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Don’t Wait for Performance Problems to Start Coaching Your Employees

By Bruce Tulgan

This is Part 4 of a 4 part series – Part 1  Part 2 Part 3

Some managers are simply masterful at coaching, but most are not so great at it. Yet whether managers are good or bad at it, when it comes to managing people, so much of the real action takes place during coaching conversations.

The problem is that most managers only coach employees when they encounter a recurring performance problem, such as missed deadlines or poor work quality, or a behavior issue, such as a bad attitude toward customers or coworkers. When it starts to look like a problem isn’t going away, that’s when the manager decides to bring the employee into their office and coach the employee: “There is a problem with your performance, and we need to have some sessions until ‘we’ coach you out of this problem.”

By this point, there are probably some bad feelings. The manager might be thinking, “What is your problem?!” And the employee might think, “Gee, why didn’t you talk to me about this sooner?” Often the only next steps the manager can articulate amount to, “Don’t do this again.” This leaves both the manager and the employee wondering when the problem will recur. Don’t forget, if this is a recurring problem, that’s probably because the employee either doesn’t know what steps to follow to avoid the problem or else they have gotten into one or more bad habits that cause the problem to recur.

By the time a problem is recurring, it is too late to start coaching. The time to coach an employee is in advance so you can set them up for success. For example, if you have an employee who chronically misses deadlines, don’t wait until they miss the deadline to coach them. Start coaching them when the deadline is first set. Help them establish intermediate benchmarks, such as deadlines along the way. Every step of the way, help the employee make a plan for completing those intermediate deadlines. And check in with the employee frequently. Talk through the accomplishment of each step in advance. Do that and 99% of the time that employee is going to start meeting their deadlines.

Stop coaching employees when problems develop; coach employees when they are doing great or even doing just okay. Coach people every step of the way and help them develop good habits before they ever have the chance to develop bad ones.

Sometimes managers worry that if they try to talk like a performance coach, they just won’t seem genuine, that they’ll sound contrived. But performance coaching has very little to do with hollering “Rah! Rah!” around the office. It’s simply a technique. And here’s the really good news: In order to be effective, coaching simply cannot be contrived. It must be totally genuine. Often it is so genuine that you don’t even realize you are doing it:
Tune in to the individual you are coaching
Focus on specific instances of individual performance
Describe the employee’s performance honestly and vividly
Develop concrete next steps

If you are hands-off and treat everybody the same, you are treating your employees like low performers and inviting regular problems to continue happening, or to fester until they are so bad you have to intervene. You will undermanage most of your employees into a slow downward spiral. And you will attract more low performers who want to “work for you.” If you are strong and highly engaged, you are treating your employees like high performers. You will manage most of them into a steady upward spiral. And high performers will beat down your door for the chance to work with you.

This is Part 4 of a 4 part series – Part 1  Part 2  Part 3

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.


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