Turnaround Coaching—What A Professional Coach Should (and Shouldn’t) Do

It’s true.  In some organizations, people are not given clear direction. They don’t know what a good job looks like. They don’t receive specific praise when they do well or concrete redirection when they run off course. They don’t know whether or not they have succeeded in attaining a goal because the goal was never actually set in the first place. They get no feedback whatsoever because the boss doesn’t want to say what needs to be said and probably doesn’t even know how to say it.

Some might say, “This is where coaching comes in!”  Wrong.

This is, however, a scenario in which organizational sponsors—a person’s leader and an HR partner—may call on a coach as a last-ditch effort to fix someone they see as a problem employee.  How unfortunate for coaching to be framed as some kind of desperate measure!  The employee hasn’t been trained well, hasn’t been clearly communicated with, likely knows they are failing, and probably feels anxious.

The purpose of coaching is not to “fix” people. People don’t want to be fixed. Even attempting such a thing would be a misuse of coaching. The value of coaching is it accelerates the achievements of capable people through partnership with a professional coach.

So, what should a coach do in the scenario above? Tell the truth. Have a compassionate truth-telling session with the organizational sponsors before the individual in question is even involved.

  • In considering the opportunity, a skilled coach needs to make sure the sponsors have given the person crystal-clear feedback on what is not working, behavioral examples of what a change would look like, and some clear consequences if the employee fails to change.
  • The sponsors need to know that they may not ask a coach to tell the person being coached something that person has never heard before.
  • Even if the person being coached does make significant changes, people around them may not see or acknowledge the changes. It is difficult to change stakeholders’ impressions, even in the face of direct evidence.
  • There is always the possibility that the employee is in the wrong job or the wrong organization. Some people realize through coaching that they need a different environment in order to be successful. The sponsors should know that one of the results of coaching may be the employee choosing to leave the organization. Conversely, if it is determined thorough coaching that the employee simply is not capable of making the necessary changes, they may need to be let go.

A capable professional coach will courageously address all these points with the organizational sponsors and ask them to honestly consider the viability of coaching success at this point. If sponsors and coach agree to proceed, all stakeholders must work together up front to identify and agree to clear and measurable outcomes (i.e., success measures), which the sponsors would share with the employee prior to the launch of coaching.

Finally, for all concerned, there should be a check-in meeting between the coach and the organizational sponsors 45 days into the coaching. At this meeting, the coach would offer to stop the coaching if they feel the employee is not willing, ready, or able to make the required changes.

Unfortunately, turnaround coaching is often proposed too late for an employee’s success. However, with true partnership between the coach and organizational sponsors in creating clarity, the coach can provide exceptional service and value to both the organization and the employee receiving coaching.

About the Author

Mary Ellen Sailer headshotMary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D., is a Coaching Solutions Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 120 coaches have worked with over 15,000 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

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