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Workplace Coaching: A Step-by-Step Guide

Healthcare professionals don’t want to be told what to do all the time. Rather, they want to be encouraged so they can develop their skills and figure things out on their own. Organizations across the nation are discovering that workplace coaching is a great way to help their employees achieve new skill sets as well as the autonomy they desire.

Most coaching is one-on-one work between an employee and a supervisor. A coach will ask hard questions, and regularly challenge the employee in efforts to improve a specific aspect of their workplace performance. And the employee isn’t the only one who will benefit from this relationship—the return on investment in developing people through coaching can result in employee retainment, higher morale, and increased productivity.

This six-step coaching plan will help you carry out an effective and productive coaching endeavor.

Step 1.  Establish an Agreement
It’s critical to sit down and discuss the scope of the relationship before any coaching takes place. As the coach, you’ll want to create a document that clearly defines the guidelines and specific parameters of the relationship (e.g., logistics, scheduling, inclusion of others if applicable, etc.). You’ll also want to include what is and is not being offered, as well as both parties’ responsibilities.

Allot a space on the document for signatures that acknowledges that you and the employee/trainee have read and understand the agreement. Remember, a clear agreement will ensure that all "players" are on the same page and both focusing on the same end-result.

Step 2. Plan and Set Goals
While you can help your trainee decide what they want to learn and on which areas they would like to improve, it’s important that they come up with their own goals. Help them create a plan with goals that are attainable, measurable, specific, and have target dates.

Help the employee identify and access different resources for learning (e.g. books, seminars, other professionals, etc.). Also, keep in mind that the plan is a guideline, not a document set in stone. It can be adjusted as you go along—so make plan adjustments as warranted.

Step 3.  Execute
After you’ve covered your bases with steps 1 and 2, it’s time to execute. This is the time for your trainee to practice and show you what they’ve learned.

During your coaching sessions, you’ll probably want to put your advice and/or instructions on paper. This will help clear up any confusion, and it will give them something to refer to when you’re not around.

To give clear instructions you should:
  • Assume they have no prior knowledge
  • Explain why the job/task is done this way
  • Give instructions in sequence, so it’s easy to remember
  • Use clear and simple language - be especially aware of healthcare jargon with which the employee might not be familiar
  • Include safe work practices in your instructions
  • Ask questions to check for understanding: "How’s your work going?", "Is there anything I can do to help?"
  • When you’ve given a complex set of instructions, ask the trainee to repeat them: "Now that I’ve told you what to do, I’d like you to repeat each step - tell me what you do first? And then?"
  • Provide examples of documents you use in the workplace - forms, letters, etc.

The execution phase involves much action and practice. With this in mind, you’ll want to provide variety, so your trainee doesn’t get bored or discouraged. Variety could include new and different tasks. Or perhaps it could involve opportunities to apply new skills in different work environments such as other departments or sections of your healthcare organization.

Step 4.  Encourage, Correct, and Check Progress

Every time you begin a session, acknowledge what your trainee has done, not done, learned or become aware of since the previous coaching session. Also, remember your coaching plan (step 2) as it outlines the what, where, and when of training.

Seek Feedback. A critical part of the checking your trainee’s progress involves seeking their feedback. You can do so by:
  • Involving them in decision-making: "What do you think the next step should be?"
  • Asking them what areas they need extra help with or are worried about.
  • Waiting for answers - if you’re patient, your trainee will tell you how they feel - so don’t be afraid of silence.
Most importantly, remember to stay positive. It may be frustrating at times, but the main point of workplace coaching is to help your employee build the skill set they need to make their own decisions. So, be patient and let them figure out the right answers.

Troubleshoot.  Workplace coaching exposes employees to new methods and experiences. That being said, many trainees will probably encounter some problems at some stage during training.

If workplace performance is affected, perhaps the trainee is:
  • Nervous about how well they are doing
  • Uncomfortable with some of the other staff
  • Under stress - too much on their plate at once, or behind in some aspect of their training, etc.
  • Having personal and/or home difficulties
When an issue arises, you can help the trainee work through it. Follow these steps:
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Negotiate, encourage, and advise:   "Okay Sue, you’ll still have to help with meal distribution. But when you’ve finished, I’ve arranged for you to spend an hour with administration to see how billing works. And next time a billing job comes in, you can assist me with it."
  • Encourage the trainee to speak up when they don’t understand or are having troubles.
Remember, mistakes should be expected. If you’re prepared to handle them, you can help your trainee turn these mistakes into beneficial learning experiences.

Step 5.  Celebrate Success

Once the trainee has reached his/her goals, make sure to celebrate those achievements. This is a great way to acknowledge a job well-done, as well as bringing closure to the relationship.

To give your trainee the recognition they deserve, try any of the following:
  • Make an announcement at work about their achievements.
  • Mention them in the company newsletter or on the notice board.
  • Arrange for them to attend a management meeting.
  • Nominate the trainee for an award (if your company has such a program).

Celebrating these accomplishments emphasizes the value each trainee brings to the table — all while serving as motivators for future learning.

Step 6.  Evaluate

Evaluating your coaching relationship will help you and your organization in future coaching endeavors. There are plenty of ways you can evaluate. You can document the feedback you received from your trainee, you can administer pre and post- coaching surveys, or you can keep a journal that details the obstacles and successes you encountered. Bottom line: coaches are not exempt from criticism. You can always stand to improve your coaching performance; and an evaluation will help you figure out which areas demand your concentration and attention.