Dramatically Improve Employee Performance by Following these 7 Steps (Part 4 of 5)

Welcome to part 4 of my blog series on coaching skills

Most leaders are generally conflict avoidant. The idea of having a straightforward conversation with a subordinate about how they can and should improve their performance gives many a serious case of indigestion. Those that press on and say they have no fear tend to be abrasive, abrupt and sharp with those whom they desire to coach. Is there a middle ground? Is there a way to balance being direct, to the point, plainspoken yet respectful and helpful?

Great coaches understand from the get-go that their primary role is to teach the players on their team how to improve their performance. Whether it be little league, high school, college or professional sports they make no apology for taking the time to put their arm around a player and telling them what they did wrong and what they need to do next time. This is how we learn. Too often employees are terminated because of a performance issue that their leader never called to their attention. This is unconscionable.

“Do you want to make the team?” a coach may ask. “Here is what you need to work on”. “Do you want to be starter at that position?” a coach may ask. “Here is what you must improve”. “Do you want to continue working here?” a manager may ask. “Then here is an area that requires your immediate attention”. “Do you want to be considered for promotion one day? Then this is what you need to learn how to do!” Great coaches are wonderful examples of balancing relationship with accountability. It has been my experience that employees want to know what is expected of them. They want feedback. They respect and appreciate a leader who will take the time to tell them the truth even if it hurts a little bit. The result is they now understand what obstacles may be in their path success.

Step 5 — Frame the consequences and make sure the employee understands the consequences of their poor performance

“I was always referred to as disciplinarian. I never took this as a pejorative. I believe it was my role as a coach to help my players understand the consequences of their choices.” – Lou Holtz, College Football Coach Hall of Fame

Test your clarity. Ask you people what their job is! Ask them to describe what excellent performance looks like in their job. Is their answer crisp, clear, and easy to understand? If so, good job! If any look at you with a “deer in the headlights” expression then you have some work to do. Perhaps job descriptions are in order or performance metrics. Drill down with employee input on each job so that excellence on each job is clearly defined. People hit targets when they understand and see them as achievable. It is up to you to create this clarity.

Once you have attained a level of clarity now your responsibility as a leader moves to accountability. Expectations are meaningless without some appropriate degree of accountability. Imagine a coach that says, “Anyone who misses a practice will not start the next game”. But when it comes time to enforce his standard of behavior he caves and holds no one accountable. Players miss practice yet still start the game. Will attendance to practice increase or decrease? You know the answer! I believe there is direct correlation between excellent performance and a leader’s ability to hold people consistently accountable to clearly stated performance expectations. Like Lou Holtz said, “…it was my role as a coach to help my players understand the consequences of their choices.”  There is power within the principle of accountability to motivate, empower and inspire others. Great coaches understand the power and use it to help their players become the best that can be. Your choices determine your path! What a great lesson! This is true in sports, in parenting and in business!

Step 6 — Ask for their commitment to change

I told a story about a lesson I learned as a young manager in the previous blog in this series. I refer to it in the next paragraph. You can read it here.

What do you think my response was to Bill Reith clarifying his expectations of me regarding work life balance? My response was quick and clear. “Yes sir, I understand.” Yes there were occasions when I worked late but they were rare. I understood there would be no reward from Bill Reith for long hours. I focused instead living my life with balance. He requested and received my willingness to change. I learned how to be an effective General Manager and yet be home for dinner, attend my sons’ ballgames and enjoy life beyond work.

Whatever the issue is that you are addressing with your employee it is important after you spell out the consequences of continuing in the poor performance that you ask them for a commitment to change. Can you commit to being at work on time? Can you commit to decreasing the number of errors? Can you commit to controlling your temper and treating your employees with respect? Their answer is critical. If they waffle this is the opening you may need to begin exiting them from the company. If their response is an unequivocal “yes” then you have an attitude you can build on.