Experiences of Management Coaching (Part 2)

In our experience, we have found that there are several reasons managers fail to get employees to see and acknowledge that they have a problem.

They assume. Many managers bypass the step of getting agreement because they assume that an employee views the problem in the same way that they do. However, that is often not the case, especially when the performance problem is a pattern of behavior rather than a single event. People generally do things that they perceive to be in their own best interest. So, employees who realize that a particular work behavior isn't in their best interest are more likely to change.

In a typical management coaching situation ? especially one involving a behavior pattern ? an employee is likely to perceive mostly positive reasons for continuing his or her behavior. Take an employee whose pattern is being late for work. Let us assume that the employee knows what the work hours are and has received feedback from his boss about being late. So, why does the employee continue to be tardy? He or she probably sees fewer negative consequences for being late than positive ones ? such as avoiding rush-hour traffic, having a leisurely breakfast, sleeping late, or feeling autonomous.

They avoid. Another reason managers fail to get agreement is that they avoid management coaching situations because they feel uncomfortable confronting employees. They hope that employees will discover the error of their ways. But that is not likely because employees tend to see mostly positive reasons for continuing their behavior.

They generalize. Many managers talk only generally about an employee's performance problem instead of citing specifics. In such cases, an employee is not likely to see that his performance is different from what is expected or from other's behavior ? particularly regarding such issues as turning in late reports, taking extra time for lunch, leaving work early, and socializing too much. Unless a manager can point specifically to what an employee has done over what length of time and how that compares to an agreed-to expectation or other employees' performance during the same period, the employee is not likely to think his behavior is a problem.

Right string, wrong yo-yo. Many managers seek agreement on the wrong issue. They strive to get an employee to agree on the events leading up to a management coaching meeting but miss the larger, more important issue ? that a performance problem occurs each time the event happens. The manager might try to get an employee to agree that he submitted two late reports rather than agree that turning in late reports is a problem. The key is what managers actually says to an employee.

Not this: "Jim, twice this past month you turned in late reports. You know that my expectation is that all reports will be completed by deadline. Do you realize that you turned in two late reports?"

This: "Jim, twice this past month you turned in late reports. You know that my expectation is that all reports will be completed by deadline. Do you agree that there's a problem here that needs attention?"

To get the employee to agree that a problem exists, a manager must do two things. First, he or she has to paint a mental picture for an employee that there is a difference between what is expected and what the employee is doing. To paint that picture clearly, a manager must juxtapose two pieces of information for an employee to visualize:

  • a description of what the employee has done, using whatever numbers or facts can be gathered about the employee's performance
  • a clarification of the manager's expectations of the employee in the performance area under discussion.
Positioning those two pieces of information together, using specifics, enables an employee to see the difference between his performance and what is expected or what others are doing.

Imagine that an employee has been late to several team meetings in a row. Although you did not single out the employee, you made it clear at the last meeting that you expected everyone to be on time. In this case, you might say something like: "I wonder if you are aware that you've been late to four team meetings in a row. I thought I clarified at the last meeting that I expect everyone to be on time."

Second, the manager must help the employee understand the negative affects associated with his behavior. Imagine that the employee's performance is a balance scale. Before a management coaching meeting, the scale is tilted towards the side stacked with all of the reasons an employee might see for continuing his behavior. A manager's task is to tilt the scale in the other direction so that an employee can see more negatives than positives associated with the behavior. Then, the manager will be able to get an employee to agree that a problem exists.

The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) seeks to improve individual leadership and team member skills within organizations.

For professional information on management coaching, visit CMOE.

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