Performance Coaching – If You Wait, it May Be Too Late

Let’s face it, performance coaching isn’t easy. In many organizations, if an employee’s performance is poor enough that a coach is called in, it means the manager is in a last ditch effort to save them. Emotions are running high, termination may be looming, and the relationship between boss and employee may have degraded into shouting, tears, or hours in HR.

Coaches at Blanchard have learned a few things over the years about performance coaching.

  • Instead of asking for help early, managers tend to either go it alone in trying to improve performance or they spend too much time documenting problems and talking to HR about their frustrations. By the time they call for a coach, they are hoping for a miracle.
  • When performance coaching is done too late, it does not work. Often at this point an employee is interested only in seeking another position within the firm or even creating an exit strategy to get out of the organization altogether.

When we arrive late in the process to coach valued employees who are struggling with performance, we often find a seriously damaged relationship between boss and employee that simply can’t be repaired with a few sessions. In this situation there are 3 options.

  1. Coach the employee – but with realistic expectations. Coaching does not offer a personality transplant. If the employee isn’t a good fit for the organization, recognize it, discuss it, and help the employee find a better fit.
  2. Coach the manager – it is a better investment and can have positive impact on leader growth. Put the investment with the person who will stay, not the person who will probably leave.
  3. Get clear about the ideal outcome. If the manager feels in their gut or heart that the employee’s performance will never be up to par, then do what needs to be done so all parties can move on.

The best time to work with a coach is well before performance slips far enough to warrant an improvement plan. If you really truly need and want to save an employee, review the information above and bring in a coach early on, when performance problems are still able to be resolved.

About the Author

Patricia OverlandPatricia Overland is a Coaching Solutions Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.

3 thoughts on “Performance Coaching – If You Wait, it May Be Too Late

  1. This is such an important issue. Being called in to ‘fix’ someone isn’t a gig that will work – unless, as you say, the coach is in a position where he/she can really bring people together on what’s really needed (which may be to ‘fix’ the manager!). Handled badly, coaching itself can get a bad name if it becomes associated with ‘failure’ due to it being called in to solve impossible situations. Personally, I’d be very very wary of taking on such a project. It’s really time to check out (as best one can) what the REAL story is, or you’re walking into a hornet’s nest, with you as the fall gal/guy… Give the sponsor of the coaching some options (he/she might not be the manager or potential coachee involved), then sit tight. See what they come up with. If it doesn’t suit you as a coach, go and do something else… Thanks for raising the issue, Patricia. Interesting to hear what other people think. Regards, Alison

  2. Thanks Patricia for sharing your frank views about performance coaching. It reminds me of the saying “close the barn door before the cows escape”. Great food for thought.

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