The Role of the Employee Coach

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

In a previous post on coaching employees we looked at some of the key elements of successful coaches and concluded that for employee coaching to be widespread in organisations ‘the manager as coach’ is the only sustainable solution. Some of the elements were more suited to today’s managers than others.

In this post we dig deeper into the role of the employee coach.

Coaching Employees Holistically

The first thing I love about the below diagram (see reference 1) is that the Athlete (or in our case the employee) is at the top. This makes it very clear that coaching is here to help the coachee (person being coached). The second take out is that ‘Improving Performance’ is just one of three things that the coach is trying to achieve with their coachee. ‘Managing risk’ and ‘Influencing the individual’ are equally important ingredients in the coaching relationship. These additional two elements immediately broaden the remit for the coach and start to place the coachee’s well being, rather than just performance, at the centre of everything.

Coaching employees - the role of the coach

Coaching Employees in Risk Awareness

Managing risk is not just about ensuring the physical safety of individuals, but extends much further to ensure that both coach and coachee are operating with appropriate risk awareness and adopting appropriate organisational risk management practices.

The key question here for the coach is…

Am I operating in such a way that minimises risk to the coachee as well as to myself?

Understanding, communicating and discussing relevant risks involved in the coachee’s day to day role is an essential part of managing risk in a coaching relationship. As a manager the coach is already likely to be well versed in organisational policies and procedures designed to prevent risks. As a coach this risk focus needs to be extended to ensure that the employees actions and decisions are evaluated against relevant risks.

Coaching Employees Beyond Work

Influencing employees as people immediately extends the coaches role to balancing the demands of work with the other demands placed on employees such as family life.

This is what successful coaches do; they get to know the whole individual and develop plans that provide a ‘life-fit’ rather than just a ‘work-fit’.

Improving performance is the third key element of successful employee coaching. This is more than likely the dominant vision that people hold regarding the role employee coaching. An HBR survey of 140 (executive) coaches reported that the top three reason coaches were engaged was as follows:

  • Develop high potentials or facilitate transition – 48%
  • Act as a sounding board – 26%
  • Address derailing behaviour – 12%

Coaching Employees Indirectly

The ‘off field’ roles shown in the above diagram can equally be translated to the work setting. In sport, coaches are often working behind the scenes to ensure indirect influences work in favour of their athletes. Good coaches in the work environment will do the same.

Developing the club and program translates to the work coach ensuring that the team, department structure and practices are conducive to retaining and developing individual team members. Choice in sport is paramount at the junior level. Athletes will vote with their feet and employees are no different. As coach you have a role to influence the wider team and help create a culture and environment that is in the best interests of those you are coaching.

Working with others is a well established coaching and feedback mechanism in the workplace. Feedback from other stakeholders that directly work with those individuals that are being coached is an important input into the employees development. As a coach you may not always like or agree with the messages that you are hearing from others. Displaying the appropriate people skills such as negotiating, resolving difficult situations, winning an argument and listening will be essential in these circumstances.

Developing Employee Coaching

Coaching is a goal directed activity and as such, effective planning plays a big part in the coach’s on field and off field roles.

The coach, to be successful must keep up to date with changes in working practices that could impact and improve their employees experience and performance. This professional self-development on behalf of the coach could be in the form of self-reflection, acquiring new knowledge and skills, obtaining a mentor or simply adopting an innovative, questioning approach, where different approaches are tried with the employee with resulting performance changes noted.




1.Frank S Pyke (Australian Sports Commission), Better Coaching Advanced Coach’s Manual (2nd Edition), Human Kinetics (2001)