Coach them up or Coach them out

Coaching graphic

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”– Phil Jackson

It’s entirely appropriate to begin this blog with a quote from former coach Phil Jackson. It’s never hard to see that sports teams provide a perfect metaphorical framework for business teams. And similar to a sports team the most important strength and often a single point of failure is the individual team player.

Whether you are an Executive or Manager in an established company or an entrepreneurial leader at the start of the company, one of the most challenging parts of your business is and will be dealing with staff. Unlike so many other challenges you may be faced with employees are the most volatile ingredient in your business. There is an emotional component that can be, at times uncertain and precarious.

In his 2001 world-renowned book, Good to Great, Jim Collins outlines the strategy of success and, surprise, it involves the human element. The appropriate employees in the correct positions within your company. As he states, “…leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who.’ They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” – Jim Collins

So, when examining your team, regardless of size, you are faced with the question – Do you coach them up or coach them out?

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INC magazine published a recent article wherein they outlined the top fourteen fears that most entrepreneurs face and up on the top of that list was hiring and firing people.

When you are faced with having to coach a person and deciding whether they are going to stay on the bus or get off on the next stop, it can be overwhelming.

In my experience, it’s best to make the talk a two-way discussion. I believe in taking a seven-step approach to your review.

1) Create a positive tone for your coaching session

2) Describe the behavior in factual and neutral terms

3) Obtain the employee’s agreement that the problem actually exists

4) Determine reasons for the employee’s performance issues

5) Require the employee to “own the solution” to their problem

6) Gain support by appealing to the employee’s self-interests

7) Summarize the meeting and define next steps

By my own estimation and experience, steps four and six are very closely related. There are typically some tough questions that no employer really wants to ask, even fewer employees are usually comfortable answering. It’s important to set an environment of trust that the answers, whatever they may be, will not result in an end to their employment. One of the questions is NOT, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ you’ll never get a truthful answer out of that question.

The tough questions to ask are more along the lines of…

  • “If money were not an issue, what would you be doing?”
  • “What are your aspirations?”
  • “What makes you most happy?”
  • “What do you want to do with your career?”
  • “Who was the most influential person or persons in your life?”

The answers to these questions will not mean that the person who is in accounting and dreams of being an actress is in the wrong role, but it will determine their passion. Opening up the discussion to see what they enjoy. It will help you to discover what things fire them up. You want engaged employees. Someone who is involved will do the job before they are told to do it.

I will grant you, that for every success story there are plenty of times when just such an endeavor fails, but it’s time to change perspectives. Though it may be a cliché, sometimes letting that person go is the best thing for them. When this is what has to occur, and you are left with the difficult decision of coaching them out, it’s best to work from a set script.

This should be a straightforward solution divided into three sections:

The demands of the role have changed, and you may not be a good fit for it anymore;
You can choose to pursue the progressive discipline process route; but
I think the alternative route makes the most sense.
We are all on a journey in this life, sometimes it’s finding your team members the best spot on the bus at your company, while other times it’s just to shepherd that person onto their next adventure.

In either case, handling the individual with grace and dignity will win every time. Even in those tough moments when it doesn’t feel comfortable.

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