Today’s professional sports teams protect their investments. When they’ve paid, say, $110 million for a player, they don’t give up on him easily if he goes into a slump.

What do they do? Berate and humiliate him? Make him run stadium steps until he drops?

No. Usually, they coach him. And arguably, the most successful teams boast the most skillful coaches.

State of the team
Which invites the question: What’s the state of your team?

Do your managers know how to coach your talent so as to minimize their slumps, maximize their hot streaks and make them want to stay with the team for a long time?

The comparison isn’t outlandish. You may not spend multi-millions on your best people, but you know turnover can easily cost a year’s salary – not to mention the headaches of recruiting and re-recruiting.

A matter of training
As an HR pro, you probably either head up or have a lot of say in your company’s training efforts. So it’s up to you to ensure line managers acquire the coaching skills they need to keep valued employees growing, and put them back on track if they get off.

To help you, we’ll lay out a five-step coaching method you can share with managers – and maybe use yourself.

And by the way: Coaching isn’t teaching – rather, it’s helping a person learn by unlocking her potential. Coaching contains elements of training, psychotherapy, mentoring and consulting, but isn’t identical to any of these.

The method:

1. Create a safe environment
A coaching conversation needs a safe and trusting environment, to encourage communication and foster a willingness to try new things.

The coach creates this atmosphere by:

  • Seeking permission: “Would you like some coaching in this area?”
  • Stressing confidentiality: “Everything we discuss will remain 100% confidential.” (Remember, this isn’t an evaluation or a disciplinary session.)
  • Eliciting concerns: “Do you have any issues about our coaching?”

2. Decide agenda and outcome
The employee may want to choose the topic, or the manager may see a need for coaching in a specific area.

In the latter case, the manager asks the employee – ahead of time, not on the spot – if he’d like to be coached on the topic.

The desired outcome is decided at the start. The manager can ask the employee what outcome she desires, or suggest an outcome the manager would like to see.

3. Explore
The next step is for the coach to gain a broad and deep understanding of the employee’s situation.

This can be accomplished by open-ended questioning, using phrases like:

  • “Can you describe the situation now?”
  • “Describe how you want it to be.”
  • “What have you tried so far?”
  • “What has/hasn’t worked?”
  • “What strengths do you have that you can apply?”

DON’T ask “Why,” which can make the employee defensive.

4. Collaborate and solve
Now the coach and employee are ready to generate ideas and solutions. Here, too, the key lies in open-ended questioning. The coach can ask:

  • “What are three possible or impossible solutions?”
  • “What obstacles might get in the way, and how can we reduce them?”
  • “What else would make it better or easier?”
  • “What’s most important to you here?”

Note: Often the coach won’t give advice, but will let the employee figure out a solution. If advice is called for, the coach should seek permission to give it.

5. Plan for action and support
The idea of coaching is to drive observable change.

So in the last stage, the coach moves the employee to action steps, by asking questions like:

  • “Which of the solutions you’ve come up with are you ready to act on?”
  • “By when will you take these actions?”
  • “What support will you need to follow through?”

Source: Colleen Bracken of Bracken Leadership,

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