Key Learning Outcomes

  • A well conducted coaching program will improve performance in individuals and across your entire business.
  • Coaching provides the added benefit of identifying issues before they become bigger problems.
  • Learn how to conduct powerful one-on-one coaching sessions with your team.
  • Understand that a successful coaching program requires planning and discipline.
  • Use our step by step guide to implement a structured program within your business.


Coaching has become commonplace in organisations where employee development is considered a priority. This is because one-on-one coaching has proved extremely successful when looking to improve performance in individuals, teams or across an entire business. The process doesn’t just offer a clear benefit for the employee, it also allows for an open line of communication that will often provide valuable feedback for business leaders. This information can be used to solve issues before they become bigger problems or to implement positive change. External coaches may be employed, particularly by large companies with significant budgets; however, business owners or managers can be just as effective so long as they take into consideration the guidelines discussed below.

Communicate the program in advance

When you decide to implement a one-on-one coaching program, it is important to communicate the details to all employees in advance. This way, team members don’t, for example, get worried about a meeting scheduled with the boss, and it eliminates any intrigue or gossip circulating through the business. For maximum impact we suggest that every employee should be part of the program. However, if this is not possible due to time constraints or the number of employees, then it is vital that you communicate who will be involved in the program and why. Ideally with larger groups of employees, managers or team leaders should be trained to conduct one-on-one coaching with their direct reports to ensure the program spans the entire business for maximum benefit.[wlm_ismember]

Start as you mean to carry on

Consistency is one of the most vital aspects for a successful coaching program. It is ideal if you set the sessions at the same time and on the same day each week – and we suggest setting aside a full hour. Sometimes the sessions may be a little shorter, but an hour will allow for a full discussion if the employee has an important issue or problem that needs attention. You should only cancel a coaching session in exceptional circumstances. The message you send to an employee when you cancel their time is that they are not important or a priority to you, which is damaging to the business in the long term. If you absolutely cannot make a session it should be rescheduled rather than cancelled to avoid denting the trust relationship.

Frequency is important

When you introduce a new coaching program, we recommend you run your sessions on a weekly basis in order to develop a rhythm. We find it is better to do hold shorter weekly session than long sessions on an infrequent basis as this allows you to provide input and help develop the employee’s skills in real-time situations.

Location, location, location

Where you conduct your one-on-one session is important. It is best to choose a neutral environment; ideally not in your office with you sitting behind a desk. Your aim should be to make the coachee feel as comfortable as possible and to show that you are working at the same level during the session. You may use a meeting room, or if it is convenient you may be able to conduct the session outside of the business. We know of a lot of business owners that conduct breakfast sessions or coffee catch-ups with their team. This allows for a beneficial discussion in a non-confronting environment.

It is all about them

This session is not a performance review or a management meeting, and the time should not be used to discuss specific work issues other than in the context of offering the employee advice on how to best solve a problem or how to move a project forward.  The aim of coaching is to benefit the employee; therefore, the sessions should be about them and not you or the business.

Sessions need to be conducted in a manner that allows the employee to build trust in you and the process. The first few sessions may be a little awkward, so having a plan before you start will help. Have some open-ended questions ready, for example, “How do you feel about xyz?”, “What are your longer term goals?” or “How do you think we could improve your role.” It is important to remember that the employee may be reluctant to open up at first; you may find you need to reinforce that this is their time and that you are there to help them to develop and reach their goals.

It is about the whole person

One-on-one coaching is about the whole person and not just about the workplace. As trust builds in the coaching relationship, you may find that aspects of the employee’s personal life are brought up. The important thing is to listen, and while you are not qualified to give professional advice in some areas you can ask open-ended questions to allow for a plan of action to be formulated or to identify a problem that can be resolved. Remember that often it is issues outside of work that affect performance, so being able to help address these promptly will most likely provide longer term benefits for the business.

Remember the 80:20 rule

In a coaching session you want to be doing 80% of the listening and 20% of the talking. Hone your skills in “active listening” to show that you are seeking to understand what the employee is saying. Use positive body language to show that you are there for them and that they have your undivided attention. It goes without saying that these sessions should be conducted without the distraction of phones, tablets or computers.

It is about moving forward

A coaching session is all about how the employee is going to move towards achieving their goals. You should only talk about the past in the context of how it is going to help them to move forward. Be wary of asking such questions as “Why did that go so wrong?” Better questions would be “How could that have gone better?” or “What would you change next time”.

They have the answer

As much as possible you want to help the employee find the answer to their problems or queries. In general, people learn best when they discover a solution or determine the need for change themselves rather than being told what to do. Use your experience and knowledge to guide them in determining what they should do and how they should do it. Several tools on our website, such as the “Gap Analysis” and “SWOT” will assist you.

Always finish with a next step

To ensure that the maximum benefit is gained from one-on-one coaching, it is important that every session finishes with a next step. This ensures a clear direction is set for the next session and there is progress in the development of the employee’s skills or in the achievement of their goals and objectives. Next steps may include gathering or investigating some specific information, carrying out certain actions before the next session, or the coach following up on some matter. It is important that you follow through on any action you agreed to in the session within the agreed time frame. This helps to set the tone for the coaching program and shows that, as a business leader, you are committed to the process.

Everyone is different

Lastly, it is important to remember that everyone is different, so you may need to change or develop your coaching approach and skills depending on the person you are coaching. It will take time to develop your own skills and find a style that works with everyone. The best and quickest way to do this is to ask your employees for feedback. Ask them if the format is working for them, if they are covering everything that they want to or need to and if there is anything that they feel would work better. This comes back to the concept that coaching is there for them and not for you, and you may need to modify your approach accordingly.[/wlm_ismember]

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