Training, development and coaching

A mix of training, development and coaching is the most effective way to grow employee performance.

Formal learning

Formal learning is:

  • most valuable when:
    • it gives technical skills, theories and explanations that apply directly to work that the employee is doing at the time, and
  • most effective when:
    • the employee has regular meetings with their manager to discuss how to apply the learning to their role
    • the employee feels that their manager supports their specific learning
    • the learning-related behaviour change is rewarded.


Training refers to the process of getting the skills required for a certain job. It is formal learning targeting specific activities, for example, understanding a process or how to operate a certain machine or system.

What managers could do

  • Outline, preferably in writing, any on-the-job training that the employee can expect to receive and is expected to participate in.
  • Many training opportunities are available, both job specific and general. For example, courses to enhance communication skills can improve an employee’s confidence as well as customer and staff relationship skills.
  • Speak to your relevant Industry Training Organisation to get ideas about job-specific training opportunities for you and your employees.
  • Training may take more than one session depending on the employee’s skill or previous experience. Be patient and allow the employee time. Get them to demonstrate and repeat back to you what they have learnt to ensure they have the right idea.
  • Do follow-up checks to ensure employees haven’t picked up incorrect habits when performing tasks.
  • Keep records of any training your employee has received. This will help you to keep track of who has attended the training and who hasn’t.
  • If a new employee says they have already been trained on a task, ask to see their certificates or get them to ‘show’ you that they can do it to double-check and supervise them until you’re sure they’ve been trained properly.

Other types of formal learning

There are many types of external courses that employers may support the employee attending. These include university or other tertiary institute courses. It will be important to agree from the outset what support the employer will give to the employee when they’re studying.

  • When an employer requires an employee to undertake certain development or maintain a particular registration then the employer should pay for these.
  • When the employee has to maintain a certain level of l development or training to retain membership of a professional body or trade registration required by the employer they should consider whether to pay for costs such as fees, study leave, etc.
  • Where it’s agreed that it is of mutual benefit, but not a requirement for the job, then the employee should not assume that the employer will pay and they should have a conversation to agree who will pay what from the start.
  • Things to consider might include:
    • paid or unpaid study leave
    • course costs and who pays them
    • whether they are paid only if the person passes (ie reimbursement)
    • whether the person gets a pay rise when they pass, or a promotion etc.
    • whether if they attend a course they are expected to do a paper bag lunch briefing to the team, or a power point presentation, or train the other staff.

Workplace Literacy

In workplaces where some employees may not have a high level of literacy (reading and writing skills) improving literacy can benefit both employer and employees. Increasing literacy levels means more staff can read and understand important information such as health and safety information and notices on machinery.

The Tertiary Education Commission has a programme called Skills Highway (external link) which will assist employers to improve employees’ literacy, numeracy and communication skills.

Personal and career development

Development puts emphasis on broader skills, which apply to a wide range of situations. This can include decision-making, thinking creatively and managing people. Development is the continual building of skills and knowledge, including becoming the best you can be in your job and undertaking professional development, along with career planning. Professional development skills are the skills and knowledge that go beyond the scope of your job description, although they may indirectly improve job performance.

Development is an ongoing, shifting process. Managers are in a good position to provide encouragement, support and valuable feedback, along with learning opportunities or resources. Formal training and study away from the job are effective in providing new information, but to actually learn a skill you need to practise. A manager can contribute significantly to their staff member's development by supporting their career development activities within the wider organisation as well as outside of the workplace.

  • A focus on skill development contributes to learning opportunities.
  • Opportunities for promotion, secondments and/or lateral moves add to the employee's job satisfaction.
  • A greater sense of responsibility for an employee to manage their own development contributes to self-confidence.
  • Personal and career planning and development clarifies the match between organisational and individual employee goals.
  • It's cost-effective to use your own staff talent to provide development opportunities within your organisation.
  • Development increases employee motivation and productivity.
  • Attention to development helps attract top staff and retain valued employees.
  • When you’re meeting with your employee, regularly include a discussion on their individual development plan and career.
  • Hold your managers and supervisors accountable for supporting employee development efforts.
  • Create programmes and activities to provide skill development, such as job rotation, secondments, mentoring, internships and coaching.
  • Recognise that your role includes providing support and/or release time for staff members' development beyond their current jobs - this may include volunteer work, for example, coaching a school sports team, joining a school board or other committee experience.
  • Support requests for flexible work from staff members.
  • Serve as a role model by participating in career and professional development opportunities yourself.
  • See staff members' applications for other positions as a healthy sign of a dynamic workplace.
  • Support secondments and lateral moves within your organisation.
  • Create job vacancy listings that allow for the most diverse applicant pool while honouring transferable skills.

Roles managers might play

Helps employees identify strengths, weaknesses, interests, and values by maintaining open, effective communication and ongoing encouragement. You can improve your coaching by:

  • encouraging two-way conversations and an open feedback culture
  • showing employees how to identify their skills, interests and values
  • scheduling uninterrupted career development discussions
  • encourage activities outside of the organisation to develop skills.

Provides organisational information, realities and resources to employees. You can improve your advising by:

  • supporting employees develop realistic goals based on your organisational needs and their individual development plans
  • helping employees understand the current opportunities in the organisation
  • advising employees on the feasibility of various options.

Evaluates employees' performance in an open, honest way and relates this to possible opportunities. You can improve your appraisal skills by:

  • providing frequent feedback in a way that fosters development
  • conducting performance appraisals that define strengths, weaknesses, and career development opportunities and needs
  • relating current performance to future potential in realistic ways
  • using an individual development plan as a tool for continual feedback and development.

Supports employees to meet their goals through contacts with people and resources. You can improve your referral agent skills by:

  • working with your employees to create development plans and discussing strategies
  • providing opportunities for experience, exposure and visibility, such as project teams and committees
  • using personal referrals to people who you know and groups you know to create opportunities
  • assisting in finding placement, promotion or secondments for employees.


Coaching is a form of development in which a person called a coach supports a learner to achieve a specific personal or professional goal. The learner is sometimes called a coachee.

Coaching is person-centred rather than work centred. It is often designed to help an employee to achieve a particular challenge (eg making presentations) or to grow specific attributes (eg interpersonal communication). Coaching can focus on values and assumptions, not working directly on the obvious issue, but what lies underneath. The process uses techniques to get the employee to identify their own solutions. It is usually time-limited and often delivered independently of the manager.

Coaching is a useful way of developing people's skills and abilities and of boosting performance. It can also help deal with issues and challenges before they become major problems. Coaching is not a corrective tool but a positive approach for helping employees to explore their goals and help them to achieve them. It is a relationship based on trust.

Coaching in the workplace is quite different to coaching in sport. A sports coach mentors their athletes, using technical skills, experience and ‘telling’. Workplace coaching uses questioning and reflection and focuses on working with the coachee to discover answers for themselves. People engage with solutions developed themselves, rather than those that are forced upon them.

Formal coaching can be done by qualified consultants working with clients to improve their effectiveness and performance, and help them achieve their full potential. An individual or their organisation might hire a coach.

Managers and supervisors can be effective coaches and don't have to be formally trained. As long as they stay within their skill set, and maintain a structured approach, they can add value, and help develop their coachee’s skills and abilities. The key challenge for managers and supervisors is to separate their management role from their coaching role.

Coaching works best when:

  • the individual is comfortable with the coach
  • everyone understands the reason for hiring a coach
  • the expectations for what they want to achieve through coaching are set jointly.

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