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Coaching Poor Performers

Most managers have struggled with poor performers at some point in their career. There is a delicate balance for managers in addressing underperformance, supporting employee growth and driving a team toward success. Many organizations have a process that guides managers on the proper steps to take when addressing an employee's poor performance.
Poor performance can be due to a variety of factors, such as lack of skills, motivation, understanding of job expectations or something personal. First we need to address the root causes of performance challenges and inspire employees to take ownership of the issues. To persuade an employee to improve, however, focus on the coaching aspects of performance improvement. Coaching is designed to improve the work of the employee, the team and departments. The idea is to engage employees to take accountability for improved performance, relying on your support to make it happen.
 In order for employees to feel supported and persuade them to improve there are three key concepts to consider:

Trust. People trust you when they can rely on you. They may grant you a certain level of trust because of your position, your credentials or your reputation. But trust is built through relationship consistency. Trust in oneself is also an important aspect of self improvement. Self-doubt can undermine employee achievement. You reduce employees doubt by building their confidence through consistent, achievable successes.

Logic. To persuade someone to adopt your goal, it must pass the test of reason. If a goal does not make sense, you’ll have a hard time persuading the employee to take it on. So be reasonable in your expectations.

Emotion. Your goal must appeal to the employee’s imagination and sense of purpose. By understanding the employee’s interests and needs for success, you’ll go a long way in persuading the employee to take on the goal. By treating your employee as someone who wants to achieve extraordinary results, you show good faith and respect. To understand what it is that individual employees need and care about, listen to their words and observe their body language and emotional expression.

See how Chatfield Global’s 7-Step Coaching Process fits with your leadership style:


Engage the employee. Express confidence in the employee’s ability and willingness to solve the problem. Ask the employee for help in solving the problem.

Get clear about the problem. Describe the performance challenge as you see it, and ask the employee to help clarify relevant issues. Use effective questioning skills to get the employee to provide specific examples and describe the desired outcome. Help the employee estimate what the problem is costing him or her.

Identify the barriers to performance. Listen carefully to determine if the problem is because of a lack of skills and ability or a lack of interest and motivation. Typical barriers to high performance are time, tools, training and temperament. Check with the employee to determine what is getting in the way of top performance. With the employee’s involvement, determine how to remove or sidestep performance barriers.

Create an action plan. Agree on a plan for improving the situation. Put the plan in writing and share it with the employee. Remember, work performance should never be a mystery, so make the plan a working document and be sure it reflects the employee’s input. What will you do to help the employee accomplish goals within desired time frames? What will the employee do to facilitate improvements? Are these items reasonable and achievable?

Inspire success. Create a picture of what success looks like that captures the employee’s emotion. Coaching is about helping to unlock the employee’s true potential by encouraging creativity and ensuring development.

Follow up frequently. Don’t wait too long. Check on progress to be sure necessary improvements are taking hold. Offer your help when it’s needed.

Celebrate success. Offer encouragement and positive feedback when things go well. Support the employee’s can-do attitude and express appreciation for the employee’s contribution

Coaching is an ongoing process that requires consistency, empathy and patience. Remember to remain positive in order to help encourage and motivate employees. Maintain a supportive environment with open communication and help employees reach their full potential. 

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