The growing trend away from annual appraisals has led to an increase in regular feedback and coaching. The stomach-churning, butterflies-flipping annual session with the boss is gradually being done away with. As a leader, do you have the coaching skills you need to provide a better alternative? If you’re looking to get the most from your people by transforming an antiquated annual appraisal system, here’s where to start. 

All too often, annual appraisals are laced with a mishmash of old school thinking that isn’t particularly helpful. For a start, they look backwards. An employee, proud of recent achievements, might find that these are partly overlooked in her appraisal in favour of a lengthy chat about something that happened several months back. This approach demands that both manager and employee have all the facts they need in discussing something that took place so long ago that neither can properly recall it. This process is about accountability.

In the current trend towards ongoing feedback, accountability is being replaced with a focus on forward-facing coaching and mentoring. Regularly helping an employee with their learning and development represents a shift towards progress and improvement. So what makes the perfect coach?

8 ways to brush up on your coaching skills

Ongoing effective feedback creates regular opportunities to engage and inspire an employee. It calls for a blend of skills in communication and motivation, delivered in a positive atmosphere of collaboration. You can brush up on these skills by paying attention to:

Communication – show empathy in your professional relationship with the employee, they’re a person like you rather than a ‘component’ within a team to be judged solely by performance data.

Questioning – identify an employee’s difficulties and ambitions while at the same time demonstrating that you as a manager aren’t presuming to already know how they feel about things.

Active listeninglistening is part of coaching only as long as you’re prepared to hear the details of genuine concerns. An employee who feels heard is more inclined to listen to what you have to say.

Rapport – you’re authentically communicating with someone when your feedback session rests easily on a tangible sense of connection, ie the rapport that builds trust and confidence.

Trust and professional closeness – create a psychologically safe environment that provides support, respects boundaries and is genuinely concerned for wellbeing.

Learning and development – relying on rapport, encourage expectations and provide access to learning so that the employee can develop the skills they need to reach mutually agreed targets.

Keep it timely – consistent consensus in coaching agrees that the best feedback is as timely as possible, delivered when facts and issues are alive in the minds of all concerned.

Staying flexible – this is not a comprehensive list of coaching skills, keep in mind that different approaches suit different people. Don’t be afraid to adjust targets as business needs ebb and flow.

Giving effective feedback

Practical tips and advice, from Working Voices consultant trainer Jay Rhoderick

How do I prepare for the performance appraisal?

To prepare for a performance appraisal make sure to enter the conversation having done your homework. Focus on the recent narrative of your employee’s work highs and lows, especially within the context of the company’s performance as a whole.

Think about what sort of leader you are. How do you like to manage your vision? Do an honest personal inventory on your own personality, including your thinking and communication processes. Then consider your reviewee, especially understanding how he or she communicates.  Are there any unique or challenging ways they express themselves, thinking about these in advance will help the review go more smoothly.

Particularly, you should consider their perceptions of tone, point of view and position in the business, these can inform what they need to hear, and how. Specifically:

Tone: In your review, what manner, tone of voice etc, will the employee best respond to?

Point of view: How will your feedback affect the way they perceive the business?

Placement: Does an employee’s rank, seniority, background, strategic placement, etc. within the company suggest how personally he or she takes feedback, or how seriously they receive it so as to usefully apply it?

Make sure you have carefully-chosen, specific examples of when the employee has or has not embodied the skills or behaviours you are focusing on in the review. Finally, you should aim to leave your ego at the door, so as to come across as collaboratively as possible.

How do I manage giving positive or negative feedback?

In short, you’ve got to be honest and direct. Start with the good news and praise, give specific highlights of what is excellent. That’s crucial for establishing trust. But don’t do it all by telling. Rather, the most productive reviews start and end with lots of open questions, getting your employee to drop in with his or her assessments from the very outset.

Request honesty and clear-headedness, and aim to deliver the same when it’s your turn to offer your thoughts, not as the correct version but presenting your own authentic point of view. It can be helpful to include a personal story of when you’ve struggled and what you did about it. Continue to ask for their perspective and input especially as to solutions, asks and improvements.

End the conversation on an up note, with a clear and simple plan of accountable actions that you devise together, a commitment to continued support and ideally include a laugh or two.

  • Keep it honest but supportive
  • Lots of eye contact
  • Keep filler language or excuse making to the minimum
  • Give a rational description of the practical impact of any problems

How do I manage their responses?

Set clear ground rules beforehand on the format of the discussion, remain open to their questions, ask lots of open questions yourself, show respect, maintain confidentiality and trust, and look for moments to coach, in addition to managing the conversation.

Encourage them to give full answers, and try to validate their concerns and possible complaints as worthy of being heard. Keep clear boundaries that this is a professional, not personal conversation.

Crucially, having structure helps to de-personalize things to a degree. Generating a plan for solid action and further development anchors the conversation in what is useful and practical.

Resist the urge to tell and teach. Instead, the philosophy of ‘ask and coach’ will help to ground responses in the realm of accountability. What’s not super helpful is pretending that there are no emotions involved. If someone is upset or excited, whether they show it fully or not, be mindful of these emotions and respect them.


Develop your coaching skills with courses delivered in-person, virtually or via e-learning: 

Delivering feedback training course

Coaching & mentoring training

Managing difficult conversations training course


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