Coaching employees can feel like an overwhelming task.  Not only is your calendar already jam-packed, but what do you say when you have an employee sitting across from you?  What if you can’t solve their problems?  These are some of the reasons that some people may use to avoid coaching.  If you struggle with coaching, then keep reading!

As we learned in Michael Bungay Stanier’s interactive and engaging session How to Coach in 10 Minutes or Less: Practical Coaching Skills for the Time-Crunched Manager, coaching does not have to be time consuming or overwhelming if you follow 3 principles and ask 5 questions.



Be Lazy

Remember how you were concerned about what to say or whether you could solve your employees’ problems?  Stop worrying and be lazy. When you are meeting with an employee, don’t do all of the talking. You don’t have to be the expert and you should not take on their problems. Michael Bungay Stanier talked about the “advice monster” that we can all relate to: the powerful feeling we get when someone is sharing a problem with us and the advice we want to give them is building inside of us. Ignore the advice monster, turn off the internal chatter, and listen.

Be Curious

The advice monster usually wants to make its appearance early in a conversation. Instead of giving advice, be curious about what you are hearing. Ask questions (stay tuned for the questions you should be asking).

Be Often

You may have one-on-ones with employees in your calendar weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly for 30 – 60 minutes at a time; these meetings can feel like a chore. Scheduling one-on-ones in this manner usually means that there is a flood of information which can be hard to process for both people. Check in with your employees frequently.  Coaching in this manner results in spending less time per check in, providing a more effective way of managing expectations and behaviours, and improving communication. As Michael Bungay Stanier pointed out, meeting once per month won’t change someone’s behaviour.



Now that you know the principles, it’s important to know what questions you should be asking.

What’s on your mind?

Starting off your conversation with this non-leading question focuses the conversation on the employee’s agenda and gives them the freedom to answer the question the way they want.

What’s the real challenge here for you?

Once the employee has shared what’s on their mind, it’s time for them to share what they feel their challenges are. By posing this question, you are asking the employee to distill their thoughts down to the challenges they need to focus on.

A.W.E. (And what else?)

Keep the conversation going.  When the employee has finished talking about their challenge(s), probe for more information by asking them what else.  The employee may talk more about what’s on their mind or they may continue to list challenges that they face. Michael Bungay Stanier shared that the first thing that someone tells you is not usually the most important issue and probing with the “what else” question may help them get to the heart of the issue.

As the employee continues to answer these probes, feel free to ask the question “what’s the real challenge here for you?” again; new information may uncover new challenges.

What do you want?

By this point in the conversation, the employee has described their challenges and it’s now important to understand what they want in terms of the outcome and/or support they need to overcome the issues.  People generally do a poor job of knowing what they want and asking for what they want.  Once you ask the question, be prepared for the ensuing silence while the employee thinks about their response.

What was most useful?
The final question is to ask the employee what was most useful during the conversation.  This question will enable you to get feedback on how they think the conversation went which will allow you to improve future one on one conversations.

We practiced this coaching technique during the session and it initially felt a little awkward asking and answering these questions, but the more I practiced, the more comfortable I felt.  The idea is that you use this approach to coach more frequently for shorter periods of time (10 minutes or less). Using this coaching approach will take some practice as you let the employee do most of the talking and ignore the “advice monster” that builds inside of you.  Give the employee the time and opportunity to discover the solutions to their challenges with as much (or as little) support as they need from you.  Check in with employees often to build solid relationships and keep the lines of communication open.  Share this coaching method with the time-crunched managers in your organization and help them become stronger leaders.