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Meiss Education Institute

The Coach as Corrector: Redirecting Poor Performance
By Rich Meiss

Coaching For Results Series: lll

One of the toughest jobs for most coaches is re-directing poor performance. Once the coach has defined what “good” looks like – the values, purpose and objectives of the enterprise – his or her two main tools for accomplishing the good are praise and correction. This article will focus on the coach’s role to correct or re-direct poor performance. (To learn how to praise properly, see the article in this series titled “The Coach as Cheerleader.”)

There are generally two reasons why most coaches are poor at correction. They are either too easy on the offender (saying nothing, or whitewashing the offense), or too harsh in their correction (not being sensitive to the style and needs of the offender). We call these two extremes the people pleaser or the task master. This article will help you determine your tendency to lean towards one or the other, and will outline a way of addressing poor performance that avoids these two extremes. 

Our tendency towards being a people pleaser or a task master comes out of our natural behavioral style, often called our personality. Most behavioral scientists today believe that our personality is largely genetic – we were born with it. And most of us who are parents of at least two or more children would attest to this – our children were different from birth. Their personality was largely established by the time they were coming out of the womb. So let’s examine personality, or what we will call “behavioral style” in this article, and how it contributes to our tendency to be more people focused or more task focused.

In today’s workplace, there are three popular models of understanding personality. These are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Social Styles model, and the DISC model. While we are fans of any model that will help coaches and team members better understand each other, we use the DISC model in our work. DISC stands for a model of human behavior that looks at Dominance (D), Influencing (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C) tendencies. 

We can explain the DISC model most easily by looking at two continuums of behavior, which we will label pace and priority (see diagram below). We will plot pace on the vertical axis, and priority along the horizontal axis. At the top of the vertical axis are those people who tend to have a faster pace about them. They are often competitive, and express their ideas and beliefs openly and forcefully. They like to tell others what to do. At the bottom of the vertical axis are those people who tend to have a slower pace about them. They tend to be more cooperative, and tend to ask more than tell. 
                                     
              Faster Paced       
                 (TELLS)
                                                   _____________
             
             Slower Paced
                  (ASKS)

Please understand that there is no right or wrong, good or bad place to be on this scale. Each place is just different. The position each person occupies on the scale depends largely on the traits he or she inherited and on early learning and programming. 

The horizontal continuum looks at priority. On the left side of the continuum are those whose main priority is tasks. They tend to be more formal in their approach to things, and are more controlled in their expression. 

On the right side are those whose main priority is people. They tend to be more informal in their approach and more self-expressive. They will often share their emotions freely with those around them, while those on the left of the continuum are not comfortable revealing their deeper feelings.

                               Task Oriented ________ People Oriented 
                                  (Formal)                       (Informal)

As in the previous example, there is no one best place to be. This has nothing to do with a person’s emotional maturity, abilities or commitments. It has to do with a person’s comfort in expressing their emotions and their priority around task or people. Remember, different does not equal wrong, different just equals different.
                                                
 D
   I
 C
  S
 
                                                          
                                         
By putting these two continuums together, we have now formed a four quadrant system by which we can characterize behavior. We will call the upper left hand quadrant the “D” behavior, or directing. The upper right hand quadrant is the “I” behavior, or interacting. The lower right hand quadrant is “S” behavior, or supporting, and the lower left hand quadrant is “C” behavior, or calculating. Each person is made up of some combination of all four of these behaviors. Most people, however, tend to have a more prominent style and then maybe a secondary and tertiary style. 

The Directing, Interacting, Supporting and Calculating Styles

A Directing style (Directer) is decisive, results-oriented, competitive, independent and strong-willed. These strengths when over-used can become domineering, harsh, tough, impatient, and pushy. The directer is motivated by challenges and prefers a fast-paced environment. He or she fears being taken advantage of. To increase their effectiveness, directers need to develop more patience and learn to slow down and socialize. In our coaching model, we call these people task masters.

The Interacting style (Interacter) is enthusiastic, persuasive, people-oriented, stimulating and talkative. These strengths overused can appear to be undisciplined, excitable, disorganized, manipulative, and reactive. The interacter is motivated by people contact and an open, accepting environment. They fear a loss of influence. To increase their effectiveness, interacters need to develop more objectivity, be more organized, and learn to be brief and low-key. Interacters tend to be people pleasers in their work as coaches.

The Supporting style (Supporter) is dependable, agreeable, amiable and calm. These strengths overused come across as unsure, insecure, wishy-washy, and conforming. The supporter is motivated by stability and prefers an organized, secure environment. To increase their effectiveness, supporters need to be more decisive, say “no” more easily, and develop greater comfort with change. Supporters also tend to be people pleasers.

The calculating style (Calculaters) are accurate, persistent, cautious and perfectionistic. These strengths, when overused, may appear as critical, picky, judgmental, and slow to make decisions. The calculater is motivated by control and accuracy, and prefers an environment that maintains high standards. Their fear is criticism of their work. Calculaters can increase their effectiveness by being more open and tolerant of themselves and others, and by developing an acceptance of realistic limitations. Although calculaters can be quite diplomatic, they also tend toward being task masters as coaches.

The tendency of Interacters is to be the most people pleasing, followed by Supporters. The tendency of Directors is to be the most task masters, followed by Calculaters. 

Each style has to work to build a better balance, but generally the interacters need to work the hardest on task focus, and directors need to work the hardest on people focus. This information usually helps coaches better understand their tendency in their coaching work – to be more people oriented, or to be more task oriented.
(To understand your natural DISC style, refer to the Personal DISC Survey mentioned at the end of this article.)*

So knowing your style will give you a sense of what is most challenging for you in the balance between people sensitivity and goal achievement (people focus vs. task focus). But back to the original premise of this article: Each DISC style will have difficulty correcting people. D’s and C’s will tend to be more task focused, and therefore may be insensitive to people as they correct them. I’s and S’s will tend to be more people focused, and therefore may avoid or whitewash the problem. The following process will tend to help all coaching styles be more effective in correcting poor behavior.

How to Correct Poor Performance

After observing poor behavior or performance, follow this process. First, ask the employee if he/she has a few minutes to talk privately. (We call this the “Joan Rivers Rule”, so named because of Joan’s famous question: “Can we talk?”) This question is a signal to the employee that what you want to talk to them about is an important matter. This is not about the weather, the upcoming company party, or the ball game last weekend. This is important stuff.

Once the employee agrees to talk, take them to a private place and follow this sequence of conversation:
  • Remind him/her what “good”look like.   Tell him/her what the goal is – what the behavior is that you want to see around here.
  • Tell them specifically what behavior you have seen or heard, and how it missed the mark. Let them know the impact of this negative or poor behavior.
  • Ask for the behavior you want.
  • Ask the employee what you can do to help them perform the good behavior.
Let’s say that Joe is coming into his job at the call center and getting to his station anywhere between 8:10 and 8:20, when the expected standard is to work from 8:00 to 4:30.   An effective coach will recognize that Joe may need some clarification around the standards of being “on time”. He or she will talk to Joe and say: “Joe, I need to speak with you about something privately. Do you have a couple of minutes? (Wait for a response, and if the response is positive, find a private place to talk. If Joe says he can’t talk at the moment, agree on a time when you can meet together for a few minutes.) 

Then continue by saying: “Joe, please remember that our starting time around here is 8:00 AM sharp. Twice this week you have arrived at your desk from 10-20 minutes after our announced start time. Your tardiness is affecting the morale of the other team members. I need you to be at your desk, ready to take your first call at 8 AM, every day. That’s what we expect here at XYZ Corporation. Could you please make that a priority for me? (Wait for a response.) Is there anything I can do to help you be more prompt?” (If yes, respond appropriately. If no, continue.) “Thanks, Joe – you’re an important member of this team, and I look forward to seeing you at your desk, ready to take calls at 8 AM each morning.” 

Although this may seem like a simple conversation, it is not always easy. If done with a balanced interest in Joe’s needs and the team’s results, the outcome is usually favorable. 

Dealing with Bad Habits or Hygiene Issues

Of course, there are some behaviors where a more drastic approach is needed. These are the extreme situations where someone’s bad habits or bad hygiene are making the working environment intolerable for other workers – or even customers. Bad breath, improper dress, body odor, a loud or shrill voice, and other such challenges are all too common in the workplace. Yet these difficult situations are usually ignored or handled badly by most managers. Yet most managers agree that these issues have to be addressed, and sooner is usually better than later. Here is the suggested format for handling such situations:

·         Again, start by asking the employee if he/she has a few minutes to talk privately. Make sure to find a place that is private and where you won’t be interrupted.
·         Set the stage by letting the employee know that this will not be an easy conversation. “Jim, this will probably not be a pleasant conversation for either of us, but I need to talk to you about something” is a pretty good signal to Jim that this is serious.
·         Then use these exact words: “There are times when _____________ (state the offending behavior).” This safe phrase signals that this behavior doesn’t happen ALL the time, but it happens some of the time.   It might sound like this. 

           “There are times when…
“Your body odor is too noticeable.”
“Your cursing is upsetting to some of our customers.”
“Your low-cut blouse is distracting to other co-workers.”
                 After stating the problem, state the solution. 

              “What I need  from you is …
“for you to show up tomorrow with no noticeable body odor.”
“for you to discontinue cursing in the presence of our customers.”
“for you to wear blouses that show no cleavage.”

By stating both the problem and the solution, you are letting the employee know exactly what “good” looks like. They are then able to respond by either agreeing to change the behavior, or by letting you know why they may not be able to change (or why they think they can’t). If they try to sidetrack you (“Yes, but Charlie also uses swear words around our customers”), make sure to stay on point. Say something like this: “Well, this is not about Charlie, this is about you. And what I need from you is to discontinue cursing in the presence of our customers.” Become a broken record (repeating what you want over and over), so that the point is made and the behavior will hopefully change.

Of course these techniques will not always work, and that leads to another role that the coach needs to assume from time to time – the coach as Challenger. That role will be examined in article number six of this series. For now, examine your own tendency in correcting behavior – to be either too soft or too hard – too people focused or too task focused. The words and methods listed above will usually help you get the outcomes you want, in a balanced way that “builds people while getting top results”!

Happy Coaching!

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