Coaching for Talent Development

Helping People Become More Effective

Coaching for Talent Development - Helping People Become More Effective

© iStockphoto

Help your people grow with coaching.

During the recent economic downturn, many managers have been under pressure to achieve more, but with fewer resources. And many will continue to pursue this goal, even when their industries or organizations start to grow again.

So how can you make this happen?

One way is by helping your people to be more effective and productive in their existing roles, and at the same time empowering them to take on new challenges and responsibilities. And coaching is an excellent tool for achieving this, alongside other elements of a comprehensive talent management strategy.

In particular, coaching can help you:

  • Reveal people's capacity to develop new skills, and take on increased responsibility.
  • Develop their existing skills and talent through supported experimentation – when you encourage people to try new ways to do essential tasks and processes.
  • Identify where unhelpful attitudes are preventing them from succeeding in their roles, so that you can help them deal with this.
  • Develop your people, by helping them solve problems that are blocking their progress.
  • Improve operational efficiency by identifying fundamental problems with business processes.
  • Highlight succession planning issues, and provide people with a more realistic understanding of their career expectations.

The guidelines below can help you direct your coaching-focused conversations for best results.

Managing a Coaching Conversation

The GROW model is a valuable framework for managing a coaching conversation. Follow these four steps to adapt GROW specifically for talent development.

  1. Explore People's Goals (G)

    Coaching is ideal for exploring people's professional, economic, and personal ambitions. By better understanding how they want to commit to their roles and careers, you can more easily assess how to shape the way that they work to meet those desires. For example, a coaching conversation might identify untapped motivation, a skill gap, or a need for a different work experience.

    In a similar way, by exploring people's formal work goals, you can help them bring clarity to what they should be doing and the skills they need to be developing, so that they know what they should be focusing on, and where they should and shouldn't be using their time.

  2. Assess the Current Reality (R)

    You can use coaching conversations to discuss the good and bad aspects of people's work life, and this is a great way of uncovering how they perceive their roles and relationships within the organization. Are they sufficiently challenged in what they do? Perhaps they find their job stressful? Or maybe they're experiencing conflict with their co-workers? By helping people understand their current situation, you can help them fulfill their potential in a way that benefits the organization. This helps you build a happier team.

    Recognizing reality is also important where people are struggling to achieve their formal work goals. They're unlikely to find the motivation to change their behavior if they can't see a problem that needs to be solved.

  3. Explore the Options for Developing People's Capability (O)

    If people need to improve their skills or change the way that they work, then take time to explore the options available to them. For example, the outcomes of coaching conversations could include an agreement to take on new responsibilities within the current role, to look at changing roles within the organization, to engage with a potential development mentor, or to start a training program to build skills and knowledge.

  4. Assess and Confirm People's Motivation (Will) to Develop (W)

    Once the people you are coaching have agreed to a path of action, coaching can help you explore whether they are sufficiently motivated to make the changes that you have agreed. As a coach, you can challenge them to explore what will make the plan happen. For example, they may need a break from their current role to provide sufficient time to develop new skills, or they may need to change their daily routine to allow for additional responsibilities or tasks.


Coaching conversations usually work best when initiated by the person being coached. However, you can always ask team members if some coaching time with you would be useful.

A Coaching Example

In this example, you're managing a person who is talented, but his interpersonal skills limit him from advancing his career. He is disruptive in meetings, and he's building a reputation for being angry and unapproachable.

You have two options for dealing with this situation. You could reprimand him, explaining how his behavior affects others, and demand that he changes. Or you can use a coaching conversation in which he thinks of ways of resolving the issue. The coaching approach might take longer and require some patience, but the outcome will likely be more positive, and promote continued development.

Finding This Article Useful?

You can learn another 301 team management skills, like this, by joining the Mind Tools Club.

Join the Mind Tools Club Today!

At the end of a staff meeting in which he has clearly demonstrated negativity, you could start a conversation with him.

You: Any thoughts about that meeting?
Team member: The usual stuff. Nobody understands anything, and I end up doing all the talking and then all the work.
You: That's tough talk. Is that what you really think?
Team member: It seems like I'm the only one with an opinion, and everyone else just wants to keep quiet, do the minimum, and pick up their monthly paychecks.
You: Well, I've noticed that these meetings have been bothering you. Would it help to talk about it?
Team member: Maybe, but I'm sure you'll tell me to go easier on people, and just do my job.
You: I could, but that probably won't help. No, I meant that you could tell me your thoughts and ideas, and we could work together to find the best plan of action for you.
Team member: OK. I feel like I'm stuck in a position where I come up with ideas, try to sell them to people, get no buy-in, and end up implementing them all by myself – and I often have to work late, when everyone else is home with their families. It's unfair, and I don't know how much more I can tolerate. I don't want to leave, because I'm loyal to this company, and I want us to be the best. But I don't think anyone else understands.
You: Even me?
Team member: No, I think you sort of understand, but you hold back in telling them to do it my way. Maybe you don't think my ideas are any good.
You: Actually, I think your ideas are generally very good.
Team member: So, why don't we just implement them?
You: Sometimes teamwork isn't that simple. How do you think the rest of the team sees your ideas?
Team member: Sometimes I think they're jealous. Other times, I think they just want to do the minimum, and my suggestions would mean working harder.
You: Have you asked for their opinions?
Team member: I ask them what they're going to do about putting ideas into action, but I get no response.
You: And you think that means they don't understand the idea, or they're too lazy to execute it?
Team member: Yeah.
You: What if I told you that they probably understand most of your ideas? They see some of the benefits but they can't see what it means for them individually, or they don't know what they need to do to help you.
Team member: Is that what they've told you?
You: No, I'm just offering a potential explanation. My point is that if you don't find out what they're thinking, you'll make assumptions that may be wrong.
Team member: So, you're saying that I need to understand other people's views before they'll understand mine?
You: I'm not saying that, but if you think that approach may work, then it's probably worth trying.
Team member: I can see how that might be better. Thanks for the advice.
You: I think the advice came from you. I just asked some questions and gave you some feedback.

This scenario represents just one small step on a longer talent development path. Find the right moment to start a conversation to explore an issue with a person, rather than tell them what to do. Then, by giving them some space to explain what they think and feel, they will start to see a path to their own change and development. With this type of conversation, the person has a better chance of "owning" whatever has been discussed, and they're more likely to think of the best approach to making a solution work.


Remember, this is a coaching conversation! When you are coaching, you're not required to direct people (as a manager would) or provide an expert opinion (as a mentor would). You're an objective facilitator, helping people to make the right decisions for their development or career path. The coachee ultimately decides what action to take.

Of course, if coaching isn't delivering the results you want, then you'll need to move into a managerial or mentorship role. You'll need to judge when or if this is appropriate.

Key Points

With effective coaching, you can help your people to improve their performance significantly, and you can empower them to take on more responsibility and take advantage of new opportunities.

An open-ended and non-directional coaching conversation is likely to uncover issues that you might not find in day-to-day manager and team member interactions.

Find time to use coaching to develop people's talent. This will help the members of your team reach their full potential, find the right roles, and be more effective at reaching your organization's goals.