Coaching Underperforming Employees

30.11.18 10:36 PM Comment(s) By Nikole

Many managers have issues coaching underperforming employees. There are some managers who even avoid the discussions all together, and just hope that an issue or situation will work itself out on it's own. We discussed coaching high-performing associates in this post, and now it's time to discuss what to do when an associate isn't performing to expectations.

The Four-Step Process for Coaching

There is a process, that if followed, will consistently produce positive results from these hard conversations.


Step 1: Describe

Clearly explain why change needs to happen. Answering the person's "why" question will motivate them; it gives meaning to their work. Be proactive by answering the fundamental four questions employees ask, whether or not you actually hear them:

  • Where are we going? (Strategy)
  • What are we doing to get there? (Plans)
  • What can I do to contribute? (Roles)
  • What is in it for me? (Rewards)

Clearly explain how their performance affects the team, and how that ultimately affects their: job security, opportunities, recognition, credibility, chances for new projects, and financial rewards.

Step 2: Confirm

Ask that your employee understands. Don't proceed until you and the employee are both perfectly clear on the issues. Listen 80% and talk 20% or less. Do not react emotionally. Wait for an appropriate break in the employee’s discussion, and seek to understand why the employee did not perform. Reserve judgment until you've listened to his or her answers.

Step 3: Engage

Discuss ideas for potential solutions and approaches. Continue the discussion to identify the root cause for the performance gap. Remember to focus on performance, not the person. Ensure you identify the root cause, as solving just the symptoms will not lead to long-term change.

Collaborate with the employee to set SMART performance goals specifically for improvementThen, ask yourself, "What can do to prevent this in the future?" Winning leaders always look inside to see what they can improve.

If performance does not improve, your discussion should focus on the team member’s ability to keep commitments to you, rather than on the performance problem itself.

Step 4: Celebrate

Recognize all positive movement or effort in order to encourage continued progress toward the ultimate agreed-upon goal. Look for things the employee is doing well and reinforce it. Demonstrate your appreciation for who they are, not just what they are doing.

Take these four steps and you will be on the pathway to boosting your team's accountability and performance!

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