One of the keys to being a successful leader, especially in a small business is being a good employee coach. Just like most skills, being a good coach requires some practice. But when leaders feel crunched for time, it is easy to push coaching conversations to the back-burner. An article in Inc. provides an easy, four-step approach to coaching conversations with employees.

1- Explain
Set the stage for why a change in performance or behavior needs to occur. Explain the reasons why, focusing on the impact the behavior is having on the organization. Make sure to include information about how success will be measured, the company or department strategy and plans for achieving goals, what the employee individually can do to help reach those goals.

2- Ask
Don’t assume that your employee understands or that they will ask clarifying questions if they do not. Proactively seek confirmation that the employee is on the same page. Once you have set the stage in step one, listen 80 percent of the time and talk only 20 percent of the time. Ask questions that allow e employee to explain their perspective. Continue to ask questions to seek clarification. Be sure to actually listen to the employee. Don’t come in with pre-conceived ideas of what the employee will do or say. Assume the best of your employees.

3- Involve
Coaching shouldn’t be leaders dictating performance changes to employees. Instead, leaders should encourage employees to come up with potential solutions. Focus on the performance, or the behavior and avoid personal attacks. Together decide on a plan of action and a timeline for following up.

4- Appreciate
Make an effort to notice small steps in the right direction, far before the scheduled follow-up date. A recent article from Gallup suggests that when time is short, you should focus on employee strengths. When time is short, it is easy for managers to only focus on the negative. Take a different approach and instead focus on the steps the employee is making toward improved performance. This strategy makes employees feel valued and respected.

The difference between feedback and coaching is subtle, but important. Feedback is telling, it requires minimal training and skill. It is a communication exchange that is generally one-way communication to the employee. The message is controlled by the leader with the end in mind of changing behavior or results in an employee. The message is focused on past behavior, data, information and is reactive to a situation.

Coaching is asking questions, rather than telling, with the objective of helping your employees self-actualize their own potential. Coaching is purposeful and requires a leader to ask the right questions to prompt self-reflection and motivate the employee to consider his or her own potential. The leader serves as a facilitator as he or she asks open-ended questions to help the employee think about and work towards meeting his or her highest performance potential.

Coaching employees is one of the most valuable things that leaders can do. In a small business environment where leaders are wearing multiple hats, it is important to make time for coaching employees.  Share these ideas with your management team to help them keep top performance at their peak and turn struggling employees around. For more information, check out our Coaching Employee Toolkit.