Mills: Coaching is not a substitute for performance management

Managers need to male sure problems do not get out of hand in the first place.

Bringing in a third party to deal with difficult employees is becoming more common and it raises interesting challenges and learning opportunities for everyone.  The requests I get from employer are typically to coach an employee in order to “fix” their workplace behaviour or communication skills.

Typically the manager will say nothing else has worked and they really need outside help.  The unspoken reasons are more likely that they simply don’t know how to manage the employee themselves or they don’t have the time or the patience to put in the effort required to learn.

One of the first things I like to explore is what the manager has already done to address the employee’s behaviour.  This conversation typically draws out details about the quality of the relationship between the manager and the employee.  It may also indicate whether or not coaching is the right solution at that particular time.

If trust and mutual respect are lacking in their relationship the employee is far more likely to resist coaching, viewing it as a last chance to improve before getting fired.  That fear will present itself as negativity and defensiveness which will significantly impede their ability to fully engage.

These are not ideal conditions for a successful coaching experience.

If however, the manager consistently demonstrates a sincere interest in helping the employee become more successful, then external coaching can be a great way to complement that support.

In that case, the manager and the employee would discuss expected outcomes, agree upon coaching goals, and set up regular check-ins to review the employee’s progress.

There could be any number of reasons why an individual may not show improvement after having had coaching and, fair or not, at least some of the blame will be put on the coach.

That is why it is important for the coach to have input up front about what coaching can and cannot achieve. It is unrealistic to expect that coaching alone will produce any kind of lasting effect without management support and employee engagement.

In situations where an employee exhibits a serious decline in work performance or persistent conflict with others, direct management intervention is critical and it needs to be timely.  Leaving these kinds of issues unattended means that negative behaviour will get entrenched leading to the much bigger problem of a toxic work environment.

It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that performance problems do not get out of hand, leading to a desperate request for help.

When things have reached that stage, it is too late for coaching to be of real use.

As a developmental strategy, external coaching can work brilliantly; as a tactic for fixing poor performance, its effectiveness is questionable.

So, rather than request coaching to help an employee improve their behaviour a wiser strategy would be to bring a coach to help the manager learn how to better handle performance issues.

People management is a key element of strong leadership.  It simply comes with the territory of being a manager and it will pay off in the long run to learn how to do this part of the job more effectively.



Laurie Mills is an ICF -certified executive coach and human resource professional.  Her company is Lighthouse Professional Development Consulting Services. The subject matter in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as professional advice.



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