In a nutshell: Coaches should serve as a role model, praise effort, help set realistic goals, and provide enough freedom to allow people to learn from mistakes.

One of the most satisfying undertakings for seasoned professionals is passing on knowledge and helping hone the skills of the next generation of workers.

While a promotion and an increase in salary are always welcome events, young professionals — particularly those in their 20s — also see enormous value in learning directly from peers with more experience in their field.

Coaching is such an effective idea that it’s become part of the smart management strategy for many companies. Everyone wins when quality coaching is in place. Young employees get better, veteran employees get the satisfaction of improving the careers of others and the company reaps the benefit of smarter, better-trained employees.

Why Coaching Is Important

First, it’s important to understand what good coaching isn’t.

Foremost, it’s not micromanaging, a habit far too many managers fall into. The idea is not to “assign” a veteran employee to a younger employee to watch their work. That’s micromanaging, and if you practice it, you need to stop. It creates an atmosphere of distrust and even fear, and that’s not smart management.

Coaching involves providing young professionals with information beyond what they learned in school. While college and graduate school are critical for learning about strategies and systems that work in the modern business world, even the best education will lack the “on the field of battle” experience that comes from working day in and day out in an industry.

For those providing the coaching, it not only gives them the good feeling of helping others, but also provides them with feedback on how things look from a different point of view. And for businesses, satisfied older employees engaged in coaching and younger employees who are rapidly acquiring better skills is a perfect situation.

The Importance of Praise

Anyone who has ever had a good sports coach knows that, eventually, you live for those moments when you get praised for your efforts. A coaching program within an organization should work the same way.

Getting praise from someone who you work with one-on-one is far better than getting an “employee of the month” plaque, which can seem both artificial and even a bit insincere. A coaching program is not designed to give praise just for the sake of giving praise.

It’s important to not focus praise only on those with superior talent and skills, but rather on those who are making an earnest effort. Why? Studies have shown that only praising moments where great talent is flashed will lead to employees who dread failure, won’t take on big challenges for fear of falling short of past achievements, and will not work to fix flaws in their approach to the job.

Praising effort, on the other hand, leads to resilience when things go wrong. To use a sports metaphor, a baseball team manager doesn’t only praise a batter when he or she gets a hit. More than 7 times of 10, the typical batter will make an out. But the manager focuses on the batter’s approach to hitting, not the final result. A good approach and effort eventually leads to success.

Employees who are coached on how to consistently approach a situation and give the maximum effort are worthy of praise, no matter the result. That way, when things go wrong, they will be far more resilient.

Other aspects of praise to keep in mind include not waiting too long between the praiseworthy event and giving the praise, making praise specific and genuine, and not mixing in constructive criticism with praise. Save the constructive criticism for later. Deliver the praise first.

Working On Employee Goals

While coaching involves a knowledge transfer and a smart approach to praise, it ultimately aims to boost a young professional’s career. Where do they want to go and what do they want to do?

This is where SMART goals come in. It’s an acronym for goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. SMART goals provide the framework for creating goals through coaching.

Rather than establishing one difficult-to-achieve long-term goal (“I want to be the chief financial officer of a large organization”), the idea is to create realistic short-term goals that can be achieved relatively quickly. The accumulation of these short-term goals leads to eventually reaching the long-term goal.

For example, for the person who wants to become CFO, shorter-term goals would be to acquire specific skills and knowledge needed to attain that job. This eventually will lead to promotions along the path toward the CFO’s office.

No matter what goals a coach sets, SMART goals should provide the framework.

Employee Freedom

Much like “helicopter parents” who follow their kids around and don’t allow them to do things on their own, some managers and coaches won’t allow employees the freedom to learn through experience. In some cases, they will do a task themselves just to get it done quickly. That’s a mistake.

Employees wither under micromanagement, which was discussed earlier. At the very least, the employees don’t learn. With no chance to experience success or failure on their own, they don’t evolve into better professionals.

Micromanagement also leads to another issue: learned helplessness. If an employee discovers that any time they run into a roadblock that they can count on their coach swooping in to finish the task, then there’s a high chance they will come to depend on the coach to do that every time.

There’s value in coaching employees well and then allowing them to figure things out while monitoring the situation from a distance. That way they develop their own skills for dealing with different types of situations and experience both success and failure. Both are valuable learning experiences.

Be An Example

Perhaps the best thing a coach can do is provide an example for young employees. While all the above is important, running in the background always is the fact employees will watch coaches closely to see how they act in certain situations. From that, they will take away important lessons on how to act themselves.

This is applicable to almost every situation. Young employees will emulate how their coaches deal with peers, managers, clients and customers, particularly if they have had a great deal of success. This can even get into issues such as participating in office gossip (don’t) and taking time out from work for healthy activities (do).

This puts a great deal of importance on the character of the coach, which is why it’s important that they are chosen wisely. Knowledge and skills are important, but how they conduct themselves within the organization is just as — and perhaps even more — important.

Coaching can ultimately create a much healthier work environment for everyone involved. With the right coaches and the right approach, both younger employees and veterans will reap the benefits.

Creating that type of can-do, cooperative atmosphere should be a goal for any organization engaged in smart management.

Keep the conversation going: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from a coach at work?

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