Performance Coaching: Examples & 10 Steps for Success

Written by Neelie Verlinden
14 minutes read

Performance coaching is a great tool that helps individuals and teams achieve their professional aspirations. It doesn’t just focus on fixing performance issues; it unlocks potential, engages employees, and promotes a culture of continuous improvement. Let’s look at the definition and benefits of performance coaching, some coaching examples and models, and lay out steps for effective employee performance coaching.

What is performance coaching?
Performance coaching examples
How can coaching improve performance?
The benefits of performance coaching
Performance coaching models
What are the steps in employee performance coaching?

What is performance coaching?

Performance coaching in the workplace refers to the use of various techniques to continuously stimulate employees to improve their skills, gain new ones, and reach their full potential. It’s a collaborative process that takes place through everyday interactions between a manager and an employee, but also between employees. The manager isn’t only the supervisor, they’re also a coach who continuously motivates employees to grow and learn.

Employee performance coaching is a form of on-the-job learning that addresses weaknesses and cultivates strengths. Managers use day-to-day workplace situations and regular one-on-ones to understand employees and offer personalized guidance. The goal is to help employees develop strategies for performance improvement and take control of their professional growth.

Let’s use a customer service situation as an example of employee performance coaching. When a manager is able to listen in on a call between a customer service representative and a customer, they can provide immediate feedback on what went well, what didn’t, and why.

Together, the two can reflect on the interaction and discover any hurdles that might be going on behind the scenes. The manager can make suggestions and encourage the rep to come up with ways to make customer interactions more productive. 

Coaching employees to improve performance should be an integral part of every organization’s talent management strategy, making it the HR’s responsibility to promote it among managers and employees. It can greatly impact employee engagement and productivity, leading to better overall business performance.

The purpose of performance coaching is to help employees leave their comfort zone and reach their potential.

Performance coaching examples

Performance coaching is common in, for instance, Formula 1 racing. If you watch the moments before the race starts, you’re likely to see Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen walk around with someone whose role will be displayed on the screen as ‘Performance Coach’. Businesses are also starting to adopt performance coaching in numerous scenarios.

Here are three examples of what performance coaching could look like in practice:

Executive performance coachingThis type of coaching is tailored to senior leaders to support their leadership skills development, usually facilitated by a dedicated coach. A coach meets one-on-one with an executive and forms an environment of confidentiality and trust. They help the executive understand their competencies and strengths, as well as others’ perceptions of them.
Then the two work together to identify improvement areas and set goals and action steps for achieving growth. This entails challenging the leader’s thought processes to show them new communication and problem-solving approaches.
Sales performance coachingPerformance coaching for sales reps aims to boost sales effectiveness and achieve ambitious targets. Coaching sessions involve the sales employee and their manager reviewing what’s working and what hasn’t been successful, as well as understanding the reasons behind both. With that insight, the manager/coach and employee can come up with a specific plan for behavioral changes that will help them increase their sales numbers. 
Team coachingEmployee performance coaching can also be group-based and focus on teaching teams to collaborate effectively. Sessions will emphasize strengthening communication skills, reducing conflict, and improving working relationships. This may involve scenarios where team members must work through challenges together to achieve their objectives.

How can coaching improve performance?

From an interview with one of these performance coaches, we see that their job consists of ‘making sure their driver is in optimal shape to perform during the race weekend’ and ‘to always help if there are little aches and pains.’

Bringing this into the business context, coaching for performance dedicates time to intentionally developing employees. Investing in employee growth improves their performance through different channels, such as the following:

  • Immediate constructive feedback: A coaching environment allows continual opportunities to provide constructive feedback in situations that are fresh in employees’ minds. Instead of waiting for an annual performance appraisal, managers can commend employees for successes and address issues in real time for more impact. 
  • Skill development: Performance coaching involves identifying improvement opportunities. Addressing these areas with training or hands-on experience helps employees develop new skills and fresh perspectives they can use in their current roles and prepare for future ones.
  • Boosting employee confidence: The accountability that takes place during coaching builds self-awareness and keeps employees focused on their goals. During this process, they acquire new capabilities and discover what makes them tick. As employees understand themselves better and achieve their objectives, self-confidence builds. 
  • Greater manager support: Because coaching consists of regular interactions between employees and their supervisors, there is more two-way communication. Supervisors get a better understanding of employees’ strengths and preferences and recognize what they’re doing well. When there are areas that need improvement, they can offer feedback, support, and solutions. This builds trust in the relationship. The employee knows their manager isn’t just critiquing their performance but also wants them to succeed and is willing to help them get there.

The benefits of performance coaching

Enabling employees to develop their skills and confidence has several notable benefits for organizations.

  • Performance improvement: The main goal of performance coaching is obviously to improve the work performance of employees. Just as every person is different, the way to maximize someone’s potential is, too. Performance coaching enables organizations to personalize their talent management approach and get the best out of every individual. This has a positive influence on the performance levels of the organization to help it reach its business goals.
  • Stronger relationships: In addition to the bonds that form between managers and employees through coaching, over 70% of coached employees say they build better relationships with their coworkers. Robust relationships in the workplace fuel collaboration within teams and across the organization to enhance its competitiveness. 
  • Higher engagement levels: When employees receive personalized performance coaching, it shows their employer cares about them and invests in their professional development. Then they have higher morale and feel more engaged. As a result, they are motivated to improve their performance and contribute to the organization’s goals. 
  • Better retention rates: The benefit of improved performance, stronger relationships, and higher engagement levels is that employees will find more satisfaction in their work and be less likely to leave the organization.

Performance coaching models

Successful performance coaching relies on how effectively the coaching is executed. It is necessary to have a framework for managers to follow so they have the right tools to coach well and to ensure consistency across the organization.

Here is a brief overview of three common coaching models to consider:

GROW model

The GROW model was developed in the UK by Sir John Whitmore and colleagues. It has been used in corporate settings since the late 1980s. The acronym GROW stands for Goal, Reality, Options, and Will. 

Coaches/supervisors walk employees through each stage as follows:

  • Goal: Establish a goal that inspires the employee to get somewhere. This can be a target they want to reach or a behavior they want to change. 
  • Reality: Define where the employee is currently. Identify the obstacles they’re facing that may factor into their struggles. 
  • Options: Consider the potential options and resources that will help them move forward.  
  • Will: Translate the options into action steps and set a timeline. The employee must commit to the process, including accountability check-ins.

FUEL model

The FUEL model comes from the book, The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow, by John Zenger and Kathleen Stinnet. It’s designed for coaching behavioral change within organizations.

The acronym FUEL stands for Frame the conversation, Understand the current state, Explore the desired state, and Lay out a success plan. 

Here is a quick explanation of these four steps: 

  • Frame the conversation: The manager and employee discuss what the coaching will entail without stating any predetermined issues or goals.
  • Understand the current state: The manager asks open-ended questions to get the employee’s perspective, challenge both parties’ assumptions, and help the employee gain awareness of where they are currently.
  • Explore the desired state: Both parties work together to craft a vision of success and mutually agree on how to achieve the goal.
  • Lay out a success plan: The final step is to formulate a detailed action plan for getting to the desired state. 

CIGAR model

The CIGAR coaching model has been attributed to Suzy Green and Anthony Grant. It has been used in a variety of settings, including business. The acronym CIGAR stands for Current reality, Ideal, Gaps, Action, and Review.

The following five steps of this model involve recognizing and remedying the gaps between present and desired circumstances: 

  • Current reality: The manager gets to know the employee to discover what’s going on beneath the surface. Questions at this stage may include, “What are your passions?”  “What motivates you?” “What are your strengths?” 
  • Ideal: The manager encourages the employee to visualize their desired outcome and asks questions such as, “What would you be doing differently?” “What would change in your life if you achieved your goals?” 
  • Gaps: The employee identifies the gaps and obstacles that stand between their current reality and their desired outcome. 
  • Action: The two parties work together to create an action plan for the steps, resources, and timeline it will take to bridge the gaps. 
  • Review: The manager and employee meet regularly to assess progress and discuss any potential adjustments to the plan.

What are the steps in employee performance coaching?

HR’s role is to enable, facilitate, and support employee performance coaching to ensure every employee is in optimal shape for their own ‘race’ and ready for new challenges.

The following ten tips are for helping HR carry out its responsibilities in performance coaching:

1. Build a coaching culture

To facilitate employee performance coaching, you need to work on building a coaching culture in your organization first. This is what that looks like:

  • People trust each other
  • People can question the status quo
  • People are willing to co-create together, regardless of their position in the organization
  • Individuals have a growth mindset and want to help each other develop.

We interviewed Ozlem Sarioglu, professional coach and co-founder of the digital coaching platform SparkUs, to get her take on how HR can establish a successful coaching culture. You can watch the full interview below:

2. Coach managers

Managers hold the most crucial role in making your employee performance coaching initiative a success. However, you can’t expect someone who has never received coaching – and experienced the benefits of it – to be a good coach to others. So, before you give your managers yet another hat to wear, have them go through a coaching process.

Bear in mind that you might need external help, such as a performance consultant, to facilitate the coaching of your more senior managers. 

Using an AI-based coaching platform can be a great way to scale your management coaching efforts while keeping costs under control. There are some great platforms that can automate a part of the process while keeping human coaches involved for the moments that matter most.

3. Help identify performance improvement opportunities

Spotting performance improvement opportunities is an essential step toward professional growth. It’s not only a matter of underperformance but also situations when high performers haven’t yet reached their full potential.

Help managers identify performance improvement opportunities by educating them about different situations where employees might benefit from coaching. Here are a few examples:

  • An employee is unable to carry out certain responsibilities well
  • Either an employee or their manager has noticed that the former needs to develop particular technical skills to be more effective at their job
  • An employee encounters barriers that prevent them from performing at their best. For instance, obstacles such as time or tools
  • An already high contributor would like to expand their contribution.

Spotting improvement opportunities is difficult in a traditional performance management approach where managers and team members discuss performance a maximum of twice a year. With so few occasions to talk about it, underperformance may be the only issue that gets addressed.

When performance management is a year-round learning process that includes continuous coaching conversations, performance improvement opportunities are more apparent to managers. Furthermore, employees also have the chance to disclose the challenges they’re encountering.

The fact that there is this open, ongoing conversation with their boss creates trust, a stronger relationship, and a safe environment. In such an atmosphere, people feel they can be open and honest without the fear that this will have a negative impact on their evaluation.

Effective performance coaching involves building a coaching culture, encouraging feedback, and promoting continuous learning.

4. Collaborate on the action plan

Once the manager and/or employee have identified the performance improvement opportunity, they can come up with potential solutions together. What the actual solution looks like depends on the issue and the employee. Even when two people need to develop the same competencies, the best way to obtain those competencies may differ.

The action plan can consist of a combination of different learning and training methods, for example, an online training course and peer coaching. HR can help suggest the most effective methods. It’s important that both the manager/coach and the employee agree on the action plan and set dates for follow-up coaching sessions.

As an illustration, let’s say that a customer service team lead sees negative customer feedback about an interaction with a typically high-performing agent. In a coaching environment of trust, the team lead can easily approach the agent about the interaction. Correspondingly, the agent feels comfortable sharing their struggles.

For instance, the agent might have insufficient knowledge about a new product. Then, the two can identify actionable points of improvement together and reach out to HR for advice if needed. In this case, it could be attending a product demo and listening to call recordings of agents with a good grasp of that product. 

The team lead needs to make sure to collaborate rather than micromanage. That way, coaching engages the employee and becomes truly impactful in helping them improve.

The performance coaching action plan should also include the results or performance goals the employee wants to achieve and the timeline for doing so. Then, everyone knows where they’re headed, and the coach can evaluate and measure performance.

5. Show support

When you have successfully established a coaching culture, performance coaching becomes a shared responsibility of the entire organization. Employees should feel supported not only by their manager but also by team members, HR, and other colleagues. 

With the crucial role HR plays in establishing a coaching culture, it should be viewed as a reliable source of employee support. 

Here are a few ways to show support for employees:

  • Express your confidence in them and let them know that you are there to assist them
  • Check in regularly to ask them how things are going and how you can help
  • Offer peer coaching or peer mentoring programs.

6. Promote continuous learning

Coaching culture and ongoing learning go hand in hand. HR needs to create a work environment where people feel motivated to learn and continuously improve their performance. One method for encouraging learning is to highlight people in the organization who show great continuous learning behavior.

Managers also need to know how to be learning evangelists and role models. The Head of People at a Swedish start-up had this to say about the role managers play in coaching and building a learning culture:

“When you’re a manager and one of your team members comes to you with a question, don’t give them an answer immediately. Instead, ask them to first think of what the answer or the solution could be themselves. If you want to, you can nudge them in the right direction, but not more than that.” 

Helping team leaders adopt this type of reflex instead of just giving their own solution will enable employees to pursue their own learning path to find solutions.

7. Encourage feedback

Feedback is an integral part of any kind of coaching process, and it must be a two-way street. In addition to managers sharing their observations and insights with employees, employees should be encouraged to offer their reactions to the coaching process.

Managers should regularly gather feedback from their employees about how they perceive the coaching activities and what could make the coaching relationship and the manager more effective. This can be done through surveys or by direct conversation during one-on-one meetings.

The insight from collecting and analyzing feedback can help you adjust and augment coaching and development strategies.

8. Customize performance coaching activities

Employee performance coaching isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on people’s skills and experience, they will have varying needs. Those who are just starting their careers require a different approach than mid-level employees. There should also be a distinct program for coaching senior leaders.

Be sure that managers understand that coaching can be delivered within the flow of work as well as during the dedicated coaching sessions. 

Examples of performance coaching activities include:

  • Gathering feedback from the coachee’s colleagues and sharing it with them so they can reflect on how to improve. This works for both underperformance and further development cases
  • Following up on previous issues the coachee needed to solve. Let them reflect on it, ask probing open-ended questions, and walk them through a helpful process
  • Providing introspection and perspective. Coaches can add their input based on their experience. Disclosing their own struggles can help create a safe psychological space and trust.

9. Regularly evaluate performance

Managers must evaluate the impact of coaching activities on people’s performance by observing and measuring progress, accomplishments, and gaps. Employees should also be able to give input on whether they reached their goals and improved. 

This can be achieved during the continuous interactions between managers and employees that take place in coaching, as well as the follow-up meetings that were agreed to in the action plan.

If performance management is an ongoing process in your organization and there is a continuous dialogue between managers and their teams, this will make it easier for managers to observe and evaluate performance.

10. Keep track of the improvements

Coaches must document employees’ developments and improvements to have a record of their progress.

One way to do that is to create professional development plan templates and share them with team leaders to help them keep track of employees’ progress.

You can also use a talent management system. This is an integrated software solution that enables organizations to keep track of performance management and learning and development, as well as other employee data. If you already have such a system, educate managers on its benefits and how to use it.

Wrapping up

Employee performance coaching is much more than a remedy for underperformance. It is a tool for providing ongoing, personalized support that can unleash the potential talent lying beneath the surface of your workforce. 

When employees are coached to take ownership of their growth and development and become better performers, they are the key drivers in your organization’s ability to win the race.


What is coaching in performance management?

Coaching in performance management is a method of creating a relationship between a manager and an employee so they can work together to develop the employee’s skills and improve their performance. It involves acknowledging strengths, looking for improvement opportunities, and holding employees accountable for reaching performance goals.

What is high-performance coaching?

High-performance coaching guides and motivates employees who already perform well. It involves inspiring them to expand their vision, challenge themselves, and develop their potential by setting and reaching ambitious goals.

Who needs performance coaching?

Performance coaching is for everyone, from entry-level staff to executives. It’s not a punishment for poor performance but a tool for achieving growth. A coaching culture of continuous improvement fuels a workforce that is equipped to strengthen the organization’s capacity to achieve success.

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Neelie Verlinden

Neelie Verlinden is a digital content creator at AIHR. She’s an expert on all things digital in HR and has written hundreds of articles on innovative HR practices. In addition to her writing, Neelie is also a speaker and an instructor on several popular HR certificate programs.

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