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 Savvy supervisors know that effective coaching and counseling builds strong working relationships. It also encourages retention and helps employees grow in their careers.

In fact, a 2006 Sun Microsystems 5-year study of over 1,000 employees found that those who mentored others were 6 times more likely to be promoted than those who didn’t, and their mentees were 5x more likely to be promoted than those who weren’t. 

Quality mentoring increases worker satisfaction, productivity, helps the bottom line and is necessary for transferring knowledge and expertise from seniors to newer employees. Efforts from coaching and counseling will bear positive outcomes that outweigh any time or financial investments when done correctly. Following are six secrets for effective employee coaching and counseling. These secrets deal with when and how to effectively coach and counsel employees.

Secret #1: Every moment in the office is an opportunity for training, coaching and counseling employees

In many cases, the most impactful coaching and counseling will be informal – a moment here, a passing observation there. These quick, informal moments then grow into deeper, fuller conversations – conversations that sometimes span days or longer. If you rely strictly on set times to meet with your various employees to talk to them, then you’re not having enough conversations. If you’re only coaching and counseling your employees during formal reviews, you’re not having the right kind of conversations. True mentoring flourishes in the day-to-day interactions of relationship.

Secret #2: Lay the groundwork of a healthy relationship for more successful training, coaching and counseling

The groundwork for successfully coaching is strong, healthy and open relationships. This means that every moment of every day is an opportunity to build relationship. To be most effective, you must have a healthy professional and personal relationship with your employees. Usually leaders think in terms of having a professional relationship, not understanding that a strong personal relationship will augment whatever coaching and counseling you conduct.

WARNING – This comes with a caveat: You can’t be so personally invested in your employees that you lose objectivity, exhibit preferential treatment or allow them to take advantage of the personal relationship.

Okay. Then what is meant by a personal relationship?

It doesn’t mean that you hang out after work and have a social life together. A personal relationship, in this context, means that you know and care about your employees as people, and they know and care about you in the same way. You talk to them about their hopes and dreams. You know what they want to do five years down the line. You know their spouse and children and have interacted with them.

If you know them as only a worker, without knowing what motivates, worries and concerns them in their personal lives, you know only half their story. It’s difficult to effectively counsel an employee if you don’t know them well. You don’t want to give poor advice or make useless suggestions that are based on partial information. You must get to know your employees and truly care about them, and they must get to know you.

Secret #3: See failures and mistakes as perfect opportunities for training, coaching and counseling employees

Everyone makes mistakes and nobody is immune to failure. Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” The most successful people are the ones who have plenty of failures and mistakes, keep pressing forward and turn them around. They perceive their failures and mistakes as opportunities for growth. Many mention the role of counseling in helping them turn these things around, or they mention that special coach who pushed them to surpass their limitations and become great.

Are you one of those coaches? 

When people fail, do you jump into the trenches to help them out? Do you reach down, get a little dirty and pull them up? Or do you stand far off and criticize and berate? Remember to see beyond the bottom line and immediate returns; instead, look at what an investment in a person can do for your organization in the long term. You’ll probably observe a larger dividend in the future with a loyal, productive employee. Always strive to reach down, encourage and teach employees in the midst of their failure.

Be the bigger person; be that memorable boss.

Click to Read How Experienced Leadership Development Coaches & Mentors Can Help Your Leaders Reach Their Full Potential. 

Secret #4: Provide plenty of praise and rewards

Everyone needs to be motivated, particularly when they’re pushing past their known limitations. You want your employees to step out of their comfort zone. You want them to push to take smart risks and excel. The best way to ensure that they’re comfortable taking risks, going out of their comfort zone and innovating is to have a culture of reward and praise.

Verbal praise and tangible rewards must be given for work well done. It must also be given to the appropriate people – the ones who make the project happen in front of others. Make sure to encourage your employees to shine.

Secret #5: Your feedback needs to be detailed and specific

You want the feedback you give your employees to be detailed and specific. Granted, there’s always a place for that quick thumbs up and “Good job!” But, you can’t do that too often.

Employees crave feedback that is detailed and specific. Such feedback looks like, “I really appreciate how you devised a new way to…” They want to know that you truly see them and what they do. Detailed and specific feedback also gives them something to use to grow. It’s hard to grow on generalities. Specificity tells your employees exactly what works and why, so they can work harder at it.

Secret #6: Carpool chats are a quick route to effectively coaching and counseling employees

Have you ever been in a car with a supervisor for a long trip and the conversation started off stilted and then began to flow easily?

All of us have been there. There’s nothing like a carpool chat. There’s something magical about being in a car with a coworker for a period of time. It’s a prime opportunity for some coaching. You’re each a captive audience for the other; no one can run. The only escape is focusing on your cell phone or the traffic, so there aren’t many avenues for distraction, avoidance or hiding. 

Further, sitting in the car allows for easy sharing and talking because no one is looking directly at anyone else. This diminishes any sort of “confrontational” or “invasive” feeling because you’re not looking at each other directly. This helps facilitate those conversations that are more difficult when you are looking directly at each other. Thus, surprisingly, a car ride to an event or meeting is an excellent opportunity for unnoticed, yet extremely effective informal coaching and counseling. Make sure to take advantage of it.

What are the differences between Coaching and Counseling?

Following is a quick breakdown of the most basic of differences:


  • Future focused
  • Solution focused
  • Outcomes driven
  • Doesn’t give advice, instead it leads the individual to find their own answers
  • Asks: “How can you change?”
  • Believes that the individual has the answers within
  • Helps the individual find their own solutions to meet their goal


  • Past focused
  • Problem focused
  • Challenge/issue driven
  • Gives advice, recommendations and directives, at times, forcefully
  • States: Why you must change.
  • The counselor has the answers
  • Gives the individual a diagnosis and treatment or solution to fix the problem

The difference between coaching and counseling is all about perspective. Coaching asks: Do you need help with attaining your work goals; whereas, counseling states: You need help in addressing this issue that hinders your performance in the workplace. 

One is to inspire and motivate; the other is to improve and correct. One helps an employee move forward to achieve a goal; the other helps a struggling employee improve.

One of the major differences between coaches and counselors is in their focus. Coaches look to the future and work to help an individual achieve certain goals in the workplace. They’re looking to improve the employee’s already adequate performance.

Counseling occurs when an employee is having a limiting issue or challenge, which may stem from the past, that affects their performance at work. Counseling focuses on working with individuals who have experienced a negative event or have negative qualities that they need to improve upon in order to be successful in the workplace. Both work to improve the future, but one – the coach – does it by focusing on future forward movement; whereas, the counselor works to process the past, a challenge or a deficiency so that the individual can be freed up to focus on future forward movement.

Do you have internal or external goals that you need or want to achieve?

A coach helps individuals work toward goals that are apparent and obvious. These goals are usually measurable and the outcome of definitive steps taken toward that goal. A coach often helps employees to set SMART goals and, then, helps them go about attaining them.

A counselor focuses the individual on meeting their internal needs or settling internal issues so they can be a better worker. These internal issues are often not very apparent or easily measured. This is all the more important when it’s an internal issue, which can impact their performance in the workplace.

Is the focus on the outcome or on the root of the problem?

Coaches work on moving the individual toward an outward outcome in the workplace by taking concrete action to improve their performance or productivity. Counselors are more internally driven – their focus being on the root of the problem, which is often not seen.

What are the differences between coaches and counselors?

Depending on what is being worked on, the focus of the work, and whether it is internal or external work, an employee may be coached or counseled. A coach may be an equal in the workplace who simply has more experience, has mastered the department or may have received some training in coaching.

A person who counsels may be an actual counselor and have a degree and a license. Or counseling may be done by supervisors and lead employees. Rarely is counseling done by a employee who is considered the equal of the one being counseled. Some workplaces have official counselors but all of them have experienced employees who serve as coaches.

Applying Your Coaching and Counseling Skills in the Workplace

Coaches in the workplace help their employees to set measurable goals and to move toward them in a clear fashion. They support the employee in attaining the desired outcome, which may be greater productivity, increased performance, a promotion, etc. This is different from counselors who strive to assist the employee in moving forward by dealing with the past or internal issues that’s hindering them in the workplace.

First, you must size up the situation

The trick is to know the difference between the two and when to use coaching and when to use counseling. The first order of business is to size up a situation and ascertain whether you’re helping to coach an employee forward into a future goal in the workplace or helping the employee to improve a quality or trait that is affecting his performance.

Do you encourage and motivate or correct and work for improved performance?

Once you’ve sized up the situation, then you are ready to either coach, which means encouraging and motivating your employee. Or you have to counsel the employee, which calls for correcting and helping the employee work toward improvement. Both require ample two-way communication. You must share feedback, concerns and thoughts and you must allow the employee to offer theirs in a safe, judgment-free zone.

A Coaching-Turned-Counseling Situation

Fresh out of college, Constance is a new employee in Human Resources. She is excited about her job but just can’t seem to master the demands of her position. She’s missing clients’ calls and not returning them within the required 24 hour turnaround window. She’s missing meetings and forgetting important assignments.

Initially, this situation is a clear example of an new employee needing coaching. A veteran employee who is exceptionally skilled at organization and time management needs to coach her through managing her time and organizing her day wisely. It’s helpful if the employee is her equal, a colleague, who can model the behavior she’ll need to perform her job. It’s important to note that at the outset, counseling Constance is too heavy-handed a tactic.

However, if Constance doesn’t improve within a few weeks to a couple of months, then the situation shifts from being a coaching dilemma to a counseling situation. No improvement indicates that Constance is suffering from a deeper issue than simply adjusting to the demands of a new job. It would, instead, point to an internal deficiency that needs to be counseled and worked on. In this case, the colleague on equal footing is not the one to do the counseling. A leader or supervisor will have to do the counseling.

Walking Out the Difference Between Counseling and Coaching

As leadership in an organization, it’s necessary to understand the difference between coaching and counseling and to provide the correct strategy at the appropriate time. Knowing the difference between the two and using them appropriately will lead to happier, more productive employees in your organization.

Use These Secrets For More Effective Coaching And Counseling Today

The six secrets above and the additional tips will put you on the inside track for training, coaching and counseling your employees. Don’t hesitate to begin. Quality mentoring is a benefit for the coach and the coached, for the mentor and the mentee. You’ll be sure to see the return in the growth of your employees and the success of your organization.

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To learn more about the benefits of employee development, contact Edge Training at 800-305-2025.