A busy manager who works in learning and development for a global organization has a young professional on his team who has reported to him for three years. When she was hired, her knowledge in the field was somewhat limited, but she has tried to learn over the years. At times, she has made mistakes, missed details on projects, and created frustration for internal customers and vendors, which has resulted in some costly problems. While the issues haven’t been catastrophic, she has fallen short in meeting the core performance expectations for her role. She does have the potential to contribute more, grow and advance. The problem is that while her manager has known for a long time that he needed to coach her on these issues, he has avoided those conversations.
Why? People on the team like her. She is kind and willing to help others. Everyone is empathetic, because she is a single mother with two children at home. For these reasons, her manager has shied away from sharing helpful coaching and feedback and confronting her performance issues head-on. Now, three years later, the department is growing, it’s hired additional staff and a restructuring is underway. At this point, instead of having a coaching discussion or talking about an advancement opportunity, he’s going to have to tell her that she’s being passed over for a promotion.
This situation begs the question, which approach is best? Coach people along their journey, or have a difficult conversation down the road? Our research indicates there are four reasons people avoid coaching: time constraints, discomfort with discussing difficult topics, lack of confidence and coaching skills, and fear about how others will react. Unfortunately, this situation happens far too often. The costs can be significant and generally fall into three categories.
1. The Bottom Line
It is hard to run an effective business if you can’t talk to your people about their performance. Leaders who don’t coach employees put their organizations at risk of underperforming and missing critical strategic milestones, which, in turn, has an impact on the bottom line. Business today moves quickly, changes constantly and keeps growing in complexity. Additionally, each of us has our own perceptions, opinions, and tendencies to see and hear workplace issues selectively and through our own set of filters.
The likelihood that people in the organization could be moving in the wrong direction or misunderstanding expectations and performance targets is high. Organizations that want to be on the leading edge can’t afford to have people working contrary to key performance drivers. The bottom-line costs are huge when leaders aren’t skilled, confident, and willing to regularly coach people to help them meet expectations and grow in a way that supports the strategy of the organization.
2. Culture and Engagement
The cost of not coaching extends beyond its impact on key performance drivers like customer service levels, costs, quality of products and services, safety and compliance, and so on. It can also drastically negatively affect the organization’s overall culture and its team members’ engagement. When people’s behaviors and actions are out of sync with the organization’s values, beliefs and guiding principles, it takes a toll on morale and motivation. When people aren’t committed or don’t support important ground rules or working agreements, it can be frustrating and distracting.
For example, when people choose their own deadlines for assignments, fail to attend meetings, or arrive late and waste time, it can be taxing and demoralizing for others. These situations are prime coaching moments for leaders. The costs of these behaviors may be intangible, but they make an impact. Think about the value that you could create for the organization if you could re-engage a disengaged employee and elevate his or her performance even a little bit. For these reasons, managers need to step up and be prepared to coach others every day.
There is one final, often-overlooked category to consider when thinking about the costs of not coaching: the relationship and emotional connection between leaders and their followers. When leaders don’t coach at all or coach poorly, it creates a gap in trust and respect. Without candid feedback that is specific, frequent and genuine, it is hard for productive business relationships to grow and flourish. Leaders and followers alike need to communicate openly and discuss their expectations. Even more importantly, there needs to be accountability, trust, candor and a free flow of information between leaders and team members.
Countless research studies have found that poor leadership is one of the primary reasons talented people leave their jobs. Good employees don’t flee organizations; they flee bad bosses who don’t coach or give constructive feedback. Think about the organizational costs of employee turnover: When someone walks out the door, you often lose a valued employee and his or her knowledge (not to mention the costs of recruiting and hiring a replacement). Think back to our earlier example. Even if this leader’s employee doesn’t leave the organization, imagine the trust that will be lost between them and the impact this situation will have on her motivation. Team members have the right to know where they stand and what they need to do to continue providing value to the organization.
Coaching establishes the foundation for healthy and productive relationships and employees’ motivation to excel. If you can learn to work through these obstacles as a leader, you will take a significant step toward creating high-performance teams and an organization capable of achieving the results you desire.