Are your managers prepared to coach?

By Gale Mote / Guest Column

Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report reveals that only 33 percent of the American workforce is engaged, 51 percent are disengaged and 16 percent are actively disengaged.

In that same report, Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton offers this advice for increasing engagement and improving overall productivity: “Call an executive committee meeting and commit to transforming your workplace from old command and control to one of high development and ongoing coaching conversations.”

The Gallup report goes on to share the following statistics from employees:

  • 21 percent strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.
  • 13 percent strongly agree that leaders communicate effectively.
  • 20 percent strongly agree that they have had a conversation with their manager in the last six months about steps to help them reach their goals.
  • 26 percent strongly agree that the feedback they receive helps them do better work.


The missing link in effective performance management is more frequent, ongoing coaching conversations done well.

The definition of coaching that John Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett share in their book, “The Extraordinary Coach – How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow,” serves us well: “Interactions that help the individual being coached to expand awareness, discover superior solutions, and make and implement better decisions.”
Coaching isn’t giving advice, mentoring or offering performance feedback – although these conversations can easily and probably should turn into coaching conversations. While there are times when each of these is appropriate for a manager to offer his or her employees, they are often confused with coaching.

So what do managers need to do to be exceptional coaches?

First, focus on building a relationship with each of your associates. Take time to understand their strengths, weaknesses, limitations and fears. Know how they prefer to communicate and the best way for them to really “hear” the message. Connect on a human level – the coachee needs to know that their coach genuinely cares about him or her as a person.

Second, managers must develop a new mind- set, moving from “I order, they do” and “I give advice, they implement” to “I empower, they take initiative.” When you feel like making a statement, ask a question. Encourage risk taking and innovation – we all know how much we have learned from painful mistakes in our careers.

Trust employees to solve their own problems wherever possible. Why? Because the person closest to the issue is likely to have the best solution and employees will be more committed when they share in the process and own the result.

Finally, develop a process for engaging in meaningful coaching conversations and create a framework to help guide your interactions. The FUEL Model (Zenger and Stinnett) is practical and, with disciplined practice, yields positive results:

  • Frame the conversation – Identify the issue to discuss and determine the purpose of the conversation. “What is the most important thing we need to focus on?” Then agree on how to proceed.
  • Understand the current state – Explore the employee’s point of view, being careful about giving advice or expressing your own opinions too soon. “How do you see this situation?” “What makes this challenging?” “May I share some observations I have made?” Your goal here is to increase awareness – to help the employee look at the situation from all angles and gain clarity around the issue or what matters most.
  • Explore the desired state – Set goals and explore alternative solutions along with potential obstacles. “What would you like to accomplish?” “What are some approaches you might take?” “Could I offer a couple of thoughts?” “How will you tackle these obstacles?”
  • Lay out a success plan – Create a detailed, actionable plan and follow through to attain your goals. “What will your first steps be and when will you start?” “Who can support you moving forward?” “When should we touch base again?”


Managers carry the utmost responsibility for channeling and inspiring employee performance. Great coaches keep asking the question: “What could I say or do in this situation that would help this person succeed and grow?”

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at