Often poor performance in the workplace is met with discipline before coaching has occurred. An essential part of maintaining quality performance across all staff, coaching gives employers the opportunity to address issues regarding an employees role and responsibilities through discussion, and without the predetermined need for a warning.

Whether as a formalised process in the office or on the floor itself, a coaching interview should follow the same process.

Identifying the Performance Gap

A performance gap is the difference between what behaviour we expect to see of our employees and what is actually taking place. It is important in this stage to clearly identify what the behaviour you witness is. What exactly was the employee doing that was wrong?

Before jumping to a conclusion and deriding the behaviour as slack or lazy, you must be certain that the employee’s understanding of what is expected matches your own. In this regard, discussing the issue with the employee is much more useful than forcing them to deny their ‘laziness’.

a) Observed Behaviour

It is important that you present to your employee exactly what they have done wrong. You should be able to articulate specifically what behaviour you have seen that concerns you, and why it has done so.

For example, ‘Today I saw you sitting in the main area talking to the customers while there was a queue of people to be served’ or ‘earlier today I saw you with your back to the customers while you were moving stock around in the fridge.’

Making statements of behaviour like this enables you to get confirmation from the employee that they agree with your observations or they can clarify details if they have been missed.

For example:
‘I was off duty when I was speaking to the customers, they are my friends.’ or,
‘I wasn’t rostered earlier today, maybe it was my sister.’

In the second example, if this is the case then no one has been harmed, you have been polite, they have given you information that requires you to investigate further. You cannot proceed with a coaching session unless you get someone to admit to the facts of the behaviour you have seen, and you are certain that the account is accurate.

b) Expectations of Behaviour

Once the correct account of the incident has been accepted, you can ensure that the person is clear on what is expected of them, and in cases where this does not meet your own expectations, advise them further. In the first example above, your expectation may be that if staff are off duty they are expected to be either out of uniform or in the staff room, because it is assumed that when they are in full uniform they are on duty, resulting in customers getting frustrated.

Reason for the Performance Gap

The response from the employee when advised of the behaviour will identify why the performance gap has occurred. It is crucial to identify this reason in order to assist the employee to develop in their position. Elements such as training, awareness of their responsibilities, resources, equipment, leadership and motivation are all factors that may affect a performance gap.

Development Plan

The priority is now to establish a course of action that will close this gap. Set a follow-up date to see if the person has attempted to improve their behaviour, and in the case of further improvement being needed, discuss options for another action plan or underlying problems that are contributing to the issue.

What is the difference?

Essentially, the coaching and discipline processes follow the same procedure in which you identify the behaviour, agree on the course of events, outline what is expected of the employee and discuss the possible reason for a gap in performance. However, differences lie in the context of the discussion.

If a person has been coached before and they show no desire to resolve the issue, this is when discipline becomes necessary. Disciplinary procedures also carry the expectation of an immediate result, be it through a formal warning or otherwise. It is important to be careful when entering a coaching session that your outcome is not predetermined or focused on punishment.

Discussion should also take into account the perspective of the employee, and in this regard it is crucial to remember that the purpose of a coaching session is to improve the performance of your staff and the organisation.

Most importantly, the effort into talking to your employees through coaching will result in improvement in morale and respect for your supervisors and management.


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