Eight-step process to coaching a problem employee

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In The Workplace

I have had five workers with me in my department for more than four years now. We’re getting along fine with their performance above average, until recently when one of them committed mistakes one after the other, resulting in hundreds of thousands of pesos in losses. I talked to him about it. He has changed his ways. But now, after one month, his mistakes were repeated as if we did not talk about it. Please let me know how to proceed. — Greatly Puzzled.

If you want to establish long relationships with people, then you must develop a short memory. That applies only outside of the workplace. If you’re employed in an organization and tasked to supervise workers, you have no choice but to develop a long memory to help achieve organizational goals.

People management is a complex process, as intricate as a Gordian knot. There’s no doubt that it comes with the territory of being a manager. Most of the time, employees view matters from a different perspective than those from management. So beyond being good at people skills, you also need the ability to reconcile different views to work with people who may have conflicting interests, if not about certain external issues that could bother them at work.

That’s how “coaching” is different from “counseling.” Managers need to coach people if the root causes of a problem are internal — like, if the office has a poor lighting system, obsolete equipment, toxic management style, and so on. On the other hand, you need to do counseling if the root causes of a problem are external, say if the employee is experiencing a personal problem involving an unfaithful spouse, a family member who is gravely ill, or even a child who refuses to go to school.

The trouble is that in many cases, managers don’t bother to discover the reasons why some workers are not performing to their satisfaction. They simply identify the mistake and then proceed to correct them right away without even asking for the input of the concerned worker.

There are eight things you need to consider when you coach an employee. We’ll talk about counseling some other time. But for now, let me give you the eight-step process so that you can make an effective coaching of your problem employee:

First, seek a face-to-face, private discussion with the employee. This approach is much better than giving instructions via e-mail, texts, or Skype. And worse, asking a colleague or another worker to do it for you. Coaching can’t be delegated. You need to spend quality time with the worker to emphasize the significance of the issue. There’s no substitute for that.

Second, define the problem with the help of the employee. You must both agree that there’s a real problem. Both of you must be on the same page. You can only do this, if there are set standards and targets that are clear and very easy to understand and compare them with actual results.

Third, explore all the possible reasons why such problems are happening. There are many approaches on how to do it. You can mentally do the Fishbone Diagram or use other tools. However, the best and easy method is to seek the opinion of the concerned worker on why such issue is recurring. Then, find out if they are external or internal factors.

Fourth, agree on the most likely reason and focus your attention on solving it. You can generate many reasons, but since you don’t have the luxury of time to handle them all, you can only make a short list of top three reasons for the time being. Then, prioritize them starting with the number one likely cause. It would be easy to solve if the reason is internal and within your ability to control.

Fifth, generate as many possible easy and low-cost solutions. Create a situation where the concerned employee puts forward as many ideas under the spirit of co-ownership. But first, you’ve to establish a low-budget parameter so that whatever solution comes out, it would be readily acceptable to management.

Sixth, document as soon as you’ve agreed on a solution. Put the agreement in writing. Limit the terms and conditions to easy-to-understand language on one sheet of paper. Or you can e-mail the person summarizing what you’ve agreed to.

Seventh, monitor the result from a distance. And correct any deviation, if necessary. If the terms and conditions of coaching are clear, there’s no need for you to constantly look over the shoulder of the employee. Giving a bit of space to people is a manifestation that you trust them well enough and you believe that they can do a good job.

Eight, celebrate small wins and milestones. It’s an excellent way to reinforce any individual achievement as soon as it occurs. It doesn’t have to be an expensive celebration, but you simply need to manifest your appreciation for the positive changes. Reward and recognition are part of the monitoring process. But they have to be treated as separate steps if only to emphasize their importance.