When Coaching isn’t Enough: Difficult Performance Management

September 25, 2015

Poor performance from one or more of your team members is toxic. Whether their time is spent texting or wasting time at the water cooler, that behavior is highly contagious. Unfortunately for some, this attitude towards work and conduct in the office isn’t always easily solved through coaching and mentoring sessions. The new age of performance management suggests coaching is the solution to the dilapidated system. But what happens when the negative employee, the problem worker, or the stubborn staff member doesn’t learn from coaching sessions? When coaching your team isn’t enough to bring them out of their erroneous ways, traditional performance management becomes the go-to solution.


Resistance is Futile… But it Happens

An overwhelming 97% of employees admit to having a career-limiting habit. Really, when you look at the details, everyone has some sort of bad habit in the workplace. Some employees are more willing to change than others considering supervisors say that only 10-20% of their employees make a lasting change for the better. So for the remainder of employees that don’t make that leap into profound and lasting change, what do you do? Coaching won’t always work, but addressing the issue is 3x more important than improving technical skills according to 46% of bosses.  While your employee may not be receptive to coaching, you can still guide them toward better performance standards.


You’re Just Not Doing it Right

That may sound a little harsh, but not all coaches were trained well. As companies catch on to the ever popular “coaching” buzzword floating around business and leadership articles, there’s a push to develop supervisors into mentors. The problem with that is there isn’t always enough training. Yes, in order to effectively improve performance or change behavior, supervisors need to participate in training programs to achieve this.


These training programs are different for every organization. While coaching is seen as a powerful tool in the workplace, only 27% of learning leaders said they heavily incorporate it into their talent development plan. Laurie Miller, Director of Research Services at ATD, said:



Every organization has unique needs and challenges that their organization learning function will need to address. How they do so and what they offer will affect how they align with the benchmarking statistics presented. Just as an organization size and industry affect the direct learning expenditure per employee, the types of training offered and methods of delivering training also have an impact.”


When Coaching Works and When it Doesn’t

Mentoring employees through problematic performance or difficult projects won’t always be a viable solution. Joseph Grenny (@josephgrenny), Leading Social Scientist for Business Performance, said:



“We all have an inherent bias in judging what it will take to help people change – overvaluing motivation.”


You can alter the way you coach to make it more effective when giving performance suggestions. In order to make coaching successful, managers should keep these in mind:



  • Understand the impact of the negative behavior or poor performanceThe first step in any reaction to performance problems is the perception of what causes the poor behavior in the first place and how that can affect the employees around the acidic staff.
  • How to address the problem – Ignoring performance problems in hopes they will fix themselves is never a good solution because most of the time the issues will only progress. The only way to truly solve the problem, guide employees through it giving them tips and tricks to success. When this doesn’t work, traditional performance management methods may be necessary.
  • Unable or unmotivated employees – Understanding if it is something the employee can’t do or doesn’t care to do makes a difference in their performance. In this case, give them the tools they need to get the job done or provide an incentive to make it worth their time.

New performance management standards dictate coaching and mentoring above the traditional methods. However, when coaching doesn’t work, or when your managers aren’t trained well enough in mentoring, sometimes traditional performance management is a must. Not every employee will respond to coaching methods, so don’t completely get rid of pre-redesigned performance management. You might just need it.

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