Strategies in Coaching for Performance

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One of the greatest satisfactions for managers and supervisors in the workplace comes from overseeing employees who work well together as a team, perform their job duties as defined in their job descriptions, meet or exceed expectations, and successfully solve problems without extensive intervention, redirection or prompting from their supervisors.

But occasionally, supervisors face the challenge of dealing with employees’ declining or sub-standard performance. A supervisor may be uncomfortable with confronting an employee’s performance issues, but performance issues generally don’t fix themselves. Since employees are valuable assets of a successful organization, hesitation to confront performance issues early may only enable more serious problems to arise in the future. Following these guide- lines can help to ease the discomfort of having to address performance concerns with an employee, and improve the likelihood that those concerns will be resolved effectively, to the benefit of your organization as well as the employee.

Identifying, Documenting and Discussing Performance Concerns

When you decide that you need to discuss performance concerns with an employee, be well prepared. Outline your concerns and observations—specific behaviors that are not meeting expectations. Avoid sweeping, non-specific statements, such as “I don’t like your attitude”, or ”your co-workers think you are creepy”. Instead, be prepared to give examples of how the angry and scathing statements your employee has made in staff meetings have resulted in co-workers refusing to contribute their thoughts to team efforts.

  • Document your observations of performance decline.
  • Refer to a job description, previous performance evaluation documentation and previous performance counseling records, if available.
  • Inform your employee of the job performance standards and expectations.
  • Explain the importance of improving his/her performance (impact on the work environment and the organization’s business needs).
  • Ask your employee for his/her commitment to improve job performance.
  • Develop a plan for improvement with your employee. Ask the employee what he/she needs from you to succeed.
  • Explain the next steps and consequences should he/she fail to meet job performance expectations.
  • Continue to observe your employee’s job performance and provide feedback within a specified time period.
  • Continue to document all of your follow-up conversations with your employee regarding performance improvement

If you are uneasy about meeting with an employee regarding performance issues, seek guidance from your Human Resource Department or your manager. Your organization most likely has performance improvement process guide- lines for you to follow which will help you to organize your observations, performance improvement plan and coaching documentation.

Addressing Employees’ Defensiveness

As you are addressing performance concerns with your employee, remember to stay calm and patient and keep the conversation focused on your employee’s performance. At times, employees may attempt to distract from their performance issues by talking about personal issues, what other employees are doing, blaming others or you for their performance problems, or simply denying the significance of the performance concern itself. With-out good preparation, you may find yourself frustrated, stymied and losing patience. At the end of this article you will find a chart with examples of typical employee resistance and sample responses to help keep the conversation focused on the performance concern. You may also find it helpful to remind yourself that regardless of your employee’s performance issues, your employee deserves to be treated with respect and dignity; in this challenging time, your respect may make the difference in what your employee is able to hear of your conversation with him/her.

Some Do’s and Don’ts of a Performance Improvement Discussion

  • Do get to the point quickly in the conversation to reduce discomfort and opportunities for getting off track. Be direct and succinct.
  • Do identify the problems, using your prepared documentation.
  • Do stick to objective data (e.g. attendance, performance measures).
  • Don’t get into personal issues. If your employee begins to talk about personal concerns, become emotional, or attempt to redirect your attention to other organization- al issues, remind your employee that you are here to talk about his/her performance.
  • Do state your expectations clearly. Again, focus on measurable outcomes (e.g. “zero days late in the next month”, “you will call by 6am any day that you cannot be on time”).
  • Don’t moralize. No preaching, lecturing, philosophizing. Enough said.
  • Don’t diagnose. If an employee suggests that a medical or mental health concern is impacting his/her ability to perform to expectations, refer the employee to the EAP.
  • Do maintain the distinction in your mind between making threats and having consequences. If there are con- sequences for failing to improve performance, do state those clearly and concisely, knowing your organization may need to follow through at some point.
  • Do provide EAP information and remind the employee about the confidentiality of using the EAP. Have a brochure or wallet card to give the employee. Every time your employee begins to bring up personal or other concerns not directed related to the performance improvement conversation, direct him/her to the EAP for guidance with those issues.

When you decide that you need to discuss performance concerns with an employee, be well prepared.

  • Do be prepared to explain the referral process to your employee if you will be making a formal or mandatory performance referral to the EAP. Make sure you have called the EAP ahead of time to provide the referral information and discuss the performance concerns with an EAP Consultant

Performance Referrals to the EAP Personal Assistance Services (PAS) is your productivity management partner. PAS provides management consultation services and specializes in managing performance referrals for a wide variety of performance-related concerns, policy violations, substance use and personal concerns affecting work performance.

There are four levels of referral on a continuum by which an employee can access EAP services at PAS. Each type of referral is managed differently, based on the severity of the performance concerns. In order to provide feedback, PAS attempts to obtain a signed Authorization for Release of Information from your employee that specifically defines what information the employee has agreed can be shared with you as the referring supervisor. The scope of information that is provided is related to the type of referral.

Self referral.

The employee accesses EAP services on his/ her own initiative, and chooses which services to use. No information is provided to the supervisor/HR.

Informal referral.

The supervisor/HR suggests to an employee that he/she use the EAP to resolve personal concerns in the early stages of performance decline and/ or because the employee has mentioned having personal concerns. The supervisor may call PAS to provide information related to performance concerns, but generally no Release of Information is obtained from the employee and no feedback regarding participation is provided to the supervisor/HR.

Formal referral. As part of the performance improvement counseling process with an employee, the supervisor/HR makes a strong recommendation that the employee seek assistance from the EAP to resolve personal concerns that are affecting workplace performance. Use of the EAP is voluntary, but the employee understands that improvement in performance is expected to avoid progressive discipline measures. The supervisor/HR must call PAS to make the referral and explain the specific performance concerns to one of PAS’ EAP Consultants. When the employee calls, the supervisor/HR is notified of the employee’s call, and after the employee signs the Authorization for Release of Information, additional feedback will be provided related to attendance at sessions, compliance with the plan of action and if there is need for absence from work to complete the plan of action (recommended care cannot be completed outside of working hours).

Mandatory referral. In cases of policy violation (e.g. threats of violence, failed drug test, harassment, code of conduct), the supervisor/HR may make a mandatory referral to the EAP as part of the performance improvement plan. In some cases, an employee signs a Last Chance Agreement with the employer as part of this process. In a mandatory referral, the employee has violated a policy for which he/she could be terminated. In lieu of immediate termination, the employee is allowed one course of care with the EAP and is required to participate in the EAP action plan as part of the Last Chance Agreement and/or disciplinary action. The supervisor/HR must call PAS to discuss the referral and provide information regarding the performance concerns. As with the formal referral, feedback is provided after the employee signs an Authorization for Release of Information.

The Sometimes… Speech

A very handy tool when referring an employee to the EAP as part of a progressive performance counseling process is the “Sometimes…” speech. “Sometimes when an employee is having trouble meeting expectations at work, there are things going on at home or in their personal life that are making it difficult to meet those expectations. The EAP can help employees address those personal concerns and can help employees address performance concerns as well. We want you to succeed here and the EAP is a great resource to help you do that. That is why I am referring you to the EAP…” Referral to the EAP is offered as a resource for the employee to use in resolving performance concerns to remain productive and employed, rather than as a punitive or disciplinary action.

PAS offers a wide array of information about using the EAP as a Performance Management tool. Call (800) 356-0845 to speak with one of our EAP Consultants, or go to PAS’ website and navigate to “PAS for Employers” to access additional training and information for supervisors and managers on using the EAP as a Management Tool.

Sample Wording for Confronting Employee Defenses to Performance Coaching

Defense Employee Supervisor/HR Rep
Excuses and sympathy “You’d have the same problem I do if you had the life I have” “You may have a problem at home and we have an EAP benefit to help employees with that. I am concerned about your performance. And simply put, there is a problem with how you are performing your job in this area…”
Apologies and promises “I’m really sorry. You know that I’ll never do it again.” “I appreciate your apology. What you did is serious. It’s important that you understand the consequences of your behavior.”
Switching “I know about that, but look what a good job I did on that other stuff” “I don’t disagree with you—however, I’m looking for good work in all areas. Specifically, I want to talk about… (current, relevant, specific example)”
Anger “One mistake and the roof falls in after 8 years of bustin’ my back for this place!” “I know you are angry. I’m concerned about your performance. I’m not talking about one mistake. I’m talking about ways to ensure this won’t happen again. Let’s look at the specifics…”
Tears and helplessness “I don’t know what to do. I’ll never get out this mess (crying).” “I appreciate and understand your sadness. I want you to know that I want to help—and that’s why we’re meeting. You have been a valuable part of this department. Let me tell you about our Employee Assistance Program.”
Deflecting “Come on—what about John and Mary. I do just as much work as they do.” “Right now we’re talking about your performance. Let’s look at your work record and review my expectations.”
Self-pity “I knew this would happen. I’ve never been able to do anything right.” “I wouldn’t be taking this time to talk to you if I didn’t have confidence in you. So let’s talk about what can be done to help you. Let me tell you about our Employee Assistance Program.”
Innocence “It’s not my fault. You let me down. I don’t get any help at all around here” “I’m sorry you feel that way. You have done excellent work in the past and I want more of that from you—that’s why I set up this meeting. Let’s look at your work record and review my expectations.”


This article is not intended to be construed as legal advice, but is provided as an overview of good business practices. PAS-It-On © 2013 by PAS and HRS, Inc. 9735 Landmark Pkwy., Ste. 17, St. Louis, MO63127-9968  (800) 356-0845Material may not be reproduced without written permission.

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