Coaching for success: asking the right questions

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Coaching is necessary to ensure your employees are constantly growing and improving, and it’s also a valuable tool for succession planning, retention and engagement. But are your managers doing it wrong?

One of the most common mistakes being made is mistaking giving advice, for coaching, according to DeGroote associate professor and HR consultant Linda Morgan said.

“Coaching is important for motivation and staff engagement.  There is an expectation on managers to coach their staff, but they are rarely given the tools or support to help them determine how to do this.,” Morgan said. “Because most of us have been brought up in a hierarchical environment, often we mimic what we have seen in the past and have experienced, which is usually managers giving good advice. However, advice does not motivate and engage your staff.”

Morgan teaches Degroote’s Coaching Skills for Managers course, helping managers break bad habits and form new ones, such as learning to ask open-ended questions.

Managers often start questions with “Do you…”, such as “Do you think we should do this?”, which is a close ended question, with a limited range of possible responses. By asking instead “What do you think we should do?”, managers can engage their staff in the planning and problem solving process.

“The manager still has the role of providing advice when required, it does not diminish any of the regular managerial tasks and focuses that are necessary,” Morgan said.

Managers who apply these techniques see specific, measurable outcomes. Morgan worked closely with an executive director over the course of three years to shift the team culture from a “directive, top-down hierarchical approach to a much more collaborative approach”.

“They’ve expanded their capabilities, and they have a much more open environment with problems solved on the ground instead of escalating up through executive levels because staff have been trained through this coaching approach to problem solve collaboratively,” Morgan said. “There is definitely a linkage to staff retention, accountability and commitment, and an overall feeling of value within the organization.”


  • Carol Sachowski on 2013-04-02 8:06:54 PM

    As a CHRP, and certified executive and team coach I agree with Linda Morgan. Open ended questions allow a manager to be curious in the moment rather than appear harsh or judgmental. This encourages most employees to respond non-defensively and identify their own actions and positive steps forward. It increases employee engagement, motivation and a stronger awareness around the link between personal and corporate values. Where managers as coach sometimes struggle is being unsure of which hat to wear when an employee prefers to act on the defensive or where performance managing an employee is necessary. Sometimes using an external professional coach is a good way to go - either for the employee or for the manager themselves as they work towards developing new ways of supporting their people.

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