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An introduction to coaching

A coaching program normally identifies values and strengths, goals, changes needed, priorities, and action steps, and then provides continuing guidance and follow-up to direct progress and celebrate milestones. In the corporate setting, coaching generally relates to accomplishing organizational goals but also naturally involves personal issues as part of the process. For example, a manager who wants to become better at setting goals and motivating employees may first have to learn to become more assertive and communicate better.

What is coaching?

In this guide the emphasis is on in-house workplace coaching by managers, which can be an informal catching-the-moment event or more formally arranged. The term 'coaching' is often used to include people working with someone outside their workplace on their work, career and/or life; that kind of coaching is not dealt with in this guidance. Professional supervision, mentoring and counseling are other activities that can be confused with the coaching discussed here. Two basic premises of this guide should make the distinctions clear:

  • That coaching is an intrinsic part of the job of any manager responsible for other staff
  • The coaching takes place in a workplace setting.

What is not coaching?

Coaching, as presented here, is not:

  • Mentoring: This term describes a nurturing process in which a more skilled or more experienced person, serving as a role model, teaches, sponsors, encourages, and counsels a less skilled or less experienced person for the purpose of promoting the latter's professional and/or personal development. Mentoring involves primarily encouragement, listening with empathy, sharing experience and developing insight while acting as a sounding board.
  • Counseling/ Therapy: Here the focus is on underlying emotions and motivations, neither of which is an appropriate area of exploration within a workplace. In coaching key questions are around what to do, how to proceed and how to build on past experience rather than the underlying motivations of our actions.
  • Professional supervision/ coaching: This is most usually undertaken by social workers, counselors, therapists and others who work with people experiencing difficulty and/or crisis in their lives. The purpose of such supervision is to ensure safe practice in these settings as well as to allow for de-briefing, support and development.

Performance coaching


  • Goals focused on a defined/specific area of work
  • Typically short-term
  • Can be one-to-one or team based
  • Relationship based on work roles and achievement of specific goals
  • Coachee participation voluntary or required
  • Developmentally focussed (career/ performance goals)
  • Can be short, medium or long term
  • Typically one-to-one
  • Relationship based on ability of coach to provide expertise/ advice and referral
  • Coachee participation typically voluntary

Roles and responsibilities:

  • Coach is most typically a manager and coachee a staff member
  • Coach provides structure, direction, feedback, and identifies and facilitates opportunities for development
  • Coach plays key role, with coachee, in defining the outcomes
  • Coachee takes responsibility for job-related goals
  • Coach can be the manager, or someone else in or outside the workplace
  • Coach provides expertise, advice, feedback and suggests opportunities
  • Coachee takes primary responsibility for defining outcomes
  • Coachee takes responsibility for achieving career-related goals


  • Relatively defined/ structured process with start and end points
  • Focuses typically on building on strengths in doing the job
  • Coachee insights necessary
  • Can be structured or relatively unstructured
  • Focus on identification of, and working towards, career goals
  • Coachee insights fundamental

Critical skills:

  • Behaviorally-based analysis/ formulation of goal/s
  • Giving and receiving constructive feedback
  • Joint problem-solving around meeting work goals
  • Open questioning, listening and observation
  • Seeking constructive outcomes
  • Coach's ability to use authority of a manager
  • Coachee's ability to self-evaluate and receive feedback
  • Framework for analyzing and formulating career goals and how to achieve them
  • Giving and receiving constructive feedback
  • Joint problem-solving around meeting career goals
  • Open questioning, listening and observation
  • Working to coachee's goals
  • Ability to draw up realistic plan

Key outcomes:

  • Coachee has greater job satisfaction
  • Improved workplace relationships
  • Both better able to meet outputs
  • Coach has greater job satisfaction
  • Coachee clearer about career direction and how to progress
  • Coach has greater knowledge of staff potential

Adapted from an unpublished report 'Staff Development (Coaching and Mentoring)' by Carolyn Keall, 2002


Making coaching effective

Remember how people learn. Here is some generalized research into learning.

  • Sound-We remember 20% of what we hear
  • Sight (passive)-We remember 10% of what we read
  • Sight (active)-We remember 30% of what we see
  • Sight and sound-We remember 50% of what we see and hear
  • Sight, sound, and touch-We remember 80% of what we see, hear and feel

So, a simple structure for an 'ideal' on-the-job training session would be...

  • Explain 10% (hearing)
  • Demonstrate 20% (sight)
  • Coachee practice 70% (touch)

Take notice of individual learning preferences

There is a wealth of information available on different styles of learning. You can also ask an individual what their preferences are. A good rule of thumb is to use a variety of methods to present material and then ensure the coachee has opportunities to put into practice the ideas, skills, techniques, strategies, etc. they have learned.

Benefits of coaching

For the person being coached

  • Increased job satisfaction through achieving outputs more effectively
  • More opportunities to experience a range of activities
  • Constructive attention to short-falls
  • Clear ideas of career progression options
  • Focused training/ learning opportunities
  • Increased opportunities for learning suited to the individual
  • Enhanced advancement opportunities
  • Potential for better working relationships with colleagues.

For the coach (leader)

  • Increased effectiveness in work group outputs;
  • Less need for crisis management;
  • Staff motivated to meet new challenges;
  • Performance concerns dealt with promptly and constructively;
  • Well-motivated staff with career plans;
  • Staff development time - for both performance and career - effectively used;
  • Development of own staff management skills and abilities;
  • Potential for better working relationships among and with staff; and
  • Increased job satisfaction.

For the organization

  • More people doing a better job, therefore more effective outcomes
  • Managers developing their management abilities
  • Less need for crisis management
  • Employees more informed about career prospects
  • Improvement in morale
  • Potential for enhanced workplace relationships
  • When good coaching is widespread the whole organization can learn new things more quickly, thereby adapting to change more effectively
  • Higher staff retention.

Who coaches whom and when?

Many workplaces will be existing 'hot-beds' of coaching! It is being done by colleagues with each other when they share a better way of doing something or a solution to a problem. Managers will be encouraging and coaching staff into new delegations, pointing out training and career possibilities, giving regular feedback and all the other HR legwork of a good manager.

There are situations where more formalized coaching than occurs on a day-to-day basis is appropriate. This is when a coaching plan should be used. Setting up a plan does not need to be a laborious process; it should be only as detailed as the situation requires.

Planned coaching is a positive way to build confidence in good staff who under-rate their experience and abilities and/or doubt the appropriateness of applying for more senior positions, perhaps because of lack of formal qualifications. Managers can only be effective coaches when they are competent both in the operational and human resources aspects of their own position.

Please visit the Corporate Education on iconnect to explore leadership development programs .

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