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Employee Development Through Coaching, Mentoring and Counseling: A Multidimensional Approach.

U.S. companies often fail to establish basic communication-linking processes between the employee and supervisor that can add support and value to their total development effort. This article presents (1) a self-assessment instrument that can be used by supervisors to measure their core values related to employee development; (2) a discussion of coaching, mentoring, and counseling models designed to enhance communication between supervisors and employees; and (3) a consideration of the importance of having supervisors select the appropriate model, assumptions, and strategies when addressing specific employee performance-development needs.


Organizations in the U.S. annually spend well over $300 million on employee training and development [2]. This includes supporting employee-development activities such as customized workshops, credit and not-for-credit courses, self-instructional programs, Internet education, instructional materials and technical training. Even though companies have made this financial commitment, they often fail to establish basic communication-linking processes between the employee and supervisor that can add support and value to their total development effort.

Although there is a large body of literature on employee mentoring, there has been much less writing done on coaching and counseling in the context of employee development Likewise, little has been written about the manager or supervisor as mentor. Within this context, we include in this article: (1) a self-assessment instrument that can be used by supervisors to measure their core values related to employee development; (2) a discussion of three models (coaching, mentoring, and counseling) designed to enhance communication between supervisors and employees during the employee-development process; and (3) a consideration of the importance of having supervisors select the appropriate model, assumptions, and strategies when addressing specific employee performance-development needs. Although the terms manager and supervisor may mean different things in different organizations, we use them interchangeably in this paper to denote any person who directly oversees the efforts of others in a work situation.

Insights from research indicate that the terms coaching, mentoring, and counseling are not well-defined when applied to working with employees and are frequently used interchangeably by researchers and authors as if they were synonymous concepts. On the contrary, coaching, mentoring, and counseling processes operate on different situational assumptions and dynamics that need to be carefully considered by a supervisor so that he or she can implement the appropriate model with employees.

Core Values of Coaches, Mentors, and Counselors

Managers who aspire to be effective coaches, mentors, or counselors must address basic core values underlying the principles of the employee-development communication processes discussed here. The degree to which a manager supports these values will determine his or her effectiveness as a leader in the development of employees. Assumptions that test one's core values are identified in Exhibit 1. As a manager or supervisor, evaluate yourself on each of the value statements before you read the remainder of this article. Answer Yes if you "buy in" to the statement No if you do not, and R if you have reservations.

Core values represented by the items in Exhibit 1 are as follows: Vision and Goal Clarity (1,7), Supportiveness (2,3,4), Confidence Building (5), Consideration (6,8), Risk Orientation (9,15), Patience (10), Trust Building (11,12), and Openness (13,14).A "yes" response to all of these is highly desirable and would indicate that you have the basic core value attitudes to be successful in the role of coach, mentor, or counselor.

Due to the nature of individual corporate work cultures and employee differences, it is not unusual for managers to not accept or to have reservations about some of these value concepts. Before you can be effective in the employee development process, the value statements to which you did not respond Yes need to be addressed. Employee receptiveness to management's efforts will subside if they sense discontinuity between what a manager says he or she is going to endorse (i.e., attitude) and the manager's actual behavior in terms of genuine support received (i.e., behavior).

For example, employees who receive training in effective problem solving and decision making and who are not provided opportunities to participate in problem-solving issues, will view the supervisor as not exhibiting confidence in their abilities (core value) or sufficient risk orientation (core value). Future rhetoric on employee development activity under these conditions could be viewed by employees as pseudo attempts to develop their human resource potential.

Estimates suggest that, as a general rule, approximately 15% of a company's work force can be profiled as High Performance Employees (HPE's). Another 70% are classified as Average Performers (AP's) who generally do not go beyond meeting the expected performance standards. The remaining 15% consists of marginal or problem employees (MPE's). Coaching-model strategies are most effective in working with HPE's; mentoring strategies generally apply to AP types; and counseling strategies are designed to assist managers in developing employees who have MPE profiles.

Coaching, Mentoring, Counseling Models

Selecting the appropriate model should be determined by one's core value orientation toward employees and the assumptions one makes about employee attitudes and behaviors. if a particular model and its assumptions do not represent a good fit with the employee's circumstances, a supervisor may utilize inappropriate communication and employee development strategies. Each of the following models contains its own assumptions, communication strategy, and guidelines for the practicing manager to consider when addressing employee performance development.

Coaching Model. Coaching model strategies should be utilized when the manager perceives that the employee's performance attitudes and behaviors align with approximately 70% of the assumptions contained in Exhibit 2.

These assumptions apply to the High Performance Employee. Operating on these assumptions requires the supervisor to provide the appropriate motivational support for this type of employee. Although HPEs react positively to monetary rewards, non-monetary motivators can have as much impact on them as monetary incentives. If an HPE perceives that monetary rewards are adequate, but that there are insufficient non-monetary incentives, the manager's motivational efforts may have negligible impact on this employee's ability to sustain a high-performance profile.

Some of the non-monetary incentives that managers can utilize are implicit in the assumptions listed above. For example, HPEs are generally motivated by a loose (non-directive) supervisory style which allows the employee the opportunity to be self-actualizing and self-directing on the job with minimal interference from managerial authority. As a high-energy performer, the HPE enjoys a work environment that nurtures individualized work assignments and provides opportunities to work with colleagues in a team environment.

Your role as "coach" in this model is to help sustain the appropriate conditions in the work environment for the HPE. The high performer also looks to the manager to provide appropriate resources, progress-toward-goal-related information, and periodic guidance that will keep the HPE fully focused on performance expectations.

Another example of a high-impact non-monetary motivator for the HPE is to receive both oral and written recognition from management. This becomes an even more powerful strategy if the employee knows that his or her immediate manager apprises upper-level management and key staff members of the HPE's accomplishments. Providing this type of vertical and lateral visibility for the HPE can Be an extremely effective low-cost motivator.

The manager-coach can also identify cross-training opportunities for the HPE in other work units or on other projects. Cross-training opportunities in the long term can often be considered low-cost development strategies for the company to initiate. Negative outcomes should be expected if the HPE perceives that there is little opportunity on the job to augment his or her knowledge and skill base.

When HPEs perceive barriers to their own development, the following outcomes often occur: (1) the HPE's quality and quantity of performance over a period of time drops into AP or MP levels; (2) the HPE seeks an internal transfer to a position that nurtures conditions absent from the current position; or (3) the HPE seeks a position in another company.

Mentoring Model. Communication strategies utilized by the manager-mentor are somewhat different than those used by the manager-coach due to the assumptions the manager makes about an employee's performance attitudes and behaviors. Mentoring strategies should be initiated if the manager perceives that an employee is meeting approximately 70% of the average performer (AP) assumptions shown in Exhibit 3.

Unlike the situation with the coaching model, employees who fit 70% or more of the above conditions require a mentoring relationship with their manager that provides close supervision to address skill, knowledge, or ability deficiencies. Mentoring strategies in this communication process encompass: (1) identifying critical ability, skill, and knowledge deficiencies that require further development; (2) determining whether the performance deficiencies can be addressed by providing training or non-training solutions [As a note of caution, managers need to be aware that not all performance deficiencies can be corrected through additional training. Non-training solutions, for example, may require the manager to provide learning/job instruction aids or visuals/or the employee, to improve the ergonomics of the employee's work selling, or make a job/project reassignment.]; (3) obtaining understanding and agreement from the employee to correct identified deficiencies; (4) developing and implementing an action plan t o correct specific performance deviations; (5) measuring performance improvement outcomes on a short-and long-range basis; and (6) providing continuous feedback to the employee on his or her progress.

The employee should be consulted and actively involved at every point in the above process. Performance improvement happens when the employee and supervisor act as a team in the various stages of the development effort.

An effective teaming approach in developing an employee in a given area is to work alongside the individual in a hands on instructional capacity. Combining a JIBE (Job Instruction by Example) approach with the "10-60-90" adult learning principle can be a powerful tool for mentoring employees. Research on employee retention during training reveals that, if a manager tells an employee what to do, he or she will remember approximately 10% of the job instructions. When the manager tells and shows the employee what to do, the employee will remember approximately 60% of the information. When the manager combines tell and show with the employee demonstrating what was observed, the employee will retain approximately 90% of the instructional effort [1:141].

Managers often assume that the majority of performance deficiencies can be resolved by sending employees to training programs, workshops, or seminars. The dynamics of many programs concentrate on the "tell" side of the formula and consequently provide the trainee with minimal, if any, experiential practice or instructor feedback. Programs of this nature are generally not cost effective and have little impact on employees who require a mentoring intervention.

A common performance deficiency for many employees, for example, is time management. The manager-mentor solution in this case is usually to have employees attend a program on this subject Employee feedback from those attending such programs is often quite positive. This feedback, of course, makes the manager feel good and he or she assumes that the time-management practices of the employees will improve. On a short-term basis, this may be true (the training impact will probably last one or two weeks). However, in the long run, without follow-up from the manager-mentor, many employees will return to their old habits. In this scenario, the manager-mentor needs to provide periodic reinforcement of time-management skills that the employees should be implementing.

The manager, for example, can provide positive reinforcement using the JIBE approach. That is: (1) the employees observe their manager utilizing time-management techniques and (2) the manager periodically provides feedback to employees on a one-on-one basis about their use of time-management practices. This approach reinforces time-management principles taught in the training course and encourages value-added time-management behavior among the employees.

The mentor's overall responsibility is to identify employees with AP profiles who have not realized their full potential for continuous improvement or career growth and assist them in an instructional or consultative capacity. Shadowing employees on a periodic basis and providing them with immediate feedback and consultation can be an effective communication strategy for sustaining and improving performance behavior. Over time, utilizing effective mentoring strategies can move an AP employee to the HP level.

Counseling Model. The counseling model applies to performance issues that relate more to an employee's attitudinal and behavioral problems than to deficiencies in skills, knowledge, or abilities. Dysfunctional performance behaviors, such as insubordination, lack of respect for authority, not accepting advice, being late for work or leaving early, substance abuse, chronic absenteeism, abusive behavior toward other employees or supervisors, and low energy levels, are often symptoms of the problem employee or marginal performer. The "MP" designation will be used to refer to both the marginal performer and the problem employee. Counseling-model strategies should be utilized by the manager if any of the assumptions contained in Exhibit 4 apply to the employee.

Maintaining one's patience as a core value becomes a necessity for supervisors with MP issues to address. Terminating problem performers often requires documentation to illustrate that management has provided "due process" to accommodate the problem employee. Due process procedures are required by many company personnel policies and by city, state, and federal laws and affirmative action guidelines. Union contracts also protect the rights of employees being considered for termination. Consequently, it can take approximately one to two years before a termination can be finalized. Managers should consult with their human resource departments regarding policies and procedures that address the process to be used in counseling marginal and/or problem employees.

There are seven communication steps in the counseling process (see Exhibit 5) that are recommended for managers who are seeking direction and guidance in working with the MP.

A cardinal rule in the employee development process, whether it be coaching, mentoring, or counseling employees, is to always address employee issues in terms of work-related performance. The supervisor should be extremely careful in discussions with employees not to attribute causes to performance issues that are perceived to be related to substance abuse, marital problems, psychological disorders, or other areas that may violate the employee's right to privacy. Most managers are not professionally trained or licensed to engage in diagnoses of this type and should seek the advice of human resource professionals on these matters.

The Mixed Model

The three employee-development models discussed above are considered pure models in that they apply to employees who fit assumptions that relate to a specific model. There may be occasions, however, when an employee's overall work attitudes and behaviors can transcend more than one model's assumptions.

For example, Jim, an accountant who has been with the company for eight years, is considered by his manager and others to be a high performer with great career potential in the firm. During recent months, however, two of Jim's female coworkers, who are also members of the project team that Jim is responsible for leading, have complained to Jim's manager about his tendencies toward sexual harassment. Jim often stops by their respective workstations to flirt and tell them off-color jokes. One female coworker has repeatedly asked him to stop calling her at home for a date, but she finds he will not take "no" for an answer. Jim has informed both of them that they could be much more effective as team members if they "got to know him better." Both females have well-supported documentation of Jim's behavior toward them. Jim is recently divorced after 10 years of marriage. What employee-development model would you use if you were Jim's manager?

Let us assume that, as Jim's manager, you will be investigating this issue. You realize that Jim has maintained his high-performance energy level and is considered critical to the department's operations. However, you have also determined that Jim has "slipped" in meeting some of the coaching-model assumptions that you have made regarding his performance as an HPE. You have determined that: (1) he is currently not meeting corporate expectations that relate to human resource gender policies; (2) his behavior is not indicative of an effective team player; (3) he has violated a corporate trust in terms of his assigned responsibility and authority; (4) he needs to be supervised more closely than you anticipated in terms of his team leadership abilities; (5) he could jeopardize his career opportunities in the company if he continues this behavior; and (6) he is worth saving as an employee if he can correct his attitudes and behavior on this issue. You realize now that you cannot continue to rely only on coaching- model strategies with Jim, and that you will have to implement additional leadership strategies borrowed from the mentoring and counseling models.

As Jim's manager, you have decided to employ a mixed-model approach. You will continue to support him in the areas where he is performing well. However, you recognize that Jim now has specific deficiencies that need to be addressed. You have decided to schedule him to attend an off-site sexual harassment workshop (mentoring-model strategy) and a team project leadership workshop (mentoring-model strategy). In addition, you have discussed with him the consequences if he does not correct this behavior (counseling-model strategy), you have asked him to seek counseling from the human resource department (counseling-model strategy), and you have fully implemented FOSA documentation with Jim (counseling-model strategy) to correct his behavior with employees of the opposite gender.

By utilizing the mixed-model approach with Jim, you can continue to use coaching-model process strategies with him in areas where the model's assumptions still apply. However, you now find you must engage in leadership practices that employ the dynamics of both the coaching and mentoring models. You will be able to revert back to relying mainly on coaching-model strategies when you feel that Jim has corrected his behavior by living up to the FOSA agreement.


Selecting the appropriate intervention model to develop the company's human resources is an extremely important managerial decision. The three models presented above require a manager to be intuitive, observant of employee performance behavior, and flexible in management style. The research on coaching, mentoring, and counseling is in its infancy stage and cannot provide a manager, at this point in time, with a "sure fire" formula for success in these endeavors.

The principles and concepts discussed in this article provide managers with three strategic approaches to developing employees, depending on situational factors and the assumptions a manager makes regarding employee performance behavior. Coaching, mentoring, and counseling employees is definitely more of an art than a science and, consequently, requires managers to approach each employee's performance and career aspirations in a customized manner.


Dr. Robert L. Minter

Dr. Robert L. Minter is a Professor of Management and Labor Relations and former Dean of the James J. Nance College of Business Administration at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. He was previously Dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Northern Iowa, Dean of the School of Management at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Dean of the School of Business at Central Connecticut State University. Dr. Minter has held professorial appointments at Eastern Michigan University, The State University of New York at Buffalo, Cornell University, The University of New Hampshire, and Purdue University. He was also Director of Professional and Executive Development for Detroit Edison, Detroit, Michigan. He received a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication and Behavior from Purdue University. Dr. Minter has published in numerous journals and is the co-author of a book entitled Perspectives on Administrative Communication.

Dr. Edward G. Thomas

Dr. Edward G. Thomas is a Professor of Marketing in the James J. Nance College of Business Administration at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. He has held a number of administrative positions in the College, including Department Chair, Assistant Dean, Associate Dean, and Interim Dean. Dr. Thomas earned his Ed.D. degree at the University of Kentucky in 1973. His research interests are in the areas of services marketing, marketing strategy, advertising, flexible work scheduling, and business ethics. Articles in these areas and others have appeared in the Journal of Health Care Marketing, the European Journal of Marketing, the Journal of Services Marketing, the Journal of Professional Services Marketing, Health Marketing Quarterly, the Journal of Travel Research, and Business and Society Review.


(1.) Hendricks, W., ed. The Manager's Role as Coach. Shawnee Mission, KS: National Press Publications, 1994.

(2.) Meister, J. C. Corporate Quality Universities: Lessons in Building a World-Class Work Force. New York: Irwin Professional Publishing, 1994.


1. ___ I never assume that my employees know what is expected.

2. ___ I encourage my staff to ask questions when in doubt about work-related issues.

3. ___ I support my employees by providing help, advice, resources, and information.

4. ___ I make it a habit to support my employees even when they make mistakes.

5. ___ I believe that, for my team to succeed, I must assist the members to maximize their individual skills.

6. ___ I bring to the attention of my superiors and employees on a regular basis the individual and team accomplishments of my employees.

7. ___ I believe in taking the time to explain my vision and goals in detail to my employees.

8. ___ I believe in taking the time to get to know those who work for me (e.g., their likes/dislikes, work preferences, and feelings about the job and company).

9. ___ I support the notion that it's OK for my employees to fail as long as they learn from it.

10. ___ I don't believe in "knee jerk" reactions when dealing with on-the-job surprises.

11. ___ I believe in maintaining employee confidentiality.

12. ___ I believe in allowing my employees the opportunity to experiment with new procedures as long as they keep me informed.

13. ___ I believe in encouraging my employees to question solutions to work-related problems that they did not participate in resolving.

14. ___ As a communicator, I make it a practice to listen more than I talk when working on employee-related issues.

15. ___ I believe that allowing one to fail breeds success.

Adapted from Hendricks, W., ed. The Manager's Role as Coach. Shawnee Mission, KS: National Press Publications, 1994, 2-15.


* Is a strong performer

* Requires a low level of supervision

* Utilizes time effectively

* Assumes a high level of accountability

* Exhibits a high level of energy

* Is a self-starter

* Requires little direction

* Is an effective communicator -- keeps management and others informed

* Has high potential for career mobility

* Exhibits high levels of competency on most, if not all, corporate expectations

* Is an effective team player

* Is current in the knowledge and skills required to do the job

* Can be trusted to follow through on assigned responsibility and authority

* Assumes a high level of initiative


* Exhibits standard or average performance behavior on a continuous basis

* Has the capacity and potential to improve the quality/quantity of performance beyond the standard, but needs additional training and experience

* Has potential to become a strong team player

* Is not yet meeting performance expectations because the employee is new to the job or company

* Requires specific instruction in skill/knowledge areas to develop the necessary abilities and willingness to meet performance expectations

* Requires moderate to close supervision

* Has difficulty assuming higher levels of accountability at this time due to the employee's current state of knowledge or skill/ability levels

* Is not effective at this point-in-time in managing key responsibilities

* Has potential to be a HPE in the department/company

* Has potential to achieve expected competency levels

* Is unable to bring about improvement on his/her own initiative

* Requires a manager or designated individual to work side-by-side with the employee on selected critical tasks in order to bring about significant performance improvement

* Needs to demonstrate improvement in selected areas to be retained on the current job

* Demonstrates performance concerns that relate more to the employee's knowledge, skill, or ability levels than to attitudinal or behavioral problems.


* Is consistently below the department's average performance expectations on most, if not all, critical tasks

* Exhibits behavioral or emotional problems that are impacting on his or her performance as well as that of others on the work team

* Is repeatedly violating work rules or company policies

* Requires immediate correction of behavior/attitudes/emotions

* Is unable to provide effective self-management

* Has not experienced a supervisory intervention before and has potential to be helped through counseling (and perhaps mentoring)

* Requires one final attempt by the supervisor even though previous interventions with the employee have not been successful


Step 1 Determine if the employee is worth saving.

Step 2 Seek advice from your company's human resource department and from your immediate supervisor.

Step 3 Develop employee awareness of existing performance problems, issues and/or policy violations. Meet with the employee in a private location, discuss these performance issues, and obtain employee commitment to change in the desired direction, Inform employee of specific behavior changes expected if the performance problem is related to attitudinal/personality/emotional issues.

Step 4 Implement a human resources management documentation process known as FOSA with the employee. Document Facts to define the problem, establish Objectives and Solutions to resolve the problem, and indicate Action to be taken if the problem is not resolved. FOSA plans should include specific performance indicators, time frames, and formal review dates. Consequences also need to be identified if change is not in the desired direction. Both the employee and manager should sign the FOSA agreement.

Step 5 Provide required training, on-the-job instruction, and/or shadowing if a training solution is appropriate. Also engage in close supervision, monitoring and documentation of employee performance during the improvement process.

Step 6 Conduct a final feedback session with the employee regarding his or her progress as identified in Step 4. If progress in terms of the FOSA agreement is not satisfactory, consult with the human resource department before your scheduled meeting with the employee regarding termination procedures, If employee progress meets expectations, orally communicate to the employee your satisfaction with his or her efforts to improve. Follow-up immediately after the meeting with a memo to the employee (include a copy for the file) congratulating the individual on these achievements and/or identifying deficiencies that need yet to be addressed.

Step 7 Provide positive reinforcement for the employee over an extended period of time to assist the individual in his or her continuous improvement efforts.
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Author:Minter, Robert L.; Thomas, Edward G.
Publication:Review of Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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