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Employee performance: When coaching isn’t the answer

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

As a manager, you know that coaching your employees is an effective means of resolving performance problems. But coaching isn't always what's called for—some types of problems require other approaches. Here's how to analyze per­formance issues and identify cases where coaching isn't the answer:

Look for obstacles to performance. Are there factors beyond the control of the employee that are getting in the way? These could include wrong information, equip­ment failure, poor scheduling, understaffing or conflicting instructions. Make your own observations and ask your other employees about working conditions and morale.

Then discuss the situation with the employee, asking if there's any difficulty in doing a good job. Don't write off the answers as mere excuses; if a performance problem is being caused by outside obstacles, remove them. Coaching isn't going to be of much help until the obstacles are gone.

Analyze employees' skills, knowl­edge and abilities. Coaching also won't help when workers don't have a mastery of the essentials of successful performance. This manifests itself in two ways. Either employees don't understand what's sup­posed to be done and when, or they sim­ply don't know how to do that work. (Or, sometimes, both are true.)

In the first case, take a hard look at how clearly you've communicated what employees are to do, or not do, to achieve results. Have you monitored their performance sufficiently and provided valid, specific and timely feedback? The best way to find out is to find out what employees think your expectations are. Once they can tell you, in their own words, what they need to do, your problems should start going away.

In cases where employees simply lack knowledge and skills, training is the answer. Start with written performance standards—the minimum tar­gets that workers have to meet to be successful. Follow up to make sure workers have profited from training, and schedule practice time to build skill and confidence.

Make sure you're rewarding success. Often, we don't realize that our workplace practices have the effect of penalizing workers who do well and rewarding those who don't. For example, employees who tackle tough or undesirable tasks, and perform them well, may end up with all the tough and undesirable tasks. Meanwhile, another worker who is undependable and consis­tently botches important tasks ends up with fewer, less difficult and less important things to do.

Coaching an employee to do the job well will have little effect in overcoming these incentives to poor performance. Instead, you have to change the consequences—make sure you're rewarding success, not just with praise and good performance reviews but in your day-to-day prac­tices. This will have the added bonus of raising morale among all your good performers, giving everyone extra commitment to excel.

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