When Coaching – Say What You Mean

Many team leaders get to be managers because they are willing to tell it like it is. But when they get to the moment of coaching an employee, they start to think they have to do something different with the message. They want to give the good with the bad, they want to praise an employee for a job well done.  All good ideas, but there is a balance that has to be met. You can think about the employee’s feelings, and that’s all well and good, but you need to think about their development as well.

Any Confusion About What Happens At This Establishment?

I learned this the hard way when one of my shift teams missed a quality issue that would have been discovered if they had been following procedure. Right away, I started considering how they were all relatively new, how this was the first such problem for them, and I wondered if the training was adequate.  At a team meeting, I explained what the problem was, and where there was an apparent breakdown in procedure, and how disappointed I was at the outcome. There was one mistake, not holding them accountable. I said I was disappointed in the outcome, I should have said I was disappointed in them.

When I asked if there were any questions, one of the team members asked me, “Did you just yell at us?”  I hadn’t yelled, of course, but that was his point. He knew they were accountable, but, as he told me later, he was concerned that my softness in the approach meant that others wouldn’t get that they were at fault.

It was a great lesson for me, and has become a core part of how I coach leaders today. Whether they want to praise or admonish, I suggest they consider a balanced approach by thinking about two extremes and then finding the most direct message somewhere inside those extremes.

Example coaching an individual failure:

  • Too Soft: That could have been done a whole lot better – Really? In what way?
  • Too Hard: You Suck!  – May be true, but it doesn’t provide any guidance.
  • How’s This: Your delay in executing your part of the project put the whole team behind schedule. I am expecting you to keep me better informed if you are having problems, and to improve your estimates for project scheduling.

Example for coaching an individual success:

  • Too Soft: Well done. Um, OK, but is there something specific?
  • Too Much: You are the most valued member of my team! – Again, it might be true, but it doesn’t help for development.
  • How’s This: Your timely and respectful responses to the CEO’s objections were key to us pushing this through. Let’s document the framework for the team, and I’ll give you the opportunity to prepare the next review.

Most of us have had to admonish someone at some time in their career. Or received some sort of course correction. That’s inevitable.  I’m saying let’s make sure that the feedback is worthwhile, and that it gives the employee some expectation about future performance. Not just evaluation, but guidance.

Once a year doesn’t cut it. Frequent, development-oriented acknowledgement is what can keep an employee in development mode. And if your practice at that kind of feedback was more routine, you might find less need for a big-deal annual process. Then everyone wins!

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