Posted by Caveo Learning ● November 5, 2015

On-the-Job Coaching, the Original Informal Learning

On-the-Job Coaching, the Original Informal LearningInformal learning is all the rage these days in learning & development, much of it driven by innovations in technology. But while newer informal learning tactics like social learning, user-generated learning, and Tin Can API are getting much of the buzz, learning leaders are wise to keep one of the oldest forms of informal learning in their toolboxes: on-the-job coaching.

Done right, coaching can be an extraordinarily effective and budget-friendly form of on-the-job training. Inherently customizable, coaching can foster immediate growth and development by equipping workers with the feedback, knowledge, and opportunities they need to develop their job skills. In the ideal coaching arrangement, managers are focused on developing and encouraging their staff to contribute their individual talents to the team’s overall success. To achieve this, coaching must exist as part of a mutual relationship based on trust.

It’s important to understand that coaching will not be successful as a one-time exercise. It must be an ongoing engagement that perpetually reassesses associates’ plans and behaviors. Mutual discussion around the individual’s progress allows for continued feedback and growth, and it provides an opportunity for focused recognition. The best coaching is often informal and in the moment, though it can also exist in a formal setting, scheduled periodically.

Here are four pillars of an effective coaching program.

Set Goals

Establish a clear accountability structure. Work with the individual to develop a clear action plan that includes measurable outcomes, and then maintain a focus on achieving the goals. They need to feel ownership of the goal, that they have the tools and resources to achieve the goal, and that they are ultimately responsible for succeeding or failing.


Coaching must consist of timely, supportive, and focused feedback, and so managers should make it a point to observe their reports with the intent of identifying coaching opportunities. Always be on the lookout for teachable moments, whether it is an instance of failing to perform as appropriate, or the happy opposite—reinforcement of excellent behaviors.


Make coaching a priority, part of the manager’s everyday routine. Accountability is a major component of successful coaching, established only when workers feel that their development is always a top concern. Focus on fostering the individual’s development—the inputs that go into making them great, as opposed to their production. Their output will take care of itself as long as you’re helping them on the front end by developing their potential.


Use past performance to determine and develop future behaviors to drive key results. Recognize preferred behaviors to encourage retention, and acknowledge what an individual does well. Remember that coaching is not about “fixing” anyone; it’s about helping them by modeling the behavior and actions you want them to emulate and providing opportunities for them to learn new skills.

Open, Honest Communication Critical

Managers who are effective coaches are, above all, positive influences who help their reports reach their fullest potential. This is achieved by open and honest communication, including taking an “Ask vs. Tell” approach to coaching interactions. Rather than simply telling the person what to do, successful managers ask questions that show the associate’s input is valued and that the manager believes in their ability to generate positive solutions.

To that end, here are seven best practices for open and honest communication.

Be open

Encourage the individual to share things that are important to them. The key here is to actively listen and allow the individual to realize you value their ideas and perspectives.

Ask questions

Draw out their thinking on the matter at hand, with the objective of determining what they know and what motivates them. It may seem obvious, but don’t forget to truly listen to their responses.


Make a genuine effort to understand and relate to the person’s feelings.

Acknowledge their viewpoint

Let the individual know that talking about their issues or concerns is important and valid.

Respect their opinion

Listen and repeat—paraphrasing if necessary—the information that was shared so they know you were listening.

Build trust

Establish a mutually beneficial conversation where each party has an opportunity to share their ideas.

Be quiet

Don’t attempt to dominate the conversation, and don’t be afraid of silence. Give the person a chance to reason on the concepts you share and formulate conclusions for themselves. Understand that silence does not equate to disinterest.

Finally, remember that for coaching to be successful, the individual needs to believe that their opinions are genuinely valued. A one-way communication relationship—the “I’m the Boss” approach—leaves the employee feeling disrespected and that their opinions or actions are of little importance.