Coaching for Performance in 7 Simple Steps

June 28, 2013

coaching for performance

Coaching is one of the most effective tools managers can use to improve performance. There is a simple structure to most coaching conversations, and following it will make a difficult conversation a bit easier.

 7 Simple Steps to Coaching for Performance

1. Make it clear what you’re conversation is about. Employees are usually nervous when they enter a coaching meeting, especially if they know it is about their performance. They want to know, as soon as possible, why you wanted to talk to them. Answer this question with a solid opening sentence. For example, “I want to talk to you about your attendance” or “I want to talk to you about your work lately.”

2. Find something positive to say. Unless this is a formal disciplinary action, you should consider beginning with a statement that reinforces something positive about your relationship. “You’ve always been reliable and on time, and I really value that about you.” This starts the meeting on a friendlier tone.

3. Make an observation. Your observation should be brief, and as objectively stated as possible. Avoid using language that suggests any kind of judgment. For example, you might say, “I noticed you came in late a few times this week” instead of “You’re always coming in late” or “You’re coming in later and later these days.” You should state just the facts. The coaching session is likely to be more productive if you focus on behaviors and facts.

4. Describe the impact on business. You can be specific or more general in this part. You could say, “When you were late on Friday it caused us to miss a crucial deadline with a key customer” or it could be as simple as “When you are late it makes it hard for the team to move forward on their projects.”

5. Ask for change. You should request a specific change in behavior or a commitment to specific performance goals. “I’d like you to start coming in on time” or “I’d like a commitment from you to try to bring a more positive attitude to your work”. Make it clear that the change is designed to improve their performance and overall work. Consider making a coaching plan.

6. Describe what success looks like. Sometimes, when you ask for a change or a commitment it’s hard for employees to understand what you’re asking. Attendance is fairly straight forward, but in situations where you are coaching someone about a negative attitude or poor communication skills it’s a good idea to follow up your request with a description of specific behaviours you’re looking for. For example, “From now on I want you to let your coworkers finish explaining their ideas fully before expressing your concerns. Try to find something positive to say about the idea before you bring up your reservations and I want you to phrase your criticism in such a way that it doesn’t offend. Here are a few phrases that are perfectly fine to use…”

7. Agree on a follow up. If the behaviors are SMART goals that are truly measureable, you can state a firm goal and followup time. If the coaching session was meant for something harder to measure, you should still suggest a follow up conversation. Coaching sessions are often stressful for the employee, so knowing in advance that you plan to follow up, whether for positive reinforcement or further coaching, helps set the right tone. “I really feel this is important, so I’d like to set up a follow up meeting with you to talk about your progress and any questions that come up. How about in two weeks?”


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About The Author

Christina Parisi is Director of Digital Content at the American Management Association. Previously she was an Executive Editor at AMACOM Books and the Director of AMA Self-Studies.

One Comment »

  1. avatar

    These 7 steps really do seem to sum it up. I really like the 5th step the way you put it: Asking for change. I believe many managers demand change, which doesn’t feel collaborative in seeking better behavior. Even though there’s probably not a lot of choice when it comes to something like showing up to work on time it’s still more palatable when presented as a choice. Subtle yet powerful.

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