Coaching for Performance

Many managers find coaching and feedback with their staff to be one of the most challenging aspects of their job –frequently due to a lack of support or training for how to handle this essential aspect of management. In this module, the role and purpose of performance management will be explored, including techniques for delivering feedback and developing effective coaching practices.

Objectives

  • Understand the cycle of performance feedback
  • Be informed about the role and structure of effective performance evaluation
  • Use techniques for providing meaningful feedback, informally and formally
  • Address performance improvement

An Overview of Coaching and Feedback

Staff development includes an ongoing process of coaching toward desired performance, and providing constructive feedback regarding areas the staff member can strengthen to be more effective. The coaching and feedback cycle, also termed the performance management process, often includes an annual employee performance appraisal, a written record of the employee’s performance. Important features of the performance management process are ongoing coaching and feedback for staff to support development of new skills, recognition of achievement, and suggestions for performance improvement. Effective performance management links organizational goals with individual goals, and serves as a valuable tool to communicate the types of behaviors and work accomplishments that are valued and rewarded (Aguinis, Joo, & Gottfredson, 2011). In order for the process to be effective, supervisors and managers must be skilled in the art of providing feedback and coaching.

Performance Management and Performance Appraisals

Performance management has been defined as a continuous process of identifying, measuring and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the strategic goals of the organization (Agiunis, 2009). For example, if  the focus of a youth development program is to support cultural pride for Latino youth participants, individual staff performance measures may include the extent to which planned activities are reflective of and promote a positive sense of cultural identity, and the level of respect  staff demonstrate toward youth. This continual process between managers and employees includes setting goals and objectives, measuring performance toward those goals, and giving and receiving coaching and feedback. Supervisors and managers are in a position to support the development of the goals along with the employee, as well as to help identify the results and behaviors that are consistent with the organization’s values and mission. Coaches, external to the organization, can also provide this valuable staff development.

Often, organizations engage in a performance appraisal process that is conducted as a one-time only event each year, missing important opportunities to fully develop a meaningful and effective approach to staff coaching and development. Performance appraisals should not be simply a required form to be completed for human resources, but rather, can be a process that benefits both the organization and individual staff members. When feedback and discussion with staff to set and measure progress toward mutually agreed upon goals are ongoing, managers and staff tend to benefit in several ways:

Benefits of Well-executed Performance Management Process

(Aguinis, Yoo, & Gottfredson, 2011)

Creating a Foundation for Coaching

Effective coaching and feedback begins with building a trusting relationship between supervisor or coach, and staff. In a supervisory role, begin on the first day of employment by introducing staff to colleagues, explain the role of their position and how it connects with other positions in the organization, and describe the organization’s mission and values to ensure that the staff member understands his or her role in achieving that mission. In addition, be sure to take time to describe your approach to coaching. The following suggestions are offered as a way to maximize your efforts to develop a foundation for effective coaching:

Schedule a Regular Time to Meet

Be consistent in establishing a scheduled time to meet with staff—for example, a weekly meeting. The length of time to meet should be enough to cover a planned agenda of items, and include time for staff to share their thoughts, ask questions and seek information.

Make the Process Interactive

Invite staff to share their impressions of their progress toward goals, and their suggestions for how to improve the process toward reaching the goals. Ensure that the conversation is a two-way interaction, and not limited to staff being strictly on the receiving end of the discussion.

Create an ‘Open-Door’ Policy

Be available for staff to approach you with questions, or informal updates or coaching. Communicate your approachability to encourage staff to contact you if needed in-between scheduled supervision meetings. Support this further by proactively briefly ‘checking in’ with staff in-between meetings to build or continue rapport.

Encourage Problem-Solving and Risk Taking

Staff grow in their roles and become more confident when they have autonomy to work through a challenging situation, or try something new in programming. Develop an approach in which you solicit staff’s approach to the situation before offering your own ideas.

Developing the Coaching Plan

In the coaching relationship, building trust is essential, and requires both skill and time to develop. A coach must create an environment that feels safe and constructive for learning, while at the same time, providing corrective feedback when needed. Also, structuring a plan for feedback and coaching is important, to ensure that both coach and staff are in alignment regarding their work together.


Assist staff to identify over-arching or longer-term goals first; then, develop a set of shorter-term goals that help contribute to the achievement of the larger, longer-term goals. Include time-frames for projected goal completion, taking time to discuss and be sure that they are realistic and achievable.


At the beginning of the coaching relationship, focus on the attainment of more readily attainable goals first, and progress toward more challenging goals as the relationship progresses. When readily attainable goals are completed first, they create progress toward the longer-term goals, and build motivation to continue.


It is important for staff to believe in their capacity to meet the established goals, and at the same time, watch for overconfidence in their abilities. Using the ‘easy win’ or ‘ramped up’ approach described above has been found to be an effective strategy to help build confidence and increase a sense of self-efficacy (Gregory, Beck and Carr, 2011). Ask staff to identify strengths, strategies and techniques that they used successfully toward the smaller goals as a way to help reinforce those moving toward the larger goals.


Create an environment that facilitates open dialogue and support a sense of safety for staff. Ensure that meetings are held in a location that offers privacy from others, and freedom from unnecessary distractions. Agree with staff to refrain from interruptions by phone or email during the session. For virtual coaching, using technology such as Skype, both parties should agree to be in a quiet and private location for the session.

Delivering Feedback

When coaching is successful, staff receive feedback that can lead to increased performance and help them develop tools to pursue their own development once the coaching process ends (Gregory, Beck, and Carr, 2011). In the case of ongoing coaching in a supervision context, effective coaching can help staff to take a more active role in their own development. The process of effective coaching involves presenting feedback that focuses on strengths as well as areas of development or correction. The way in which feedback is presented can have a significant effect on staff performance (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996).

Focus feedback on the task, not the person

When providing feedback, it is important to focus on the goal or the task, and not on the individual. This is important regardless of whether the feedback is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. Research indicates that when feedback is directed toward the person instead of the task or goal, future performance tends to decrease, as the attention is directed away from the project goal, and becomes internally focused toward self-goals (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996).

Person-focused feedback:
“You are one of our top performers in program development.”

Task-focused feedback:
“The new art program reached the enrollment goal. Great work developing the recruitment strategy.”

Be specific

Feedback is best received when it is specific and direct. Clear and specific positive feedback is a tool for recognition of staff’s efforts and encourages continuation of the strategy, process, or tools to accomplish future goals. When providing corrective feedback, being specific helps staff identify clear actions for reaching the goal.

Feedback is an evaluative process. It is most helpful for the person receiving feedback to receive feedback about the process, rather than the outcome (Gregory, Beck and Carr, 2011).

Outcome feedback: Less effective
“You didn’t have control over the class during that last activity.”

Process feedback: More effective
“Today when you began the group activity, I noticed you could have been more specific with the class about your expectations, and could have built in time to let them ask questions about the activity before they began.”  

Focus on strengths …

Begin the feedback discussion by focusing on strengths in performance, or, on what is going well toward the goal. Frequently, in an effort to improve performance, we train our observations and feedback toward an improvement-oriented direction, which often translates into corrective suggestions. Identify what is working well, and build discussion on how those strategies can be built upon further to help reach the goal.

Use self-reflection as a feedback tool…

Encourage staff to reflect on progress as a way to begin the coaching discussion. Facilitate this by asking questions to support this process—for example, ‘What do you think the strengths are in the process so far?’ or ‘What seems to be working well?’ Provide clear, descriptive feedback, and ask staff what they need to learn or master in order to build on strengths. Together, identify or create opportunities to develop the skills or knowledge to build on these strengths.

Performance Appraisals

Although there are mixed reviews in management literature about the effectiveness of performance appraisal reviews (Aguinis, Joo, and Gottfredson, 2011; Mone, Eisenger, Guggenheim, Price and Stine, 2011), most studies point to ongoing feedback and coaching for employees throughout the year as one of the most important elements for the successful use of a performance appraisal system.

Performance appraisals are a documented record of employee performance used to distribute rewards, or document the need for improvement. The appraisal is conducted by a manager, supervisor, or someone in a higher level position than the staff member whose performance is being evaluated. While coaching may be a part of this process, performance appraisal differs from coaching in that coaching does not require a hierarchal relationship, and often, may be more effectively received when a hierarchal relationship is not involved.

Research indicates that when performance appraisal processes are seen as fair, staff are more likely to be engaged (Mone, Eisinger, Guggenheim, Price and Stein, 2011). If your organization currently uses a performance appraisal process to evaluate staff performance, review your organization’s current process to determine if these elements are in place:

  • The process includes and encourages two-way dialogue between managers and staff
  • Performance criteria are clear, and have corresponding clear metrics
  • There is a transparent linkage between criteria, metrics, and promotion and increased compensation opportunities within the organization
  • Staff input is solicited and valued in the process
  • Performance measures are based on defined goals and expectations outlined in the job description

Developing a Performance Improvement Plan

One of the most challenging aspects of holding a management or supervisory role is dealing with performance improvement issues. While the idea of the conversation can seem uncomfortable for both parties, it is important to address performance issues as soon as they arise through the ongoing feedback process. Often, this is enough to support staff to correct the issues that may be lowering their performance.

When a formal performance improvement plan is necessary, begin by defining the issue clearly. Is it an issue that requires skill development or is it an issue that involves behavioral change? Next, identify what the specific desired skills or behaviors are that are required for successful performance. Develop goals with staff to measure progress toward the identified skill or behavior change. Utilize the tools for coaching outlined earlier in the module as a way to keep communication and feedback lines open.

Module Review

This module covered several key issues related to effective coaching including:

  • Performance management is an ongoing process of providing coaching and feedback to support development of new skills, recognition of achievement, and suggestions for performance improvement.
  • Effective coaching includes regularly scheduled sessions, development of trust, two-way discussion, and encouragement toward established goals.
  • Effective coaching involves a process of specific, task-focused feedback that acknowledges strengths and seeks to build upon them

Coaching for Performance Quiz

quiz-graphic

References

1 Aguinis, H., Joo, H., and Gottfredson, R.K. (2011). Why we hate performance management—and why we should love it. Business Horizons, (54), 503-507.

2 Gravina, N.E., and Siers, B.P. (2011). Square pegs and round holes: Ruminations on the relationship between performance appraisal and performance management. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 31, 277-287.

3 Gregory, J.B.,  Beck, J.W., and Carr, A.E. (2011). Goals, feedback, and self-regulation: Control theory as a natural framework for executive coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(1), 26-38.

4 Harms, P.L., and Roebuck, D.B. (2010). Teaching the art and craft of giving and receiving feedback. Business Communication Quarterly, 73(4), 413-431.

5 Mone, E., Eisinger, C., Guggenheim, K., Price, B., and Stine, C. (2011). Performance management at the wheel: Driving employee engagement in organizations. Journal of Business Psychology, 26, 205-212.

Module Acknowledgements

Author: Leslie Langbert, MSW, RYT 

Reviewers: Bryna Koch, MPH, Christine Bracamonte Wiggs, MPH, MS and Lynne Borden, Ph.D

Formatting Editors: Sandra Fletcher, MS, Pranav Gidwani and Kaustubh Khole

Web Developers:  Troy Dean and Will Simpson