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Coaching is a deliberate and continuous process of providing information to guide employees and the organization toward desired results. Ongoing feedback is one of the most critical requirements for sustaining high-level performance. Without frequent and specific feedback and coaching, performance varies and often declines. By providing continual guidance, managers are actively engaged in directing performance and skill development.

Once you have set goals, clearly defined expectations, and have determined the person’s level of performance, you are ready to begin providing developmental feedback. In many cases, you will simply offer minor recommendations to improve skills. In other situations, you will need to provide guidance to alter or “pivot” performance to ensure success. These discussions should focus on the goals, roles and responsibilities of the position, not the person, and provide specific direction for growth and improvement. Follow these tips to ensure a positive outcome.

1. Provide feedback in private, as close to the time of the performance discrepancy as possible. The more immediate the feedback the better. Infrequent feedback, such as monthly, is not consistent enough to have a meaningful impact on performance.

Avoid communicating developmental feedback via email. This one-way communication does not invite a dialogue promoting solutions, lessens the impact of the message, creates the opportunity for misunderstanding and can lead to resentment.

2. Discuss one issue at a time. Waiting until a person has numerous issues is counterproductive. These discussions will become more difficult and will be received as criticism, as opposed to coaching. Furthermore, the feedback may be overwhelming because there are numerous improvement areas discussed all at once.

3. Be specific and descriptive, with facts, examples, expectations and outcomes. Provide a detailed description of the current situation and its impact, as well as a specific explanation of the desired behavior, actions or activities. This discussion should be based on measurable or observable facts, not feelings or generalities.

Avoid generalities: “That presentation was awful.”

Focus on specifics: “Your presentation lacked the necessary information, such as… for the customer to see the benefits and value in the solutions you were recommending.”

4. Check for understanding to determine if the person appreciates the situation and the potential accompanying negative consequences. Gain agreement that, on the basis of your data, changes must be made and discuss solutions together. Review the consequences of the person’s actions.

5. Show you care and you are a partner in the person’s success. Share ways the individual can be more successful and communicate with sincerity. Convey interest in helping him or her succeed, not simply improving the bottom line.

6. Focus on the performance issue, not the person. Focusing feedback on specific, successful outcomes and expectations will illustrate your commitment to the person achieving his or her goals.

Avoid focusing on the person: “You were careless in your report!”

Focus on the behavior or results: “There are two key mistakes in your report that I want to discuss with you…”

Avoid inferences or assumptions: “You must know by now how to submit these budget reports. And, you know how important they are.”

Focus on observations: “These budget reports are incomplete. Let’s discuss methods of correcting them… I also want to make sure you appreciate the importance of the information. They are used to…”

Never humiliate the person. This will not produce the positive outcome you desire. The person must understand that the performance is the issue, and it is not a personal insult.

7. Listen intently to the person’s feedback. The person may have a valid reason why his or her performance is not up to standards, or the individual may genuinely need your assistance. Learn all aspects of the situation by asking numerous questions and listening to the explanation. This will provide the information needed to develop a workable action plan.

While you may have a predetermined solution, it is important to be open to all ideas, as the other person may have a credible idea you may not have considered.

8. Avoid terms likely to produce an emotional or defensive response or those that are ambiguous or subjective. The manner in which you deliver the message is almost as important as the message itself. Language, such as: “You should have...,” “unprofessional,” or “bad attitude,” will likely cause a negative reaction. Instead, describe the behavior you observed or provide quantitative descriptions and data.

Avoid emotional outbursts: “I’m sick and tired of you missing deadlines.”

Show your willingness to help: “Let’s see if we can resolve this issue and put a plan in action to achieve our goals. I do not want to miss another important deadline.”

You may wish to temporarily postpone a coaching meeting if you feel you may not be able to control your own emotions. In the unfortunate event you lose your temper, apologize for the outburst, and reiterate your goal to find a workable solution.

9. Develop an action plan for improvement together. Brainstorm and discuss specific suggestions to improve performance. Be open to new ideas and use the employee’s solutions whenever possible. Summarize the agreed upon plan of action. Communicate positive expectations by telling the person you are certain that his or her performance can be improved, and you are available to assist in achieving the desired results.

10. Prepare plans in writing, if appropriate, and establish follow-up meetings. Depending on the severity of the situation, you may wish to provide a written detail of the discussion, or ask the individual to submit the documentation to you summarizing the next steps, timelines and key outcomes. Plan routine follow-up meetings to ensure the action plan is working, or to determine a new direction if needed.

The feedback you provide to pivot performance should always be delivered with the intent of improving productivity ~ not with any punitive mission. When the lines of communication are continuously open and you have illustrated you are a partner in every team member’s success, your guidance will be genuinely appreciated.

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