Without question, retaining top talent today requires investing in the development of great managers. They are the key to employee engagement, satisfaction and retention. After all, employee engagement is rooted in emotional factors, and managers, their coaching effectiveness and the coaching culture they create can make or break those emotional ties.

Studies consistently show that manager behavior is a significant driver of employees leaving — or staying at — companies. According to research from the MIT SMR/Glassdoor Culture 500, toxic work culture is the biggest factor that leads to people quitting, and is ten times more important than pay in predicting turnover. 

It would follow, then, that increasing employee coaching effectiveness is one of the major tools in the toolbox to help solve these problems.

Why Does an Employee Coaching Culture Matter? 

It’s proven that effective employee coaching improves performance, increases retention, creates higher levels of employee engagement and provides tools and proven processes for developing people both in-the-moment and in the longer term coaching engagement.

The key is creating an environment of trust and openness, where people feel supported and encouraged to learn, grow and discover what matters most to them and how they can apply their talents to achieve more — for themselves, their clients and the company.

This is why one of the cardinal rules of effective coaching is to listen more than you speak. Great managers — and great coaches — understand that you won’t be able to empower and motivate people to reach their full potential if you’re doing all the talking and following an outdated command-and-control, micromanagement approach. People have to identify and own their goals personally in order to truly commit to them. They also have to go through a process of discovery to figure out why those goals are meaningful and important to them, and why it’s worth it for them to do the work it will take to achieve them.

Great Employee Coaching Starts with Great Questioning

Of course, this doesn’t mean the coach just sits there in silence, waiting for the employee to open up about what’s on their mind, what they want to accomplish and what’s holding them back. One of the hallmarks of coaching effectiveness and the most essential skill great coaches bring to the table is the ability to ask great questions — and actually listen to the answers.

The right questions can help someone tap into their inner motivations, ones they may not even have been consciously aware of. Great coaching questions also enable a person to shift perspectives and think differently about any barriers or problems they’re facing and how they might approach them in new ways to get better results.

When done consistently and effectively, these kinds of conversations are incredibly powerful, and in multiple ways. They forge stronger bonds and greater trust between employees and their managers. Why is that so important? Because trust in leaders is the biggest factor in improving employee engagement, but building that trust isn’t a box leaders can check off and move on from. It’s an ongoing commitment that starts with creating a safe environment and being transparent and authentic.

These conversations also help the employee connect their personal goals more clearly with their professional ones, and they allow employees to take accountability for their performance and shape their futures with intention and purpose. Effective employee coaching conversations involve setting clear expectations, regularly reviewing and evaluating those expectations and following through together on commitments.

All of these things lead to better engagement, retention and business results. One study found that a whopping 52% of employees who left their company believed that their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving. Regular coaching and asking the type of effective coaching questions that uncover concerns and frustrations early and allow for honest, open dialogue about what it takes to solve them just might be the answer.

The big question, then, is what kinds of coaching questions will get you there? Let’s look at what makes a good coaching question, as well as a useful tool for thinking through the questioning process and having productive coaching conversations with your team members.

Asking High-Impact Coaching Questions

Good coaching questions are much like good sales questions: They’re open-ended and designed with a goal of helping the person solve their problems. Like a great salesperson, a great coach goes into the conversation with a mindset of wanting to give the employee the space to pause and think about what’s most important to them. They refrain from interjecting their own thoughts as much as possible, and they ask questions that bring about an “aha” moment, one that allows the employee to really get to the core of what their challenges and issues are—and see the opportunity costs of not taking action.

Writing down a few questions that will encourage people to think and discover what you want them to learn is one way to help people raise their expectations to what they’re capable of (and create more energetic, engaging coaching discussions as a result). Maximizing coaching effectiveness starts with sparking meaningful coaching conversations and guiding employees through their own discovery process; we use a model called the GAP Model as a framework for developing questions. By following this model, adapted to the Behavior Style of the employee, you’ll help your people uncover new insights and perspectives about what they want to achieve and why, and what they need to do to get there.

What’s the current situation? The GAP Model starts with questions that will help your employees think through where they are now with their performance, their progress to goals and their job overall.

Remember, this isn’t a performance review, it’s a coaching conversation- a true two-way dialogue. The goal is to get your employees to open up about what they’re thinking and feeling about where they are today. You have to help them discover the answers through the questions that you ask.

Examples of current situation questions include:

  • What do you love most about your job?
  • What frustrates you about your job?
  • How do you prepare for your sales calls?
  • What is your strategy for ABC Company?
  • What step in the sales process are you in with ABC Company?

What’s the desired situation? The next step is to spark conversation about their ideal future — where the person would like their performance to be. Your questions should help them formulate and articulate what that desired situation looks like in specific terms.

Examples of desired situation questions include:

  • What do you want to be doing with our company in three years?
  • How much [product/service] do you want to sell to ABC Company this year?
  • Where can you improve as it relates to pre-call planning?
  • Where should you be in the sales process with ABC Company in three months?

What are the risks or concerns? While the current and desired situation questions get to the more logical sides of decision-making, most people don’t change based on logic alone. Risk/consequence questions address the emotional aspects by helping the employee recognize what it’s going to cost them if they simply stay where they are in the current situation.

Examples of risk/concerns questions include:

  • What is the risk of continuing down your current path?
  • What is the impact on your family if you don’t accomplish that goal?
  • If you don’t do anything differently, what are the odds of achieving that goal?
  • What is the negative impact on your customer if they aren’t using [products/services of our caliber]?

What are the benefits and rewards? These are also questions that get at the emotional reasons, the why of changing and considering new possibilities. To help employees see the value of that future they laid out, ask questions that focus on the benefits and what will improve for them, their customers and others if they move from the current to the desired situation.

Examples of benefits and rewards questions include:

  • How would achieving that benefit you?
  • How would accomplishing that help the customer?
  • How would obtaining that impact your ability to reach your 3-year strategic goal?
  • How would doing that benefit your family?

Urgency/Importance: People will put more energy and focus into the things that are important and meaningful to them. At the same time, everything can’t be a number one priority. Urgency/importance questions will help your employees gauge for themselves the relative urgency and importance of their goals in the context of moving from the current to the desired situation. These questions should also help them start to prioritize and set action steps to achieve their most important goals.

Examples of urgency/rewards questions include:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how important is it for you to reach that goal?
  • How does this fit into your other priorities?
  • How much time will you spend on achieving this daily/weekly/monthly?
  • What are you will to start doing/stop doing in order to achieve this?

Set the Stage for Great Coaching Conversations

Listening is essential when coaching your employees, but you have to set the stage first with effective coaching questions. Taking the time to prepare a few questions prior to the coaching conversation will help advance the discussion toward reflection and discovery and ultimately improve coaching effectiveness.

A few examples of these kinds of questions include:

  • What are your top commitments in your role for this coming year? How can I best support your pursuit of those?
  • You have a lot on your plate at the moment. What obstacles do you think you might face as you work toward your goal?
  • In order to achieve this goal, what smaller sub-goals will you need to hit? What actions can you take this week to get started on making progress?
  • What could you do that’s a stretch for you at the moment but would be a breakthrough for you?
  • How can I hold you accountable toward the progress you’ve identified as important without it feeling like you’re being micromanaged?

As you think about your coaching approach, here are some key questioning practices to keep in mind:

  • Ask meaningful, open-ended questions about their needs, challenges and goals.
  • Gain insight into their emotions as well as facts.
  • Understand their full perspective before sharing your own.

Open the door to a productive coaching conversation, and your employees will be empowered to take the reins on their performance and own their goals. That will translate into less time you have to spend keeping tabs on their day-to-day tasks and managing activity levels.

Best of all, by believing in your employees, challenging them to think differently about their goals and helping them paint a picture of what’s possible for them to achieve, you will enable them to see a future that they may not have realized on their own. It’s how winning coaches develop positive, engaged team members who know that they can move past the inevitable plateaus we all face and will rise up to new challenges with confidence.

The key to stemming the tide of things like “quiet quitting” could very well be your managers- especially your middle tier of leaders. If it’s true that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers” then companies that invest in helping those managers up-skill so they can engage, communicate with, support and develop those on their teams are the ones that will thrive.

About the Author
Brian Snader

Vice President, Client Development

For over 15 years Brian Snader has brought his passion for engaging our clients to achieve their desired performance outcomes....
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