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Meiss Education Institute

When Performance is the Question, Coaching (not Training) May Be the Answer
By Rich Meiss

When Performance is the Question, Coaching (not Training) May Be the Answer

By Rich Meiss


In his insightful book What Every Manager Should Know About Training, best-selling author Robert Mager suggests that training is only one of nine possible solutions to performance problems.  And yet all too often in the midst of performance issues, managers run to the training or human resources department and demand a training solution.  This article will examine an alternative to training that is often overlooked, and that alternative is coaching.

To help your managers become better coaches, here are some simple yet effective techniques that will help create better performance:

-          Help the employee understand what “good” looks like (what is the goal).

-          Cheerlead the positive behaviors that are contributing to the goal.

-          Correct the poor behaviors that are detracting from the goal.

What Does Good Look Like?

One of the biggest challenges in getting good performance out of our employees and associates is that they do not have a clear picture or definition of the goal.  Let me use a personal example to illustrate.

When our son, William, was 13 years old, his mother and I decided that we could no longer ignore the terrible mess in his room.  So taking a tip from our coaching workshop, we decided to make sure he first knew what “a clean room” looked like.  We went to his bedroom with him, and helped him make his bed, hang and fold his clothes, and straighten up his play area.  When we were satisfied with the way things looked, we asked William to go fetch our Polaroid camera.  We took pictures of four areas of the room, now all cleaned up and ordered according to our standards – the bed, the closet, the dresser, and the play area.

We asked William to get an 8 and ½ by 11 piece of paper, and we then taped the four pictures to the paper.  We hung this “poster” in his room, and told him that this was our definition of what “a clean room” looked like.  Before school, or when Will would ask to go play with friends, our simple question became “Does your room look like the poster?” If his answer was “yes”, then he could go play; if his answer was “no”, then he needed to make the room look like the poster before going out.  Our job as parents (coaches) was simplified immensely by this approach.  Good coaches know they must clarify the goal before they can expect good performance!  Ask yourself:  “Do the people who work for me know what “good” looks like?”

Manage to the Goal – by Cheerleading and Correcting the Behaviors

Once we have established the goal, it is our job as managers/coaches to manage to the goal.  This is done by praising the good behaviors, and correcting the poor behaviors.  

To cheerlead good performance:

-          When you see the good behavior, comment on it.

-          Be specific.  Tell the employee what he/she did or said that made a difference.

-          Never let good work go unnoticed.

(“Will, I noticed that your room looked even better than the picture today.  In addition to making your bed and picking things up, you hung a colorful new soccer poster that really added a nice touch to your room!  Thanks, son, and keep up the good work!”)

To correct poor performance:

First, ask the employee if he/she has a few minutes to talk privately, and then:

-          Remind him/her of the goal (what “good” looks like).

-          State the negative behavior you’ve observed and the impact.

-          Ask for the behavior that you want.

-          Ask the employee what you can do to help them perform.

(“Will, please remember that we need your room to look like the poster, every day.  When I walked into your room today I noticed that there were clothes lying on the floor and your bed was not made.  When this happens, it makes your mother and me disappointed, and could lead to you not having privileges this week.  Make sure the room looks like the poster.  Is there anything we can do to help you accomplish this?”)

Often people have the skills to do the job, so training is not the answer.  What is needed is to manage the consequences of behavior – or what I would call coaching.  These three simple steps will make the life of coaches (and parents) much easier if they are followed!

Coaching Action Ideas:

1.    Remind your employees of the goals for them and their department

2.    Be observant of what they are doing to make progress towards achieving the goals.

3.    Cheerlead the good performance, and correct the poor performance.

The difference between a mediocre and stellar employee may be a great coach!

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