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A step-by-step guide to coaching

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

When is it time to coach? When you've analyzed a performance problem and decided that you want an employee to do something differently.

Your job as coach is to help the worker make that change--it's not to reprimand, and a coaching discussion shouldn't be presented as one. Here's how to proceed:

Get ready. Schedule sufficient time to have a real discussion, and collect or prepare the documentation you need. You should have a written description of the substandard performance. Be prepared to explain why change is needed--how the poor performance affects the employee's efforts to succeed, as well as your work and that of the department and enterprise. Determine what is the least amount of change you will accept as a result of your coaching, and what would happen otherwise; even if you don't talk about future discipline, you should know what your options would be. 

Get the employee's agreement on the problem. It's not enough to tell employees that you think there's a problem. They must agree that the behavior you are describing results in substandard performance; otherwise, your coaching is useless. Be friendly and stress that you need employees' help in clarifying the problem, and use your documentation as backup. Most people will agree that a problem exists if they see the effect their poor performance has on others and on themselves. Still, you may spend a while getting to agreement on the problem.

Mutually generate solutions. You should already have a list of things you believe might correct the problem, but it's important for you and the employee to arrive at actual solutions together. Remember, the employee is the closest to the situation, and together you should be able to identify at least some good ideas. Use a brainstorming approach; some solutions an employee generates might be impractical or inappropriate, but this is not the time to say so, lest you discourage the employee's cooperation.

Agree on the best solution to the problem. If none of the employee's ideas are usable, tactfully explain why. But if employees have ideas that are as good or better than your own, you should use them. They have the best chance of succeeding. Come up with a specific action plan workers can follow to improve performance, and write it down. The more specific the plan, the more likely workers will live up to your expectations, and the easier it will be for you too.

Monitor results. Keep checking regularly to make sure new habits have been established and improvements are consistent. If some improvement is obvious, be generous with your praise. If performance is still lacking, further discussion is in order--including the prospect of actual discipline.

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