Coaching Your Direct Reports For Performance

Have you ever had a supervisor or manager give you an ultimatum? “Do this or else!” If you have (we hope not), you probably felt less inclined to do whatever the task was or to perform at your best. That’s because getting direct reports to deliver outstanding results rarely comes from making demands. It might work in the short term, but it ultimately creates unhappiness and can be costly in the long term as good employees leave for other jobs or organisations.

Now, you can soften demands by making requests. But how do you ensure that your direct reports continue to perform and achieve results? Simply asking someone to do something doesn’t necessarily result in a high-quality work product or performance. 

That’s why Growth Leaders know it takes a more constructive approach to yield the best results. In other words, it’s better to coach your employees. 

What Is Coaching? 

Undoubtedly, most people know what a coach is on a general level. We usually compare coaching with someone who works with athletes, a business owner, or even someone who helps people live their best lives. 

Regardless of the context, though, an effective coach is someone who has the ability to create a safe space for (in)formal and trusted exchanges. A coach helps the coachee (the person being coached) by listening to them, asking questions, clarifying their goals and objectives, and understanding where they are today. By stimulating introspection, the coach guides the coachee in developing an action plan to realise the journey from the current state to the desired state. The coach is not there to judge nor to dictate. The most a coach can do is to make suggestions.

It’s important to note that a coach is different from a mentor. A mentor is somebody who has walked at least part of the mentee's trajectory and steers the mentee in advice to achieving his results based on the mentor’s experience.

Critical Ingredients to Effective Coaching

So, how do you coach your direct reports? In our experience, there are a handful of essential aspects to coaching that, when combined, can enormously impact your direct reports’ success. 

Hold Structured Coaching Sessions
The first step is to follow a structured, planned coaching session with a well-defined agenda organised around progress and accountability.

Establish Trust
In the first session, develop a set of agreements with the coachee. For instance, it’s essential to establish that the coaching session is a safe space and that whatever is said remains between you. You can add other elements that may be required for you to be as open as possible. This will empower your employees to feel comfortable presenting problems and providing feedback to you, enabling you to provide constructive feedback. 

Focus on Performance
In the following sessions, focus the discussion on performance. How is the employee working towards their previously stated goals? Of course, you will likely coach them on several other aspects of their job and tasks, but keep it aligned with achieving results. 

Identify Opportunities and Challenges
Help your coachee uncover potential blind spots, understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and identify opportunities. Use this as a springboard to figuring out the best way forward to achieve or improve the results.

The Coaching Process 

As discussed above, a coach does not dictate, nor do they judge or score. You are here to help the coachee obtain clarity, understand where they stand, and develop concrete steps towards progress. It is an opportunity for the coachee to gain control over their performance.

To help direct reports do this, we like to use the GROW framework when providing coaching. GROW stands for:

  • Goal: What are you looking to achieve?

  • Reality: What is the situation right now? Where do you stand and what is the gap towards the goal?

  • Opportunity: What opportunities will move the person towards their goal? What are the strengths that can contribute to that? 

  • Willingness to Grow: Are you willing to take the following steps towards progress and success, even if they make you uncomfortable?  

As you work through this framework with direct reports, remember that it's not your place to suggest to them the answers; your people need to come to the realisation themselves. But you should not suggest any answers to them. You might help them see blind spots and weaknesses by asking questions about certain situations, how they reacted to them, and what resulted from that reaction. You might ask them if they could redo it, what would be the better alternative. But at no time should you feed them the responses to these questions.  

Uncovering the Root Causes of Performance Issues 
During your coaching sessions, you might find that bad results might be due to a lack of knowledge, motivation, or not understanding the impact of the work. Maybe it’s because the person doesn't enjoy the work, or perhaps it’s because they have other aspirations. Whatever the case may be, these are examples of things you should dive into in order to understand why a direct report is underperforming, performing adequately, or overperforming. What you learn about them could serve you also in guiding others, of course, with maintaining respect for their privacy.

Setting SMART Goals and Assessing Belief in the Plan 
Once you've gone through the GROW framework with your employee, what’s next? If you've developed SMART goals, you can also assess to what extent the coachee believes in their plan. You can ask them to score their plan from 1 to 10, and then ask, “What would it take in order to increase that score by one point?” This can help uncover blockages or barriers they perceive.

Lastly, it’s important to agree on what the milestone the employee should achieve by the next coaching session. Of course, don't close the session until you ask if the coachee if they have anything to add.

Achieving Sustainable Results
There are many ways to have your people achieve results. We recommend coaching frequently because it generates accountability from within the employees themselves. We’ve found that if you take the time to celebrate successes and are there to guide you when times are difficult, this is the best way to achieve sustainable results and improve performance over time. 

But you must remember that you are not solely a coach but their leader. When employees ask for help, resources, or support needed to achieve their goals, it is your job to provide them with that support when it makes sense. 


Are you looking for help improving your team’s performance? We can help! Schedule a free clarity call to discuss how to measure and coach your direct reports and achieve your organisational goals.

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