an introduction to the craft.
  • Pilot a coaching program with a select group of employees. If you have the bandwidth, consider creating a coaching program for a small set of employees. This will give you a blueprint for a more comprehensive program by learning what works and what doesn't before rolling it out to everyone.

Related: How Opendoor Uses Peer Mentoring to Meet Learners Where They Are

L&D’s role in employee coaching

Coaching and training are becoming increasingly intertwined. Organizations are actively adopting learning cultures and gearing up for a future where upskilling is essential for an organization's survival. In one survey, 56% of employers reported their skills gap is already a moderate to severe issue.

In this new climate, L&D teams will play a more central role in creating cultures of continuous learning—research shows that 7 out of 10 leaders consider developing people to be a top priority. This role includes helping employees develop their skills not just during training, but over the long term as part of ongoing skill development across all roles.

It’s no secret that L&D teams already have a lot on their plate—you don’t need to take on the responsibility of becoming coaches for your entire organization. Instead, play the role of facilitator by listening to the needs of your employees and connecting them to others who can coach them through their needs and challenges. For example, some of your people may feel stuck in their careers or want to switch roles within the company but don’t know how to go about it. Listen to their concerns and challenges, then pair them with someone who's currently in a role they're interested in. That way, they can see if switching roles is something they really want, and they can get direct coaching before they even start in the new position.

Remember, anyone in your organization can be a coach, so facilitating can be as straightforward as finding a volunteer who’s a few chapters ahead in their professional journey and willing to have regular coaching conversations with another employee.

Related: 30 Free Employee Coaching Templates to Build Your Own Program

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