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Performance management - A coaching mindset
Mar 26, 2015

Performance management - A coaching mindset

Creating problems is easy.  We do it all the time.  Finding solutions, ones that last and produce good results, requires guts and care.

Henry Rollins 

I recently spoke at an ALPMA (Australasian Legal Practice Management Association) seminar on the subject of Managing performance through a coaching mindset.  It is a novel concept for some supervisors.  

Performance management is a term that is thrown around a lot and is mostly seen as a negative term, and one that strikes fear into the hearts of those on the receiving end  - the penultimate act before termination of employment. A bit like going into the departure lounge at the airport prior to getting on a plane to go somewhere else - without the excitement of a new destination or the drinks at the bar.

I view the words slightly differently in the sense that managing performance is something that needs to be done with all staff – even your star performers – to make sure you are getting the best out of them, and that they are engaged and committed to your goals and the firm goals, and achieving their own goals as well. 

And this requires ongoing coaching and mentoring of staff, and treating staff as individuals rather than an amorphous group of people with the same skills, attitude and mindset. 

However, in the context of poor performance, performance management is a process which is often used as a ‘first resort’ rather than a last one, where there is perceived under performance – and the news often comes as a surprise to the employee being told they are not performing.    This is largely because those difficult conversations  when performance issues are first noticed, have not been had, for whatever reason.

There are many causes of poor performance or perceived poor performance.  I use the word 'perceived' deliberately  because it is sometimes one person’s perception and not another’s.  However, a coaching mindset can alleviate performance issues before they become insurmountable problems.

Coaching helps to lift the employee’s performance and increase the likelihood that the performance will meet or exceed your expectations. Coaching sessions provide you and the employee the opportunity to discuss progress toward meeting agreed standards and objectives. 

Some of the common causes of under-performance include:

  • expectations not being communicated - you cannot expect employees to provide exceptional or consistent performance if the stage has not be set for them to be successful.  Talk about what your expectations are, what you or your clients want from them.
  • Comparison - are you really comparing apples with apples?  I have lost count of the number of times I have seen employees set up to fail because a numebr of years ago someone else performed better.  Think about what the person is doing and what the expectations are for that role.  Are you being fair?
  • Promotion comes with a new set of responsibilities - has your promoted employee been given any direction as to what is expected of them?  Have they been performing above expectations and now flailing?  How can you help with a coaching approach?
  • Fear of failure - this fear is very real for some people, and can cause professional paralysis.  Is your employee avoiding taking on more responsibility or only doing things they know they will succeed at?  This will limit their potential, and you can help
  • Mental health issues – most people hide a diagnosis for fear of being judged harshly and the effort of dealing with a mental health diagnosis as well as trying to maintain their work performance will ultimately cause problems

  • Recruitment not meeting reality - have you over or under sold the position and is this affecting the employee's ability to perform?

A coaching mindset - one where you commit to challenging your employee to improve performance, and where you don't shy away from having a difficult conversation- will not only support your employee but will ultimately improve your own skills and the bottom line.

Coaching is not a disciplinary process (nor should performance management be, strictly speaking).

It has to be made clear to the employee that the process is coaching with the intention of assisting the employee to grow and develop,  not formal performance management – the coach needs to understand their role is to guide and challenge the employee to improve; not discipline the employee as a supervisor.

In order to coach effectively it is important to do and be some things.  Coaching is coaching but in a work environment,  the coach is also the supervisor there are some things that need to be done differently than would be done with an external coach.  There is not the objectivity that there would be with an external coach, and the supervisor as coach has more than the usual interest in making the employee succeed.  It is more personal for the supervisor.  

It is very easy to try and ‘fix’ things for the employee by telling them what to do or rescuing them; a coach however has to help the employee work that out for themselves.  

Coaching is a skill that can be learned -just as employees might need help to improve their performance, so too might supervisors need help to become better at coaching.  But the right mindset at the outset will work wonders with management of performance.