How much direction to give while Coaching

I just recently attended a Management training session that was devoted to skills around coaching and performance.  During the training a lot of discussion ensued over how much direction to give or not give to your employees.  I thought I would use today’s post to share some of the learnings that came from this training.

Do you trust who are you coaching?

It can be very difficult as a manager to truly know how much coaching is required.  Several of your employees may be very jr and require a lot of coaching.  Others however may be seasoned veterans with whom you just need to get out of the way.  The first step in understanding how much direction to give relates to understanding who your employees are, their skill levels and their track record.  In short – do you trust the employee to deliver upon the goals and expectations put in front of them.

Is it a critical task?

Some tasks you put before your employees are critical tasks, others, not so critical.  In order to truly understand the amount and type of direction we give to our employees we need to ensure we have a good grasp on whether the task is a critical one or not.  Is it urgent?  Is it high risk?  These are all ways to evaluate how critical a task truly is.

Build the grid

Now let’s look at the two metrics and see what we can do with them to better understand them.  1) Do you trust the employee, 2) Is it a critical task (risk level).  Let’s put these up into a quadrant grid as outlined below

Plot the points

From this grid we can then plot items from low to high on two separate axis lines.  Using these placements we can get a better sense of how to really handle the coaching and amount of direction that a given task requires.

Once we know which quadrant the particular task resides in we can then begin to plot out our strategy of what kind of direction to give the employee.  Let’s look at the type of direction we should give depending on which quadrant the task resided in.

These are not hard and fast rules – but a good guideline to help us understand what kind of direction is needed.  Let’s dive into them.

  • High Trust / High Risk
    • Approach: Confirm the plan
    • Analysis: In this quadrant you should confirm details with the employee.  Ensure they understand the deadline, severity and exit criteria so that they can accomplish the task.  Confirm with them that it will solve the issue (and correct as needed) and then just get out of their way.
  • High Trust / Low Risk
    • Approach: Ask for the plan
    • Analysis: In this quadrant you have more flexibility since the task is not as urgent.  Use this as an opportunity to let the employee full dictate a proposed solution.  Realize that pieces of it may be incorrect – but the opportunity to learn from the mistake and course correct is extremely valuable.
  • Low Trust / Low Risk
    • Approach: Train the employee
    • Analysis: In this quadrant you have the opportunity to coach the employee.  They most likely won’t get the right solution on their own so work with them and help them discover what it is.  Keep in mind that you want to build good habits and break down bad habits in this raw training zone.
  • Low Trust / High Risk
    • Approach: Specify the work
    • Analysis:  This quadrant needs the most work out of you as far as the manager.  You need to give clear instructions to the employee of what needs to be done and by when.  You will also have to dig and probe to ensure there are no blockers.  In addition during the work you will need to constantly check in and ensure progress is adequately being made (course correct if needed).


There is no 1 single answer to how you define the amount or style of direction you give to your employees.  This simple grid is intended more as a tool to help you as a manager gauge the amount of direction that is needed.

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