Coaching Employees in Labor-Intensive Industries

Coaching Employees in Labor-Intensive Industries

Employee coaching is one of the most important skills employers look for in supervisors. It’s also a primary area of targeted development, accounting for a large percentage of training dollars invested in front-line leaders. Those that embrace the value that coaching skills provide have a clear advantage among others that don’t. In this article, we take a closer look at employee coaching and outline several ways you can effectively demonstrate it for the benefit of all involved.


Coaching is an ongoing communication of expectations

Employee coaching is an ongoing process. It requires effective, continual communication to ensure your expectations of direct reports are both clear and understood. It also involves collaboration to achieve desired outcomes involving behaviors and job performance.

Communicating expectations or providing direction is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a front-line supervisor. From an employee’s perspective, it clarifies targets and required deliverables. As an example, when working in an elevated position, a supervisor should clearly communicate expectations involving the use of personal protective equipment. This communication is most effective when it includes personal interaction with all involved parties and occurs before the information is needed.


The importance of personal interaction

Dialogue is used to ensure direction is clear and expectations are understood. This can only be achieved through the course of interaction and engagement. Asking questions is an effective coaching technique because it can help determine if the employee understands the direction being given. It also provides insight into information you may have overlooked or equipment and support that may be needed.

Back to our earlier example involving the use of personal protective equipment, a supervisor may ask questions about anchorage points for lanyards or seek input for possible ways to eliminate or minimizing fall exposures. Regardless of how you get there, your role as a supervisor doesn’t end when direction is provided. You must verify clarity and understanding and make certain you’ve not overlooked anything in the process.


Coaching requires two-way feedback and collaboration

Collaboration is broadly understood as the process of two or more people working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. It typically involves cooperation and willing partners working for a common purpose. As it relates to coaching, your role as a supervisor at this point in the process is to provide feedback as needed to reinforce those things done well and to reiterate necessary adjustments for improvement.

This is a process involving shared interests, responsibilities, and purpose – to create alignment with behavior or job performance expectations. As for our earlier fall protection example, the burden of performance belongs to the individual. It doesn’t involve a recommended course of action, but rather a required condition of employment. As such, the employee must assume ownership for the solution, and you must collectively agree on what that looks like going forward.


An effective tool to meet performance expectations

By involving and gathering input from direct reports, coaching can be an extremely useful tool in meeting performance expectations. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. It just needs to work given your company and culture.

A key point concerning the process is that it goes far beyond communication. Dialogue is required to ensure the understanding and collaboration needed to bring about alignment. Over time, the process becomes natural and helps build credibility and respect, as employees will ultimately value the benefits it provides to them.

This article originally appeared in the AEU LEAD blog on May 20, 2019.


As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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