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Feature: Coaching Poor Performers


ReflectionsPhil Morgan of People Business Results looks at how line managers can use coaching to help staff with performance issues improve.

Three quarters of UK bosses (75%) and almost 80% of their staff (79%) believe that "deadwood" - employees who consistently under-perform - is an issue of concern to their organisation, according to a survey Investors in People survey.

As a former line manager and someone who has been delivering coach training for 15 years, the common complaint about coaching is that it is all well and good when someone wants your help, but what about those poor performers who are not knocking on your door? Their poor performance is a problem, but managers typically avoid challenging them because they are worried about the emotional reaction and a subsequent deterioration in the working relationship.

Directive v non-directive
As a business specialising in managing poor performance we have been giving line managers the skills and confidence to use a combination what we call “directive” and “non-directive” coaching skills to deal with these poor performers.

Non-directive coaching is the now familiar use of questioning and listening to follow the coachee's agenda, raise awareness and generate responsibility. Directive coaching involves the use of challenging skills, but in this instance it is the manager's agenda that is being followed, not the coachee’s.

Challenging is used to address an individual’s performance gap where they show no ownership, acceptance or desire to close the gap. It is usually used after earlier feedback has not been taken on board.

The end purpose of combining both the directive and non-directive coaching styles is to effectively transfer ownership of the problem monkey from your shoulders (the manager) to the shoulders of the coachee (in this case the under performer), and in the process build the working relationship. The process is straightforward and the trick involves knowing when to switch from one style of coaching to the other.

The Process:
Step 1
You as the line manager will have the best interests of the person at heart, you believe in their potential to change, and you want/need them to improve their performance. You do your homework, find out all the facts, and create a challenge statement which is short, focuses on one main issue, is specific and future orientated and has clear expectations. The key here is to write a challenge statement that will minimise the performer’s potentially negative reaction, make it as easy as possible for them to take ownership of the problem as quickly as possible, and build the working relationship.

Step 2
You deliver the challenge, then immediately and temporarily put aside your agenda, switching to non-directive coaching. You at this stage are likely to have initiated an emotional response.

Step 3
This is where you use the skills more usually associated with coaching of effective listening, questioning, following the coachee’s agenda etc to help manage the coachee's reaction (following the challenge), and explore their reality of the situation. This is not a discussion or a debate. You need here to manage your own emotions. You are not asking questions to try and achieve acceptance of the problem. You are asking questions to explore the coachee's reality and in the process raise their own and your awareness. At this stage an underlying issue that you were unaware of may emerge if you are using good non-directive coaching skills.

Step 4
Once a full exploration of reality has been established and assuming nothing has emerged to change your view of the situation, you will pick up your agenda again and re-assert the issue, your expectations and be looking for signs of genuine acceptance. If acceptance does not come and a further emotional response occurs you go back to step 3. This cycle will repeat until genuine acceptance occurs. Acceptance usually occurs within two or three cycles. If it doesn't then you should call for the coachee to go away and reflect on what has been said and arrange another meeting at a later stage. This will allow you to review the effectiveness of your challenge statement and allow the coachee to reflect and consider what has been said.

Step 5
Once acceptance has occurred then the coachee will have ownership and you can continue to support them with non directive coaching skills, helping them to establish solutions and goals, holding them accountable with timescales and clarity about your expectations.


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