A reader writes:
I’m preparing to visit with an employee who appears to need coaching.
Are you familiar with this style, and if so, do you have any suggestions of how to proceed? From what I can see it looks like I need to mention his good qualities, and move into the topics of concern. My main hope is to carry this out without frustrating him, but giving him a sense of direction and allowing him to take it from there. Any thoughts or other suggestions?
I haven’t read the book, but I think the most effective way of dealing with employee problems is pretty much always this:
- Be straightforward about the problems you’ve noticed. Clearly describe how the person is falling short of the bar you need him to meet, and what a successful performance would look like in contrast.
- See if you can figure out what might be causing the problem, by (a) asking the employee to tell you how he perceives the issues (“I’d like to hear your thoughts about what’s causing these issues. What’s your sense of what might be going on?”) and (b) asking your own questions. (For instance, in this case: Does he need more training so he’s not reliant on his coworkers? Is he clear on what his priorities are and how he should be spending his time? Is he a poor time manager?)
- If you’re able to identify factors contributing to the problem, make any suggestions you have about how he might do things differently. For instance, if he has a time management issue, you might suggest he begin planning projects backwards and set interim deadlines for himself to better structure his work. If he has a different idea than you do about how he should be spending his time, use this chance to get aligned so that you’re both on the same page about expectations.
Now, after this conversation, in many cases the employee will make the improvements needed. But if the problem persists, you talk about it again, this time escalating the seriousness of the conversation. This is different from the first conversation, in that you’re making it very clear that this isn’t routine feedback. You’re talking about a more severe problem that is holding the employee back and has the potential to become an even more serious problem if not fixed.
Now is the time to be clear about potential consequences if improvements aren’t made. For instance, assuming the problem is about something fundamental to the job, you might say something like, “If your performance improves and you sustain that level, then we’ll just move forward. But if we’re still seeing these issues a few weeks from now, I’ll need to put you on a formal improvement plan and after that, if it doesn’t improve, I’d need to let you go. So my concerns here are serious ones — I think you have a great deal of potential, but I also need you to be performing at a higher level.”
But no matter what the outcome is, you will be doing the employee a significant service by speaking honestly about where his performance is falling short. Too many managers never put aside their discomfort about such conversations, and as a result, many employees never have the opportunity to learn how they could do better. Good luck.