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Coaching and Counseling Employees

Updated on June 29, 2012

Coaching Conversations

Part of a manager's job is to improve their employees. Even the best employee has room for improvement. Perfection is a journey, not a destination.

With these thoughts in mind, the question of the day is, "How do you [coach, counsel, discipline, motivate] your employee?"

I submit that the best approach can be summed up in three words.

  • Pat - Give the employee a reason to feel good.
  • Poke - Discuss the area that can be improved.
  • Pat - Show confidence that they can and will improve.

I believe in the power of asking questions. So don't just tell your employee, involve them in the conversation. This method can be used for minor improvements just as successfully as issuing a serious discipline action. Lets walk through these nice and quick.

Pat - Positive Feedback

Start off by asking your employee how they feel about an area you feel they are strong in. People have opinions. Some are right and good, and some are wrong and mistaken. This is your chance to take the temperature of your employee and help them feel even better about themselves.

If they recognize the strength, agree with them. If they don't recognize the strength, let them know you do! Either way, reinforce that positive and show a specific example that you personally witnessed that proves the point. This must be honest, so make sure you're prepared with this example BEFORE you start the conversation.

This both makes them feel better about themselves, their job and your recognition, and it also builds their confidence so they are better able to hear the critique that will follow.

Poke - Provide Constructive Criticism

Once you have given them an honest compliment, Ask them how they feel they are doing in the area you see a need for improvement. Again, don't tell them, ask them. Most people are not self-delusional and they know they are not as good as they want to be. And, if they are mistaken, this is your chance to correct their view.

If they state the exact problem or concern you have in mind, compliment them on their insight and then proceed to ask them if they have any thoughts on what you could do to help them do better. If they have any ideas, compare them to those you have already thought of and pick the best 1 or 2 and just try those. You and the employee can always circle back and try other solutions if the first doesn't work sufficiently

If they don't state the same concern, listen to what they say and decide if their concern is more valid than yours. Sometimes they may know an underlying concern you didn't even know existed, and solving it will have a positive impact on your concern as well. Either way, whichever concern you select to act on, stick to just one. Do not give them a laundry list of weaknesses. This will defeat your positive comments at the start of the conversation and demoralize the employee.

The goal of the conversation is to give them a specific item to improve. Don't allow distractions or additional items to water down the key point. The idea is to end this conversation with your employee having a specific plan of action to address the concern and you feeling confident they will try to improve.

Pat - End with Confident Motivation

Once you both have a clear understanding of what will be happening going forward, show your confidence and belief in them.

Give them a sincere verbal pat on the back. Let them know you feel confident that they understand what the issue is and that with this new plan, they will be able to improve and be a better employee than they were previously.

Give them a realistic time-frame that you believe they can begin to show progress and commit to them that you will touch base with them at that time to see how they feel it's going and to provide any additional assistance they might need. If this is a truly motivated employee, you might even want to ask them what they think is a reasonable time to schedule a follow-up.

Example of Pat-Poke-Pat

"Mary, how do you feel you're doing with the new software we're using?"

"I like it. It's easy to use and I think I'm faster with this than the old version."

"I agree. In fact, you are completing projects 15% faster than you did last month. Next new hire we get, I will have you walk them through the system, so they can see how you do everything. Is that Okay with you?"

"I guess so. Thanks!"

"You're welcome. I really appreciate how good you are at it. Do you have any areas you think you could do better at?"

"I'm not very fast at filing the final printouts. I can process orders super fats,but once they're done, I feel like I'm in slow motion when it comes to the paper copies."

"What do you think would help you be better at them?"

"I don't know, maybe do them all at once?"

"How do you make sure you don't miss one?"

"Do them in stages? Do five orders, then print all five and file them and then go back to the software to do another 5."

"I like your idea, but I have another suggestion. Tell me if this might work. How about you do all the morning orders at once. As soon as you finish an order, print it out, and while it's printing, move on the the next one. Then, when you are about 45 minutes away from lunch, stop and get all the printouts and file them one after the other. Then after lunch, you repeat the process. That way, you're not changing gears between one type of task and a totally different one every 5 minutes. Once you start this, just adjust how much time you need for the printouts as you see how long they take in a group."

"I like the idea. But I'm not sure it'll work. What if I don't finish filing before lunch?"

"I'll leave that to you. You could take a later lunch, or take lunch, then finish up before you start the next round of orders. Do you think you can try this and see if it works? We can touch base again next wednesday and see if this is working or we need to come up with a different idea."

"I think I can try it until then."

"Great! I'm confident you'll get a rhythm to this and become just as solid and smooth with the filing end of things as you are on the software side."

Now it's Your Turn

In the example above, I gave the employee a chance to pat themselves on the back, and then I added to it and agreed with them. That's the Pat.

Then I asked them about the area of concern I had, namely that they were very slow filing the printed paperwork. By asking them first, I was able to see if I had an uphill battle to convince them they needed to improve, or if they already recognized it.

Then I asked them how to fix it. The suggestion made was a step in the right direction, but I wanted to try my original solution first. But instead of ignoring or denigrating their suggestion, I complimented it and used it as a stepping stone to my desired solution. This both made them feel good about trying to find a solution and, since it was based off of their idea, gave them more buy-in on trying my change.

I them showed confidence and trust in their ability to improve and make mid-course changes. This again made them feel good and even more willing to put their best effort into this change.

I also scheduled a day when I would check back with them to see how it was going. This was phrased as a positive, meant to help them. As a side effect, it also gave them a deadline of sorts to implement the change, but in a fashion that reinforced their willingness to improve, rather then making them feel like I was threatening or micro-managing them.

The most important thing to remember is that your employees will improve and respond best to positive influences and conversations. So make them feel good and the work environment will be better and productivity and metrics will rise accordingly.


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