5 Keys to Coaching During Times of Change 


Now more than ever, employees need a coach who is engaged and ready to help them become their best selves at work. With the rapidly changing nature of work, leaders and managers are increasingly expected to adopt a coaching skillset to manage employee performance, boost engagement, and foster career development.  

For some, this comes easily and naturally. For others, it’s a skill that still needs to be learned – especially when some people managers are promoted for their technical (hard) skills, not necessarily their people (soft) skills. Either way, coaching is consistently named as a major skill gap for organizations hoping to improve performance. 

Why? Because coaches can be the lifeline or anchor that keeps high performers around for the long-haul. Coaches need to be effective at building meaningful relationships, unlocking awareness and imagination, inspiring employees to solve problems, and providing future-focused feedback and guidance.  

Luckily, coaching is a skill you can develop and a muscle you can exercise over time. Here are 5 ways to build your coaching skills in your 1-on-1 work relationships.  

1.Establish trust and intimacy. Set the stage with your direct report (or coachee) that you are opening a safe relationship to verbalize the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s your job to make them feel comfortable sharing emotions, without feeling judged or fearful of repercussions. If the relationship is solely business focused, you might be missing the mark.  

What you can say

“I’m always here to be a comfortable place for you, you can share anything to me and trust that it stays here. There is no judgement. I just want to provide support and an ear to listen.” 

What you can do:

Keep promises, hold appropriate discussions confidential, avoid holding words against them, and use a casual tone in 1-1s. Your 1-1s should be a time for them to take a deep breath, not hold fear or worry about saying the wrong thing.  

2. Ask thought-provoking questions that inspire, energize, and shift thinking towards creativity and productivity. Use questions that help the individual see something in a new way. Use questions to disarm hierarchy and build a partnership.  

What you can say:  

What’s worked well for you over the last 3 months?  

What would make the biggest difference in your day-to-day?  

What are you learning about yourself right now?  

If you were feeling really confident, what would you do differently?  

What you can do:  

Prepare a list of questions on your screen (or in your back pocket!) as a template for your conversations. Add questions by buckets if helpful: connection, reflection, problem-solving, action – or beginning, middle, close.  

3. Know your employee beneath the surface. Take the time to learn their background, strengths, weaknesses, what motivates them, and what they aspire to be (it doesn’t hurt to know their dog or cat’s name either). Understand where they struggle so you can support them and even push them a little. Two of our most basic needs as humans are to be seen and heard. A good coach can make that happen.  

What you can say: 

What motivates you to get up every morning?   

What energizes you at work? Where is your interest developing?  

What is least energizing for you or most draining?   

What else do you want to consider in your career? 

If you could teach a class, what would the subject be?  

What you can do:   

Take notes in your 1-1s. Have a document for each of your direct reports. As you get to know them, share articles, events, learning resources or podcasts that may be of interest to them to demonstrate your listening and presence.  

4. Inspire problem solving and action. Venting feels good, but there’s a time and place for it. Coaching is only productive when it ends in awareness or next steps. Once you hear them out, it will be your role to take what you heard, reframe it into something helpful, and move toward a solution. You may have to offer suggestions and some honest feedback here if a mindset or behavior needs to change. This is also a great opportunity to share positive feedback as well.  

What you can say:  

What might be getting in the way? 

What solutions have you tried?  

If you were at your best, what would you do right now?  

What would you tell your best friend to do in this situation?  

When you dealt with a similar issue in the past, how did you overcome it?  

What you can do:  

Listen to the venting but encourage problem solving. Be honest if the conversations are becoming unproductive. Sometimes venting is productive – so pay attention to that balance. Ensure they own the next step and it aligns to their bigger performance goals.   

5. Ask for feedback to gauge your coaching. Make sure you understand if your style is working, or if you need to make adjustments. Each employee may need something different, so it’s important to check in and discuss how you can elevate your partnership.  

What you can say:  

I would love to take a few minutes to understand how my coaching is working for you, or not. What is working well? What could be improved? Probe for specific examples.  

How do you feel when you leave our 1-1s?  

What you can do:  

Check-in every 4 to 6 months to understand if the partnership is mutually beneficial. This is also an opportunity to set better expectations on the relationship or request that the coachee show up differently in your 1-1s.  

Coaching doesn’t come naturally to most people – but it’s a skill that can and should be developed today if you are managing people. These 5 tips require a dose of humility, flexibility, and curiosity – but it will bring you better relationships and higher performing teams.  


Categories: Change