Support Feedback Review and Conduct Coaching Sessions

A step-by-step guide showing how you can run a great feedback review and coaching session for a debrief that's both positive and valuable, including what's expected of you as a coach, and how to support employees who get negative feedback

As a manager, a big part of your role is bringing out the best in your people through feedback and coaching. 

A feedback review and coaching session can be a powerful tool to support you here.

However, if you’re like most managers, then being asked to support a feedback review and coaching session will raise some concerns:

  • How does the meeting work?

  • How do I support employees who get negative feedback?

  • How should they use the feedback, and how should their personal development fit in alongside business-as-usual activities?

  • What’s expected of me as a “coach”?

  • Will they see any benefit from the feedback, or will they end up setting lofty goals that they quickly forget?

In this article, we want to address all of these points and more.

We’ll take you through the process step-by-step, showing you how to support a feedback review and coaching session for a debrief that's both positive and valuable. And how to then make sure your employees actually take action and make an impact!

1. Help the employee to prepare 

To get the most out of this process, it’s important to prepare in advance.

Here are the key steps:

  1. Review the 360° Feedback report. You don’t need to review every detail, but you should try to quickly identify if there’s anything that is likely to surprise or upset the employee you are supporting.

  2. Review how the employee should be preparing. Read our guides on:
    Review your 360° Feedback report
    How to create a personal development plan and take action

  3. Make sure your employee prepares. They’ll need at least an hour in advance of the meeting, and will probably need reminding if this is their first time through the process. 

It’s worth reemphasizing: this preparation is really important! If the employee doesn’t have enough time to prepare before your meeting, then consider delaying for a day or two.

2. Start by sharing the goals and agenda

Start the feedback review and coaching session by taking 5 minutes to get comfortable, check how they’re doing, and then share the goals and agenda.

The goals are typically:

  • We should capture and address any major concerns with the feedback received

  • We should agree on where to focus your energy when it comes to personal development

  • We should agree on 1–3 realistic goals

  • We should agree some actions that you’ll take this week to start making progress!

Here is an agenda with suggested timings:

  1. Share goals and agenda (5 mins)

  2. Capture and address any major concerns with the feedback received (10 mins)

  3. Agree where to focus your energy (15 mins)

  4. Agree on 1–3 realistic goals (15 mins)

  5. Plan actions to take this week to start making progress (15 mins)

After sharing the agenda, it works best if the employee leads the discussion, although you may need to provide some prompts.

You should also keep a careful eye on the time — you want to make sure you have 30 minutes to agree goals and plan actions.

3. Address any major concerns

Sometimes, an employee may get feedback that they find to be surprising, disappointing, frustrating, or even upsetting.

This may be due to feedback that is overly critical, or feedback that is unclear because it isn’t supported by good examples.

Let the employee share their concerns, and make a list. Initially your job is just to listen and provide empathy.

Once you have a full list, review them one at a time.

Ideally, you can help the employee to understand the feedback. This can be done by asking probing questions (“why do you think they may have said that?”), or by sharing some examples of the behavior you’ve observed that has led to the feedback.

If it’s not possible to address a concern in a sensible amount of time, then you may need to park it. This is easy: simply agree that one of the goals you’re going to set is to address the concern. At the end of the coaching session, you’ll plan some actions you take this week to start addressing it. For example, you might want to talk to some of the people who gave feedback to better understand their views.

As a final note here, you can reach out to your HR team for support in extreme cases where the employee is still very emotional about the feedback after your coaching session, or where you’ve seen unprofessional feedback.

4. Agree where the employee should focus their energy

Before you start working out how to use the feedback, it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Take a look at where the opportunities are:

  • How can the employee better support our organization’s values?

  • How can the employee better support our business goals?

  • How can the employee better deliver on their job responsibilities?

  • How can the employee make faster progress towards their career goals?

  • How can the employee make better use of their strengths?

  • How can the employee address the areas colleagues see as their top areas to improve?

Our goal here is simply to agree on where the biggest opportunities are. 

Ideally, the employee will come into the feedback review and coaching session having already attempted to answer the questions above (it’s covered in the first 2 steps of our guide!). In the reviewing and coaching session, you can help to identify opportunities they may have missed.

While the employee can find their strengths and areas to improve in their 360° Feedback report, you may find that they are unclear on the organization values, business goals or their job responsibilities. That’s OK! Fixing this should simply become one of the goals you agree with them next.

5. Agree on 1–3 realistic goals

Now the employee knows where they want to focus their energy, it’s time to set 1-3 personal development goals to work on now. Being focused helps to make the goals much more achievable, particularly as they will be doing this alongside all of their other day-to-day activities.

Goals should be “SMART”. This simply means that they should be:

  • Specific: It needs to be really clear what the employee intends to do

  • Measurable: The employee needs an easy way of seeing whether or not a goal has been completed

  • Achievable: The goal needs to be realistic.

  • Relevant: The goal should be consistent with their wider goals (— it will be if you’ve looked at the bigger picture above!)

  • Time-based: Set a deadline for when the goal needs to be achieved.

Make sure that deadlines are realistic. When deadlines are too optimistic, they can actually be counter-productive, causing the employee stress as the time approaches, and frustration with the whole process if they miss their goal. 

If needed, here’s some further guidance (with examples) on how to write SMART goals.

Once the goals are set, it’ll be your job to hold the employee accountable for making progress. Research shows that holding someone accountable significantly increases the likelihood of that person taking action!

6. Plan the actions to take this week

So, now the employee has now looked at the big picture, decided where to focus, and set some awesome personal development goals. Congratulate them on a great job!

They now need a plan that takes them towards achieving those goals.

It can be tempting to create a detailed action plan with goals broken down week by week. You know… a bit like this:

Fortunately, there’s a simpler and much more effective way to plan the actions needed. Simply help the employee to identify actions that they can take this week to make progress.

For example:

This approach works great because it forces the employee to be realistic about what they can achieve this week. Then, in one week’s time, they can review the actions they planned to take, see what helped and what didn’t, and then use this knowledge to make a new plan.

Tip: Encourage the employee to consider a range of potential actions, and then pick just a small number to do this week.

7. Provide ongoing support and coaching

To help the employee stay on track, they will need to review their progress each week, and plan new actions.

Ideally, this is part of preparing for and having a weekly 1-2-1 meeting with their manager or coach. 

If you’re not currently having weekly 1-2-1s then you can instead ask the employee to share their progress and new actions each week. This simple step can make a big impact — a California study found participants who simply shared goals and progress each week achieved 43% more of their goals than those who did not!

Tip: For a wealth of information on why 1-2-1s are so important, as well as simple guides on how to get better at providing feedback and coaching, we recommend the Manager Tools podcast or The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman.

Over time, the employee will start to either achieve their goals, or may decide the goals are no longer relevant. That’s great, and they can use the time with you to prioritize new goals instead.

As well as a weekly review, schedule time once a quarter to review that they are still working on the right goals. In this quarterly review, you can simply repeat the key steps in this guide, seeking more 360° Feedback if it will be useful.