How To Use Coaching Conversations to Boost Employee Engagement

November 24, 2022

by Lisa Martin

Recent workforce research has revealed that just 21% of employees feel engaged at work, while on the management side a staggering 69% of managers are not comfortable communicating with their own employees.

Disengagement is costing organizations the equivalent of 18% of an employee’s annual salary in lost productivity a year—the impact of leadership styles on employee retention and engagement can not be underestimated.

If we’re to improve these figures, working on leadership team building and coaching skills for managers and supervisors is critical.

→ If you’ve ever noticed an employee getting stuck on a task or falling behind on a project, but haven’t known how to help them without seeming pushy: You need workplace coaching skills.

→ If an employee has complained about something happening at work but you haven’t known how best to solve the problem: You need workplace coaching skills.

Having a coaching conversation is a great starting point and one of the best and most effective ways to begin problem-solving with an employee who's struggling.

Coaching conversations help you:

  • Learn more about what the employee is struggling with
  • Get to the root of an issue in a respectful manner
  • Help you work collaboratively to come up with a solution and create an action plan

So today, let’s get a head start on improving employee engagement and learn how to start a coaching conversation in 5 steps.

Step 1: Ask a jumpstart question that sets the stage like “What are you working on right now?” Or “What’s on your mind?”

If you see someone at work struggling, you want to approach them kindly and carefully. It is in these moments people can be very vulnerable and sensitive to criticism.

Many leaders may approach and ask something like “What’s happening?”, “Did something happen?” or “Why did you do that?”

The problem with these questions is it puts the employee on the defensive. They are already stressed thinking about an excuse for why they are struggling.

Instead, you want to open with a welcoming question such as “What’s on your mind?”, or “What are you working on right now?” These questions open the door for them to express their concerns without feeling like they are on the defensive.

Step 2: Teammate answers

Teammates will usually answer with the name of the project, person, or situation.

Step 3: Be quiet and mindfully listen to their answer

The next important step is to listen mindfully to the employee’s answer.

You need to be listening for any queues as to what they could be struggling with currently.

Some will give this away quickly, while others will be more hidden about their current struggles. But by mindfully listening to their answer, you’ll start painting a picture as to where the problems lie.

Based on their answer, you’ll also be able to curiously ask a follow-up question that digs deeper into their current situation.

Once again, this question needs to be welcoming so it doesn't put the employee on the defensive.

Step 4: Do not give advice

Throughout the entirety of the coaching conversation and especially at the beginning, it's critical to not give advice.

It’s important in a coaching conversation for the person you’re speaking with to come up with their own solutions to their problems, not use anyone else’s. Helping them realize they are capable of solving these complex issues is key to improving employee engagement.

If you do choose to give advice, now they no longer need to come up with their own solution and instead have an easier way out. Advice-giving can also make people feel very unheard and even apathetic towards their leaders as they aren’t letting them come up with their own solutions.

Step 5: Ask “Would you like some coaching on that?” and/or “Where should we start?”

Now is when you make the official transition to having a coaching conversation.

They don’t know this, but since you started having this check-in, you’ve been coaching them.

But now you are asking for permission to take some time out of both of your days to work together and solve the problem they’re currently facing.

By starting the conversation off in a welcoming manner, and asking powerful questions, you will have proven to the employee that you genuinely care and are there to help. This will make them much more likely to say “yes” to continuing the conversation with you and working towards a solution.

Now you’re all ready to have that powerful coaching conversation with an employee.

Providing leadership team building and coaching skills for all managers and supervisors is the most powerful way to boost employee engagement, team performance and ultimately your organization’s financial results.

Lisa Martin has managed teams, owned her own companies, been the youngest and only female partner/board member in a national firm and written 5 books on leadership. As an executive coach, she’s coached thousands of leaders across hundreds of organizations.

She’s created The Coach-Like Leader Experience™, a whole new style of blended learning to bring coaching fundamentals to organizations across the globe.