3 Tips On How To Coach A Problem Employee
Marshall Goldsmith, leadership coach
As the boss, you are in charge.
Your word and direction carry the weight and influence to ensure that what you need done, gets done!
If only the world were that straight forward and neatly packaged. But it isn’t.
Simply being the boss isn’t going to be enough with regard to getting the most from your employees – especially those who consistently present a challenge. Or to quote Marshall Goldsmith, “people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them.” Expanding upon these words of wisdom, I believe that you cannot get someone to fix a problem they don’t believe they have!
You can probably recall how, on maybe more than one occasion, you were put in the difficult position of having to deal with a problem employee.
What did you do? How did you handle the situation? Is the employee still with you?
If you could do it all over again what, if anything, would you have done differently?
Regret Or Relief
One thing is certain, if you look back on the experience with regret or, are still trying to get a handle on what happened, it will ultimately have a negative impact in terms of how you will deal with a problem employee in the future.
Ironically, the same may also apply if you were relieved when a problem employee left.
In either of the above instances, there wasn’t a satisfactory resolution, just an ending.
So how do you turn a difficult or underperforming employee into a productive contributor on your team?
In this month’s eNewsletter, I will provide you with the 3 essential tips on how to become a coach, as opposed to a critic of a problem employee. Before we get to my tips, take the following quiz.
Coach Or Critic Quiz
Answer the following seven “YES” or “NO” questions to determine if you are a coach or a critic:
- Did you take the opportunity to learn the employee’s goals and challenges and what steps you could take to help them to achieve them?
- Did you wait until the crisis stage to finally deal with the problem employee?
- Did the employee acknowledge that there was a problem in their performance?
- Did you deal with the problem employee on your own? (i.e. You did not talk about the situation with other members of your team.)
- Did you take the opportunity to share tough feedback with the employee and give real-time examples to validate your observations?
- Did you sit down and have a courageous conversation of possible repercussions if improvements were not made?
- Did you develop a plan of action with realistic timeframes to address the issue(s) with the problem employee?
- If you answered NO to all seven questions, you are a critic.
- If you answered YES to 3 to 4 of the seven questions, you are a critical coach.
- If you answered YES to all seven questions, you are a coach.
So, what is the difference between a coach and a critic?
If you are a coach, you are proactively involved with each member of your team in terms of understanding their personal goals and challenges. You are focused on getting the job done not by edict, but by effectively managing both individual as well as collective expectations. Even though you are likely to encounter challenges in coaching some of your employees – everyone does at some point, the mere existence of said challenges are not viewed as a negative, but as a learning experience. In the end, you take a more holistic, long-term view for developing members of your team.
If you are a critic, you are managing your team from a position of authority. You are singularly focused on your objectives. This means that problems are not likely to be viewed in the context of a bigger picture, but from the standpoint of an immediate disappointment or obstacle to success. You believe that employees should be self-motivated and take full ownership for their performance. If they miss the mark, you are there to tell them they did, as opposed to guiding them to improvement.
What does your score tell you?
How Do You Become A Better Coach?
Now that you know the answer to the question “Are you a coach or a critic,” the following 3 tips will be incredibly useful to you, even if you answered yes to some or all of the questions.
Tip 1: Lay The Foundation For Your Employee’s Success
“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.” – Sun Tzu
Many bosses do not realize until it is too late, that they have likely played a role in creating a problem employee.
Let’s start off with the premise that every new employee wants to do the best job they can, and be seen as a valuable member of the team.
This is a great starting point.
So why does an employee go off the tracks from hopeful contributor to an unproductive detractor?
Somewhere along the way, their experiences have not aligned with their expectations. This is often due to the fact that outside of their “duties” being outlined in their job description, there is little if any meaningful interaction with you. In short, there has been no relationship building along the way.
Without having a strong and open relationship, how can you be a good coach? And if you can’t be a good coach, how can you be an effective boss?
Here are a few tips that will help you to be the best coach you can be:
- Clearly outline to new employees the goals or objectives of the collective team, including defining what success means to you and the organization as a whole.
- Regularly communicate expectations with your team, both individually and collectively.
- Recognize that managing does not mean looking over an employee’s shoulder to make sure that they are doing the job. Instead, monitor their work and provide guidance when needed.
- Avoid using coaching as a disciplinary function but rather as an opportunity for development.
- If an employee is not performing to expectations, first seek to understand before you judge.
- Use positive reinforcement when you see your employee taking small steps to improve.
Tip 2: Take Positive Corrective Action
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey
In the previous tip, I had made reference to the importance of regular communication.
Being able to take positive corrective action with an employee who is struggling or has lost their way, requires a different technique.
Merely talking at an employee who has gone off track, is not a guarantee that they will embrace your message.
Here are a few tips to make certain that you’re talking with, instead of at, your employee:
- Be certain that you fully understand the situation from all perspectives – including the employee’s.
- When an employee makes a mistake, guide as opposed to chastising them. Help them to understand where they made a mistake and that you are there to get them back on track.
- Make the employee a partner in terms of coming up with a mutually agreed upon action plan or solution. This includes seeking their feedback relative to why they think that they went off course.
- Reinforce how important they are to the success of the team.
- Follow-up with the employee on a regular basis to make certain that all is going according to plan.
- Reinforce confidence in your employee. Something that is far greater than your actual words is your attitude.
Tip 3: Recognize When It’s Hopeless
“Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.” – Edwin Markham
You are probably familiar with the old saying about leading a horse to water, but not being able to make it drink.
Sometimes, and despite your best efforts, you will be unable to turn things around with a particular employee. Keeping an employee who is no longer reachable will do a great deal of harm to team morale.
How you respond in situations such as these will have far reaching consequences for all concerned – including the employees that remain.
After all, it is in our most challenging circumstances, that our true character reveals itself, not only to others but to ourselves.
The way in which you handle the departure of a problem employee will leave its imprint on your team long after said employee is gone.
As a result, here are a number of important tips:
- Regardless of how the employee responds, never, ever lose your cool. Be courteous but firm, and always be professional. This is not only important for the employees that are still with you, but also for your own self-respect and peace of mind.
- Provide the employee with a clearly structured breakdown of why it is best for he/she to part ways.
- Never stop coaching! If the employee is open to it, share with them productive advice on possible areas of improvement in their next position.
- Finally, schedule a meeting with your team to ask them if they have any questions or comments regarding the departed employee. Far too often, we want to quickly move past a difficult or unpleasant situation. However, you need to recognize the fact that others on your team could have been affected by what happened. Talking about it in a non-judgemental manner will help to clear the air and reaffirm the team’s shared mission.
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford
One final piece of advice . . . don’t dwell on the past. Find opportunities to celebrate your team’s performance. Last, adopt the mindset of a servant leader, dedicated to enriching the lives of your employees and creating a caring culture.