Effective Performance Coaching

May 31, 2016

Effective Performance Coaching

It’s tough to conduct a formal performance review with an employee who isn’t doing their job well—the conversation can get awkward and frustrating for both sides, especially if termination is becoming a more plausible option. However, if it’s gotten to that point, it’s likely there were some steps which could have been taken to prevent it.

Those preventative measures come in the form of using performance coaching on a regular basis. Coaching is about using a consistent management style to compliment performance reviews or discipline, setting up an ongoing process of employee improvement.

Fostering that continual improvement through performance coaching allows formal reviews to be more about aligning an employee’s goals with the company’s strategy and planning for the future. Aimee Pedretti, HR Consultant at Paycor, gave ideas about the benefits of using performance coaching.

Encouraging positive changes

You want to help employees take an active role in their own development and encourage them to search for solutions independently. Coaches are always looking to motivate people to get better.

Building a coaching environment in a workplace means the HR manager has to represent more than a disciplinarian to employees. He or she should become a facilitator in the office. This comes from informally touching base with employees consistently, taking the time to listen to everyone, acknowledge work well done, and start conversations as opposed to distributing memos.

It begins with you. Avoid jumping to conclusions about your employees. Instead, empower them to make decisions and instill confidence in their development.

How to coach

In the end, you want your employees to feel like they can solve problems on their own. With all workers, especially entry-level or less experienced ones, it takes some work to dispel the notion that they lack the ability or authority to develop solutions.

To coach people up, it takes asking the right questions and a lot of listening:

• Set up regular occasions to speak informally with employees and set a relaxed tone for them.
• Avoid questions that start with why and favor ones which are more open-ended (for example “how do you think this project is going?” or “what’s the next step in the process?”)
• Be a facilitator—avoid interjecting with how you would have done something differently. You’re not trying to clone yourself in these employees. You’re trying to help them grow into themselves.
• Try to stay away from dwelling on obstacles when talking with someone about their progress. Focus more on goals or, with long-term projects, milestones in their progress.

Performance coaching is less top-down than traditional HR methods. By helping employees talk through solutions in your informal sessions, they form a sense of ownership in their development.

Coaching vs. progressive discipline

That’s not to say there isn’t a continued need to use discipline. Most workplaces still use some form of progressive discipline, where penalties get harsher with each occurrence:

• Verbal counseling
• Written warning
• More serious consequences
• Termination

Though that model is perfectly logical, it can be harmful if it’s the go-to method for correcting employee mistakes. Progressive discipline is more focused on employer compliance than nurturing employees. It can lack flexibility and primarily use fear as a motivator, making HR policy feel like the Sword of Damocles over employees’ heads. That’s a serious morale killer in a workplace.

Coaching can reveal the root cause of performance issues, which may be subtle (unintended breakdowns of communication) or more complex than a single employee’s output. Honest communication is more helpful.

However, progressive discipline has an important role in an office. Such a policy needs to be in place in case of malfeasance, absenteeism, or other problems more serious than someone missing a few deadlines or making mistakes.

The important role of formal reviews

You still need annual or semi-annual evaluations, depending on how quickly projects change or are turned over. The key is that they shouldn’t always be tied to conversations about compensation, raises, bonuses, or advancement.

These formal meetings between HR and an employee should be a time to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals and review the ones set previously, while making sure their goals and the company strategy are in alignment.

Set up a consistent cycle in your HR management style with four elements:

• Performance planning
• Ongoing coaching
• Performance assessment
• Formal evaluation

Keep in mind, you can’t sugarcoat an employee’s need to improve if they’re making mistakes or underperforming. Your performance coaching should help eliminate the dread someone feels when approaching one of those meetings and if you’ve been consistent with it, not much of the managerial review should be a surprise to employees.

By replacing the fear of discipline with encouragement, you will see improvements in your culture, performance, employee morale, and retention.

This content came from a March 10 Paycor webinar. Missed Paycor’s Web Summit or want to hear this webinar as it happened live? Click over to our webinar recordings page.

Paycor’s HR and payroll technology also can help you manage your team’s talent. With solutions ranging from affordable, online resources such as HR Support Center to Perform HR, we have the tools you need to keep up with changing trends. Learn more about what we can do for your business.


subscribe to Paycor's Resource Center

Subscribe to Our Resource Center Digest

Enter your email below to receive a weekly recap of the latest articles from Paycor’s Resource Center.

Check your inbox for an email confirming your subscription. Enjoy!

Previous Article
5 Tips for Successful Performance Counseling
5 Tips for Successful Performance Counseling

Counseling a struggling employee is one of the toughest challenges a manager can face, but when done correc...

Next Article
Onboarding Infographic: First Impressions Matter
Onboarding Infographic: First Impressions Matter

The first 90 days are critical to the success of new employees & their commitment to an organization.