Your staff are one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable, assets your company has. Without them, your business is going nowhere, as they are the ones who do most of the work and make things happen. It follows that the better your staff is performing, the better your business is performing, and efficient staff can really help to give your business an edge over the competition.

In the past, getting employees to perform involved a disciplinarian approach. People had to meet expectations or else they would find themselves in trouble with the boss, and it might even have resulted in them losing their job altogether.

Nowadays, however, we know better. We now know that the disciplinarian approach is not as effective as a more measured approach that involves coaching people rather than commanding them.

In a study of more than 3,100 US workplaces, a 10% increase in educational development and performance coaching produced an 6% gain in productivity. This shows that people naturally respond to proper coaching with better results. This is not only in terms of meeting performance targets but also in terms of their communication skills and their relationship with colleagues and management. Performance coaching can also help make employees happier working with you, and this can help you retain your most talented people.

There are several key things to take into consideration to help make performance coaching more effective.

Communicate with your employees

The importance of communication cannot be stressed enough, and this applies to all employees. It is important that your team is always supplied with the information they need and that they always understand what is expected of them.

Make sure everybody is made aware of important updates or changes in processes. Distribute regular newsletters and, depending on the nature of your business, consider using digital signage to help keep everybody up to date.

Identify the issue

Are you coaching because of a specific performance issue that needs to be addressed? If so, then the first step is to identify the issue with the employee. Sit down with them – either in-person or via conference calling – highlight the issue, and let them know this is the reason for the coaching.

It is important to try and avoid sounding judgmental when doing so. Avoid using subjective language when mentioning negatives and stick to objective facts instead. For example, the employee may not be hitting targets, and you should use this information to help make the issue clear.

Bear in mind it is important to not make the employee feel attacked, otherwise they might turn defensive and become less cooperative. Let them know that coaching is a standard procedure and that they are not being singled out. It is also there to help further their own career and not only to benefit the company.

Give credit where credit’s due

When coaching, it is important to highlight where the employee is doing well. Again, it is important to encourage them to be open and honest with you, and letting them know that their efforts are appreciated will go a long way to achieving this. It is also important to make sure any praise is genuine. If it isn’t, then the employee is likely to recognize dishonesty and this can cause distrust in you.

Adopt an attitude of collaboration

With the issue identified, it is then important to work ‘with’ the employee as much as possible. Allow them to speak and be open and, more importantly, listen. It might be that they have a genuine reason for not performing as they should. Listening will also sometimes help reveal where the employee is lacking in training.

Bear in mind also that people have different strengths and weaknesses and different personalities. Some people, for example, are just not comfortable feeling as though other people can hear their phone conversations. While it might not be something that is a problem for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a genuine concern for somebody else. Once you acknowledge something that is holding a person back, you can then set about seeking a solution for the problem.

An important strategy to use at this stage is to ask the employee what they think they could be doing themselves to help the situation. When the employee answers, it means that they are personally acknowledging where they are lacking – they are owning it. Once they have done this it becomes a lot easier for progress to be made.

Discuss the solution

If you or the employee are able to suggest a solution, you should discuss it together. In the example of an employee who is a little shy on the phone, consider moving them to a quieter part of the office if possible. This might make them feel less self-conscious and more confident when on the phone again.

It is important that you remind the employee that you do need to see improvement. Reasonable targets should be set that both parties agree to, and the employee should be informed that they are expected to meet those targets. But try to do so in an encouraging way rather than in an authoritative way. Remember that you want them open and cooperative, not closed and awkward.

Coaching is ongoing

Performance coaching should not be a one-off meeting. It is an ongoing endeavor where you should continue to work with the employee. Continue to encourage them to speak up and make sure you listen and react accordingly. Continue to give credit while also highlighting where improvements can be made.

Ideally, you should arrange occasional meetings with the employee and speak with them about their progress. Remember also that performance coaching is not just about the ‘problem’ employees – everybody can improve in some way. Even your best performers can benefit from coaching, and they will likely welcome efforts that help to further their career.

Remember to coach rather than command

Bear in mind that the purpose of coaching is to communicate, teach, and guide your employees. Create relationships with them and earn trust from them. It is important to have people working ‘with’ you rather than having people working ‘for’ you. You might have an office full of employees who are at the grindstone from start to finish, but they are probably not performing as well people who are genuinely enjoying their work.