By: Ken Phillips
Have you ever had a situation where you or a colleague repeatedly talked with an employee about improving his or her performance — and nothing changed? Or, the changes made were only temporary? If so, you might be wondering: What went wrong? How come the employee doesn’t get it? The answer likely rests with the fact that you failed to get the employee to recognize and agree that he or she needs to improve and change — a critical yet often poorly executed step in the coaching process.
Coaching is a technique that can be used by people at all organizational levels, senior leaders through first-line supervisors, as well as team leaders. It also is just as applicable in traditionally managed organizations as it is in those structured around teams. However, much confusion exists over what coaching is and isn’t. I define coaching as an interpersonal process between a manager and an employee in which the manager helps the employee redirect his or her behavior or performance while maintaining mutual trust. Coaching differs from feedback, although feedback is part of the coaching process. Feedback is given by a manager in response to a specific event or situation; coaching focuses on a pattern of behavior. Examples include missing several deadlines in a short time period despite being reminded that meeting deadlines are important, continuing to arrive late for work after being told tardiness is not acceptable and continuing to interrupt others despite receiving feedback that such behavior isn’t appropriate.
Coaching is not chewing out, taking to task, or threatening employees to try to improve their performance. Those tactics can work, but the results often are worse than the original problem. Specifically, employees become outwardly submissive and inwardly rebellious and do nothing more or less than what’s asked.
In general, a coaching meeting should take place only after an employee clearly understands what is expected, and has received feedback at least once that his or her performance is not what it could or should be. However, in some cases, certain significant events may trigger a coaching meeting, before they develop into a pattern of behavior. For example, a manufacturer I worked with decided that any safety violation — no matter how minor — would be addressed in a coaching discussion and, if significant enough, could lead directly to formal discipline.
The Coaching Process
Coaching involves these elements:
• A two-way dialogue
• A series of interdependent steps or objectives
• Specific coaching skills
• Mutual satisfaction
The coaching process has two primary areas of focus: helping an employee recognize the need to improve his or her performance and developing an employee’s commitment to taking steps to improve performance permanently. Here are the main steps in the coaching process:
1. Build interpersonal trust.
2. Open the discussion.
3. Agree on the issue.
4. Consider possible solutions.
5. Agree on an action plan.
6. Manage excuses.
7. Close the meeting.
While all of these steps are important, the most critical one is getting an employee to recognize and agree that there’s a need to improve his or her performance (Step 3). Moreover, the step is equally important whether an employee has a specific performance problem or he or she is an average performer who could do even better. Without an agreement, there’s little likelihood that any improvement will occur, or that it will be permanent.