Feedback and Coaching

Mary Hao, Director, Human Resources

"We do not always move forward because of the plans we make or the effort we expend. The conversation itself more often does the true work of transformation."

David Whyte, Poet and Naturalist

The goals and standards established in Step One are the anchors for feedback and coaching.

  • Performance feedback is generally triggered by a situation or observation. It is in response to something that has happened. Its purpose is to reinforce, acknowledge, and recognize good performance; or to re-direct and correct performance weakness or non-productive behavior. Positive and constructive feedback should be given throughout the year as close as possible to the situation that gave rise to it.
  • Performance coaching is a teaching form dedicated to encouraging and developing talent in the long term. The intent is to provide dedicated, unhurried time to allow employees to raise issues, explore the possibilities in their work, and awaken to their own potential. Both feedback and coaching can increase an organization’s productive capacity by clarifying expectations, reinforcing quality norms, and improving communications between managers and staff.


Performance Feedback Model

Step 1

Ask if the Time is Right

Since feedback is about encouraging another person’s behavior, it is not worth taking the time to deliver it if the other person is not ready to hear it. Ask if the time is right, and if it isn’t agree on another time.

Here are some questions to ask:

“Can I share something with you?”

“Can I give you some feedback?”

“Can I talk about something that just happened?”

Step 2

State the Behavior

Before providing feedback, identify the specific behavior that you observed, considering these guidelines. When delivering negative feedback, don’t discuss “attitude.” Describe what you observed. Even though we may feel we are experiencing someone’s attitude, it is in fact a conclusion or judgment we make after observing his or her behavior. If the feedback is about characterizing attitude, it will likely generate defensiveness and can be interpreted as a personal attack, which should not be the purpose of feedback.

This step begins with a statement that describes the specific behavior:

“When you…”

Behavior takes the following forms:

  • Verbal communication (the words we say and how we say them)
  • Non-verbal communication (facial expressions, body language)
  • Work products and services (quality, quantity, completeness)

Step 3

State the Impact

This step involves describing the effect of the behavior you described in Step 2 on you and/or others. These could be consequences, conclusions, results, etc. You can also describe what the desired results or behavior is if that is not clear to the employee.

Be clear, straightforward and get to the point.

This step begins with a statement that clearly describes the impact:

“It causes this…”

“Here’s what happens…”

 “It makes me feel…”

“The benefit is…”

Step 4


Allow time for the person to offer additional information and/or a solution. This is typically useful when feedback is negative.

Step 5

Ask for Alternatives or Change

In many cases employees will know what has to change, or continue, after you complete Step 3 (State the Impact). In those circumstances it is not necessary to go to Step 5 (Ask for Change). Validate their solution and move on.

Otherwise, ask meaningful open-ended questions to guide the employee toward understanding what behavior he or she needs to change and how to go about it. Where applicable, re-state and clarify standards and expectations.

If change is required, and the employee doesn’t present an acceptable solution on his or her own, ask a form of the following questions:

“How can you do this differently?”

“What would be a more effective way of handling that situation?”

“What ideas do you have for improving your performance in this area?”

Step 6

Offer Support

Ask the employee what specific support and/or direction he or she may need from you to change his or her behavior. If the employee doesn’t present an acceptable solution, work collaboratively to develop one to achieve the desired outcome.

Adapted from San Mateo Collaborative Performance Management System Guide

Regular Coaching Model

"The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance. The role is best played one employee at a time: one manager asking questions of, listening to, and working with one employee…In times of great change it is this role that makes the company robust …."

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
First, Break All the Rules

Block out Time

Arrange for a one-two hour block of time each month with each person who reports to you.  The meeting is confidential, “sacred time,” not to be disturbed, put off (except for emergency situations) or missed.  It is held in private, comfortable surroundings where the likelihood of distraction or interruption is minimal.

Meeting Ownership

The meeting belongs primarily to the person being coached, not to the coach. The person coached is asked to forward an agenda a day or so in advance of 4 – 8 items.  As the supervisor/coach, you may bring issues, too, but those should be covered after working through the employee’s agenda.

Open Forum

The meeting should be an open forum to discuss any work project of the person being coached, the overall objectives of the organization, relationships at work—including the relationship with you, or other organizational and personal/professional issues – literally anything the employee wants to bring up. During the meeting the person coached has an opportunity to report on and self-assess how the work is going, gain recognition for successes and supportive advice when surfacing obstacles or dilemmas; try out new ideas or behaviors and develop solutions to problems in a safe environment.  The only restriction is to ensure that the conversation is not too quick or technically focused.  The goal is to address larger patterns of job performance and the felt needs of the associate.

Sharing the Podium

In general, it’s a good idea to speak much less than the associate. Speaking 20% of the time can feel like over 50% of the time for the associate.

Time Management

Spend the entire amount of time available. Slow down to really learn what the employee is working on – and what his or her experiences have been.  Share your own stories.  Use open-ended questions to facilitate your inquiries, especially ones that help get at the associate’s beliefs, perceptions, and feelings, not just intellect.

Closing the Meeting

Close the one-on-one session with a list of follow-up or action items that both of you may need to attend to during the next month. Be sure to review these as part of the next session, providing a sense of continuity about the coaching process.  Use a simple note-taking format that includes who agreed to do what by when.  These notes are never secret. 

©Daniel K. Oestreich. All rights reserved. Used by permission.