How to increase skill level one step at a time

Posted in : Coaching in the Moment on 26 July 2019
Karl O'Connor
OCN Coaching Champions Ltd
Issues covered:

Where do you start to help develop your employee’s skill level?  There is so much to improve that the size of the task can sometimes prove too daunting!

We often hear this challenge when managers are coaching their staff members to become more productive. The scale of improvement required can appear too much to tackle.

Consider instead the old adage of eating the elephant in bite-sized chunks. When learning skills, this translates into a whole-part-whole approach.


Coaching in the Moment

The Challenge

The task is complex. With so many skills to be learned, where do you start?

The Solution

Use a whole-part-whole skill development approach.

Takeaway Actions

Observe the whole task(s) being completed. Focus on one skill part at a time. Develop the skill part to reach the desired level of mastery.  Plug it back into the whole task. The overall performance improves!

The whole part whole approach to skill development is growing in popularity and helps both the learner and manager/coach to upskill in a structured incremental way. It’s described by the Oxford Dictionary for Sports Science and Medicine as “ A method of learning a skill in which the learner tries to perform the whole skill from time to time after practising parts of the skill, particularly those parts which are difficult”.

Let’s take an example. A trained salesperson is required to follow a 5 step sales process comprising: Welcome/Rapport-Building , Needs analysis, Recommendation of product/service, Objection handling and finally a Close stage. To apply the whole-part-whole approach, the manager should observe the salesperson conduct the whole sales meeting taking notes of what worked and could be better, at each of the five stages. From this coaching observation it becomes clear where the salesperson is competent and where they could become more effective.

In the subsequent coaching review between manager and salesperson, the manager agrees on one part of the whole sales process to focus on, for example the Welcome/Rapport-Building stage. In this way the coachee can skill build by practising the constituent parts of the first stage (e.g. smile, greet the customer by names, shake hands etc.). They practice on the core skills of the ‘welcome’ stage until the manager and salesperson are satisfied that they have improved the core skill. Through practice, the salesperson becomes unconsciously competent.

Having mastered the skill, it’s time to put the practised skill back into the overall meeting (see diagram). The overall performance of the salesperson should now be improved through this whole-part-whole skill build approach.

Although this whole-part-whole approach to building skills is more commonplace in sport, it has a place in business. It is a structured way to break down a performance into smaller chunks of skill. Not only is it helpful for the manager, but it also helps the learner feel that they are eating that elephant, one bite at a time.

Try it!




The content of this article was provided by Karl O'Connor and Cariona Neary, OCN Coaching Champions.

If you have any workplace problems you think might benefit from a coaching approach, contact or


This article is correct at 26/07/2019

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Karl O'Connor
OCN Coaching Champions Ltd

The main content of this article was provided by Karl O'Connor. Email

View all articles by Karl O'Connor