What Makes a Good Coach?


Below are comments from employees in two different departments.

“Our manager, Gardner, is patient and always gives you a second chance.”

“He takes as much time as you need to help you work through things.”

“When we fall short, Gardner recognizes our challenges and encourages us.”

“Gardner is always there for you.  You can count on his support.”

Employees from the other department shook their heads and chimed in:

“Well, you know where you stand with Jasper but he is not too patient.”

“Jasper will show you how to do things and then he expects you to do them.”

“When Jasper praises you, you know you have earned it.”

“Jasper does not hold grudges, but if you violate policy you can expect a write-up.”

Good coaching, I think, is about achieving goals.  Good coaches set specific expectations.  They train and support their employees.  When employees falter, good coaches are quick to help but their interventions are usually brief and to the point.  While effective coaches relate well to their employees, they enforce the rules consistently and fairly.

Gardner, who is popular, may not get the most out of his team.  By contrast, Jasper is likely do what he has to do to get results.

 

 

Maintain a Healthy Dose of Skepticism about Upward Communication


“I am frustrated!” a manager said.

“What is the issue?” I asked.

“We are implementing a significant software upgrade.  Every week, I meet with the project team to discuss issues and challenges.  Toward the end of each meeting, I make a big point about schedule and ask each team member to ensure me that we are on schedule.”

“Let me guess,” I said.  “All along, your team has confidently reported that they are on schedule.  But as the deadline approached, team members started describing “unexpected” occurrences and began asking for more time.”

“Exactly!”

While managers anguish over messaging and rumors, researchers Triandis and Gelfand report that upward communication contains more distortions than other directions.

While dealing with upward communication about complicated matters may be akin to wrestling with an eel, some managers erect unnecessary barriers by reacting negatively when they get bad news.  Employees sense this quickly and often stretch the data to avoid riling their leaders.

So what is the cure?  First, always treat employees with dignity and respect.  Second, when mistakes do occur, conduct an autopsy but avoid blame.  Third, drill down with question after question after question.  Insist on data, documentation and other support.

For Every Action, There is Likely to be a Reaction


Janice’s manager said to her, “I appreciate your reporting the customer’s failure to comply with all safety rules.  But you should have insisted that he wear safety glasses and hearing protectors at all times.  If the customer failed to obey, you should have canceled the tour.  Consider this to be a verbal reprimand.  A copy goes in your file.”

Janice had been responsible for guiding a new customer through on a plant tour.  Although Janice had carefully explained all safety requirements prior to the tour, the customer consistently ignored some rules.  Janice did not think the customer was ever at risk.  Still, she repeatedly and politely nagged him to comply.

At one point, the customer became irritated and said, “This is silly.  I’m forty feet away from any moving parts.  These things are uncomfortable.”

Janice later commented to a friend that she feared she might offend the customer to the point of jeopardizing a potential high-dollar sale.

Managers described this incident in numerous meetings and promised consequences for all future failures.

Employees heard the message loud and clear.  However, over the next year employees reported in confidential interviews that customer violations continued and perhaps even increased.  Tour guides simply quit reporting what they thought were incidental violations.

 

 

The Five Toughest Personnel Issues


Part 2 of 5

Alfredo’s manager described Alfredo as, “a likable, high-performing employee who gets along well with others.  He has been with us about eight months.”

The manager continued to say that Alfredo had been traveling a lot lately and the office manager became suspicious of his expense reports.  Taxi fares seemed too high and some restaurant tickets included more people than necessary.

The manager confronted Alfredo about his expense reports and he responded, “I probably did inflate some of my expenses a bit.  My previous company seemed OK with that.  But I know it is wrong.  I won’t do it again.”

About thirty percent of participants in my workshops say they would give Alfredo a warning and watch him closely.  He is a good producer and a good team member.

But about two thirds say that falsification of records justifies termination.  Alfredo did admit his discretion but only after he was caught.  This is a character issue.  It is probably not the first time and will not likely be the last.

While some managers tend to overlook such practices, especially for high producers, I side with the two-thirds who argue that it is a character issue and grounds for termination.

 

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 1 of 5

A manager said to me, “I’m concerned about Jacob.  He has really struggled during the last few months.”

“How long has Jacob been with you?” I asked.

“Almost fifteen years.”

“What is Jacob’s performance history?”

“He’s been a pretty good performer, not great but reliable.  The volume in Jacob’s job has increased dramatically and we have become very dependent on technology.”

“Have you trained Jacob sufficiently?”

“Yes, we’ve offered extensive training.  In reality, the job has probably outgrown Jacob’s abilities.”

“Do you have other tasks that you could assign to Jacob?”

“Not really.  We are fully staffed and I’ve shifted tasks as much as I can.”

When a job outgrows an employee’s abilities, I think the company should try to reassign the employee to other tasks.  However, as in this example, reassignment is not always practical.

Another option is to continue coaching and training and hope to get the employee up to speed.  However, this usually does not work.

As tough as it sounds, the better option for both the organization and the employee is to compassionately remove the person from the organization and assist him/her in finding a better fit with another company.

 

When The Pronoun “I” May Be More Effective Than “We”


While jointly writing checks to pay bills, one party says to another, “We need more stamps.”  While the first party may simply be acknowledging a need, he/she is more likely, by implication, making a request of the second party to buy stamps.  Communication by implication is fraught with risks.

Consider these implied messages from mangers to employees.

“We need to be more responsive to clients.”

“We need to improve our on-time deliveries.”

“We need to reduce overtime.”

In each of these examples, the person hearing “we,” may not see the need to do anything differently because the manager has retained co-ownership of the issue.  Consider making the requests with the pronoun “I.”

“I would like for you to be more responsive to our clients.”

“I want you to improve your on-time deliveries.”

“I would like for you to reduce overtime in your department.”

By using the pronoun “I,” the manager owns the expectation and more clearly assigns the responsibility for achieving the expectation to the employee.

I understand the importance of teamwork and I get “there is no “I” in team.  I also believe that leaders who use the pronoun “I” more clearly identify their expectations.  And they do so without diminishing teamwork.

 

This May Not Work for You, but . . .


Felix said to his manager, “I have an upset customer who claims we should be responsible for repairing a product still under warranty.  However, I think the customer caused the damage by improperly servicing the equipment.”

After listening further, Felix’s manager gave him a specific checklist of actions to take with the customer.

Felix approached the customer and began working through his manager’s suggestions.  The customer remained disappointed and later wrote a nasty complaint on social media.

Later, the manager asked Felix, “Why didn’t you get that issue resolved the way that I told you to?”

Felix responded, “I did exactly what you said. He just wouldn’t listen.”

I recall asking a friend how to get a stubborn horse to take the bit.  My friend said, “Now, this may not work for you but this is how I do it.”  Then he successfully performed the feat while I watched.

Of course, the next day as I tried to execute my friend’s methods, the horse resumed his bad behaviors.  However, I knew that I still owned the issue and did not consider my friend accountable.

Felix’s manager, I believe, should have put qualifiers on his suggestions.  Felix would know that, although the manager offered advice, the customer issue was still his to resolve.