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Coaching for Discipline

Sharing feedback, particularly in a discipline situation, is difficult for most managers and HR people.  It’s a difficult conversation to hold, and it is also uncomfortable for the employee to hear.  And while I can’t offer you a magic wand to make it easy and painless, I can share with you how coaching can help facilitate the process, to help your employees be successful.

employee coaching

Frequent communication is key

The first rule when it comes to coaching as it relates to giving feedback, is that it needs to be done on a regular basis.  Don’t wait for the annual performance review to share feedback (positive or negative).  Don’t wait until a problem is driving you crazy to take corrective steps.  Frequent communication is key to reinforcing the right behavior, and heading off future problems that may lead to discipline.

So how do you hold a coaching conversation to provide corrective feedback?

First, set up the meeting so the person is most receptive

Consider the time of day, and how the person will respond.  If the discussion is not likely to be especially upsetting, hold the meeting when the person is at their best.  If your employee is a morning person, hold the meeting right away in the morning.  For those that take a few hours to get both eyes open, later in the day might be better.  If the conversation will be upsetting for the employee, consider holding it at the end of the day so the employee can then go home right away.

Focus on the behavior, not the person

This means you don’t talk about attitude.  Focus on observable behavior.   Instead of saying, “You’re so lazy,” which is an assumption and a generalization, focus on specific behaviors like “You’ve been late 3 days each week, for the last 4 weeks.”   If you find yourself making assumptions, drawing conclusions, or telling yourself a story about the person, ask yourself “What if this assumption isn’t true?  Could there be another explanation?”   Focus on the facts, and talk to the employee to determine the underlying causes or motivations.

Show impact 

Sometimes, people don’t realize how their actions impact others.  They think what they are doing is perfectly fine.  So share with the employee how their behavior impacts other employees, the customer, or the organization.    It might look like this, “Bob, when you make mistakes on your reports, Sally and Jane have to spend extra time finding and correcting the errors, which sets back their other work. And if they don’t catch it, the customer gets the wrong information which can cause real problems for them, and it makes us look bad.  We could end up losing clients if they feel we are unreliable. ”

Share expectations  

It is very common to find that a discipline issue is really a misunderstanding of expectations.  Managers often assume that everyone on the team knows what is expected of them.  Yet, often you’ll find employees differ in priorities and in process, each believing they are doing everything right.  Having regular check-ins to clarify expectations with the team, and with each individual, can go a long way in keeping everyone on track and avoiding potential problems. 

Frame the message in a positive way  

Instead of threatening (i.e. you’ll be fired) deliver the feedback in a positive way, being clear and forward thinking.  “I want to help you be successful, can I share some feedback with you that might help you in partnering with your project manager?”  Another example:  Instead of “you need to,”   try something like “if your skills improve, you’ll be able to advance or take on more interesting projects.”    People are more receptive to positive statements and support. Negative feedback often leads to defensiveness.

Ask for an action plan 

Ask the employee to write up their ideas on how to resolve the issue and be successful going forward.   If they don’t seem to know how to start, ask questions.  “How can you make sure this doesn’t happen again?” or “What do you need?”  Maybe the person needs training, a quieter work space, a change in their work load, etc.  The action plan should include goals, deadlines, and incremental steps to achieve the goal.  Identify what resources (training, materials, etc) that you will provide, and what the employee is accountable for.   The goal here is for the employee to create the action plan, not the manager (or HR person), so the employee is the one held accountable.  The employee is more likely to take ownership of his own actions if he is the one to devise the plan.

Discipline shouldn’t be about finding fault and criticizing the person.  Discipline isn’t about letting problems build until you just can’t stand it anymore.  Discipline should be about identifying weaker areas and working on improvement.  Turn the concept of discipline around and start coaching your employees throughout the year.  Try implementing regular coaching feedback sessions, so you can help your employees grow and improve, and find success.   


If you want to learn more about effective discipline and the process when employee performance is not meeting expectations, register for our webinar: Discipline and Termination - How To Handle a Difficult Employee.

Register Now

About the Author

Amy Esry, PHR, SHRM-CP

Posted in: Human Resources

Posted by Amy Esry, PHR, SHRM-CP

Amy believes that a company will be successful when the employees are successful, and she values being a contributor to that success at Hausmann-Johnson Insurance. She uses over 20 years of Human Resources experience to oversee the agency’s internal HR management while also serving as a HR consultant for clients. Amy recognizes that running a business is complicated enough without having to understand employment law, so she does the leg work by continually researching and determining how the law applies to specific situations. She enjoys simplifying a complex employment issue to ensure that a client is considering all options and is aware of all ramifications. Amy holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Truman University, as well as an MBA from the University of Missouri – Columbia. In her free time, she loves gardening and sinking her hands into a bag of fresh potting soil. During the winter, she hibernates with books, craft projects, jigsaw puzzles or board games with her family.

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