ASSOCIATES (2010, November, v. 17, no. 2)


Coaching in the Workplace

Ben Hogben
Access Services Manager
Ithaca College Library, NY

“The most important relationship employees have is with their manager. Studies show that even when work conditions are less than ideal, employees stay with an organization if they have a good relationship with the manager.”
Payne, V. (2007), p. 109

Supervise and Coach

If you supervise staff or student assistants, you may be familiar with the traditional model of handling performance concerns; verbal warning, written warning and then possibly termination. When discussing performance concerns with employees, there is a tool that supervisors can use to improve an employee’s awareness and then possibly improve their performance. This tool is known as coaching.

We may be familiar with coaching in the field of sports, such as football or softball, however there is also executive, employee, life and health and wellness coaches, to name just a few. Emerson and Loehr, (2008), states that coaching is a “multibillion-dollar-a-year industry and a situation in which everyone wants a coach.” Training for coaches can be provided by either, a home-study course, tele-course over the phone, in person or by personal reading and research. Coach training typically focuses on a specific skill set such as active listening, communication, awareness, action and follows up.

Does coaching take time?

Yes. Coaching means that we make an investment of time in our employees. As managers and supervisors, we may be tempted to always “fix” a problem so that work can then return to normal. With coaching, the “fix” can be bringing an employee to a new awareness of a situation. Then, helping staff find resources to solve challenges and become more valuable to the organization. When we hire someone to work for us, they not only represent the organization, they are a reflection of the organizations goals, mission and contribution to the workforce. It is important to train, coach, and retain our employees.

What skill is important for coaching?

Communication. Coaches probe for information, however they don’t judge. Coaches listen for repeated phrases, which may indicate a concern for their colleague, though they do not interrupt with their own viewpoints or personal vignettes. Coaches don’t ask the question “why” or look for blame; they encourage their colleague to look for alternatives to a situation and talk about the possibilities. Coaching involves active listening, reframing, probing, asking the employee to create an action plan and then follow up with future coaching sessions.

What are some of the basics of coaching?

Approach. Ability. Access (Adapted from Emerson, B. and Loehr, A. (2008). A Manager‘s Guide To Coaching. New York, New York: AMACOM). When there is a performance concern with an employee, ask the question if the concern has to do with the employee’s approach to a situation. Do they view a situation either positively or negatively? Ability. Do they have the skills needed to complete a task? Access. Do they have access to the resources available to complete a task? Consider the following situation. One of your employees is responsible for submitting time sheets every Wednesday by 5 pm. This employee sometimes doesn’t turn them in until Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. When you have a coaching conversation with the employee about the deadline, they tell you that the system is often down and they can’t log-in until Thursday or, sometimes Friday. Is this situation their approach, ability or (lack of) access?

Another employee is expected to upload circulation statistics to your organization’s server by the first of each month. They did this task on the first month, but haven’t done it for the current month. When you have a coaching conversation with the employee regarding this expectation, they tell you that, although they were shown this procedure once, they had forgotten how to do it the following month. Does this situation involve approach, ability or access?

Are there situations where one shouldn’t be coached?

Yes. For example, you notice that an employee’s performance has declined over the past few weeks. When you have a coaching conversation with that person, they disclose that they may have a serious illness and have been distracted with the possible treatment and outcome. This would not be a coaching situation. You could refer the employee to either the Human Resources department or the company’s Employee Assistance Program.

Can anyone learn to coach?

Coaching, like supervising, is a skill. Some are comfortable with supervising and monitoring the work of others, and then there are some who may be more comfortable with non-supervisory roles. There are some who have a passion for coaching others, and then some who are just as happy to be coached. Coaching involves listening and engaging with another person, but most importantly shows the other person that we care about their performance in the organization. Coaching allows us to see our staff or student assistants develop professionally as employees.

How can one learn more about coaching?

Reading. I have included a bibliography to get you started. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are many ways to obtain training. If you are interested in training as a coach, choose a program that has the curriculum you are interested in and then consider your preferred learning style such as in-person or home study. There are also organizations which teach coaching methods and provide coaching support to supervisors such as Productivity Leadership Systems. You can visit them at:


Crane, T. (2009) The Heart Of Coaching: Using Transformational Coaching To Create A High-Performance Coaching Culture. San Diego, California: FTA Press.

Emerson, B. and Loehr, A. (2008). A Manager‘s Guide To Coaching. New York, New York: AMACOM.

Payne, V. (2007) Coaching for High Performance, New York, New York: American Management Association.

Stone, D., Patton, B. and Heen, S. (2000) Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most. New York, New York: Penguin Books.

Williams, P. and Menendez, D. (2007) Becoming A Professional Life Coach: Lessons From The Institute For Life Coach Training. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Ben holds an Associate’s degree in Human Services, a BA in Gerontology, and a certificate in Coaching for High Performance from the American Management Association. He is a coach for the Ithaca College Supervisory Academy.