Manager Skills Series: Effective Ways to Coach Employees

Guest post by Ken Burnett, VP/Director of Training and Business Development, Bank of American Fork

This series is written from experience and is part of Bank of American Fork’s management training program.  The program embraces the philosophy that management is a skill-based job, and managers need to learn specific skills to be successful.

An important but often overlooked part of managing employees is providing coaching and feedback. Training your employees once is not enough; it should be an ongoing process in which employees are regularly given feedback and opportunities for learning. Most coaching falls into two categories: “In-the-moment” feedback and structured coaching sessions.

 In-the-Moment Feedback          

“In-the-moment” feedback, or teachable moments, is best for immediately observed behaviors that you can praise or correct. This type of feedback is very effective in changing or reinforcing behavior because it occurs directly after the behavior, so it is fresh in the employee’s mind. The feedback should be casual in nature, friendly in approach and direct in content using the following approach:

1. Get the attention of the associate. “I noticed that you were submitting applications before you uploaded them.”

2. Get the associate to reflect on their behavior. Don’t be accusatory, but ask direct questions. “It could cause issues with the applications if the process isn’t followed correctly. Did you have any questions on that process?”

3. Be specific on the behavior change you want from the associate as well as a time frame. This should be a brief statement about stopping, starting or continuing the specific behavior.  A long explanation is not appropriate. “Going forward, please be sure to complete the application before it is loaded.  It really helps the customer.”

4. Reinforce the behavior. “Hey John, did you have any questions on that application process we discussed yesterday?”

Keep in mind that not all situations are appropriate for in-the-moment feedback, including the following:       

The situation is personal and may require some sensitivity

The employee is in a very public place

The topic is emotionally charged

You need to gather additional information

The coaching and feedback session may be a discipline session

Structured Coaching Sessions

Structured coaching sessions should occur as often as needed using the following approach:

1. The Foundation – Establish the basis for feedback. Set the tone for this important exchange as one of importance to both of you. Everyone should care about succeeding in the job and making a contribution to their team and organization. Demonstrate to your employee that you are discussing a performance issue (positive or negative) for the benefit of the organization.

2. The Description – Describe the observed behavior in a factual, objective, fair, and respectful manner. The most important part of this step is for the associate to have a clear understanding of the issue. Talk about the employee’s observed actions as objectively and clinically as possible using just the facts:

 — What happened?

Where did it happen?

When did it happen?

Who else was involved?

If you don’t have this information, you are not prepared for a fair and effective feedback session. Instead, you may be setting yourself up for an argument if the behavior is negative, or lack of clarity if the behavior is positive.

3. The Impact – Explain the impact of the action under discussion. Demonstrate to the person that there are positive or negative consequences for their actions. They may legitimately not have realized the effect of their actions or need to be reminded. Provide detailed costs, either positive or negative, tangible or intangible. The more specific you can be, the more likely your feedback will make a lasting impression and encourage meaningful commitment to improvement or reinforcement of a good behavior. 

4. The Other Perspective – Ask for and listen to your associate’s point of view. No matter how clear-cut you believe the situation to be, you must provide your associate an opportunity to explain and clarify, add new information, describe mitigating circumstances, and so on.

Assure your associates that you want to be fair and that you want to hear their account of the events and their viewpoint.

5. The Cause – Identify the cause(s) of the behavior. You have heard from the associate to get their side of the story. Now you need to make a determination regarding the cause of the performance issue. In determining the cause you should:

— Ask the employee for suggestions on how he or she could make lasting improvements to performance.

You should also factor in any mitigating circumstances mentioned by the associate before you can put a plan together to fix the performance issue. 

6. The Future – Agree on a future course of action. Impress on your employees that you are providing feedback to improve their performance in specific ways because you want them to be successful. Agree on specific improvements during a specified time period. By being specific, the associate can be accountable for the target improvements.  

7. The Pledge – Provide support for the improved/continued behavior. This is a developmental step intended to assist your associate with improved performance actions on a consistent basis going forward.

Candidly assess progress. Recognize progress and express your pleasure with it.  Encourage continued improvement. Repeat your commitment to being a partner in your associate’s development.


Ken Burnett is vice president/director of training and business development for Bank of American Fork. He is responsible for training nearly 300 employees on a variety of topics, including coaching and feedback for dozens of senior managers within the organization.


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