Accelerate, Save, or Say Goodbye (part 2 of 2)

By Tom Davidson

The counseling conversation is more direct than the coaching conversation. In this conversation, think of yourself as standing in front of the employee’s fast-moving train, trying your best to keep them from coming off the tracks on a sharp curve or driving off a cliff they don’t yet see up ahead. Read more below!

There are many reasons for you to have “the hard” conversations with your employees, and if you don’t learn how to do them and do them well, someone is going to have “a hard” conversation with you! Here’s why you need to learn and deliver the coaching and the counseling conversations with deft and dexterity: 

     1 – Accelerate – As you have certainly discovered, there is little slack in organization’s today. People who used to “get by” with average but not excellent performance will soon find themselves in hot water if they don’t step up to their fuller potential.

     2 – Save – One of the most surprising (and uncomfortable) parts of becoming a first-time manager is the fact that you have to confront performance problems with people who used to be your peers. As much as you might wish to do so, you can’t turn away from this challenge for long if you want to keep them on track.

     3 – Say Goodbye – If you supervise others for very long, you’re certain to have someone (probably about 10 percent of your team) who doesn’t want to, won’t or can’t get the job done to standard or better. While they may have gotten “a pass” in the past, times have changed, and you will have to get them on track or help the organization say goodbye. 

Coaching is for employees who are doing fine, average or proficient but could do even better. Counseling is for employees whose behavior is unacceptable and are currently on a path to termination if they don’t adjust their course. Yesterday’s blog was on coaching, and today’s is about counseling. 

The Counseling Conversation 
The counseling conversation is more direct than the coaching conversation. In this conversation, think of yourself as standing in front of the employee’s fast-moving train, trying your best to keep them from coming off the tracks on a sharp curve or driving off a cliff they don’t yet see up ahead. 

In many cases, you are the employee’s last chance before they approach the termination point. Make it count or lose them. Make it clear what path they are on or let them fail. Make it clear that if they are eventually terminated, they actually fired themselves, because you did all you could to warn them and help them stay successful. 

Here are the principles common to both the coaching and counseling conversations but with an emphasis on how they need to be adapted this particular crucial conversation: 

1. By the time you are holding a counseling conversation, you should have already illuminated the associate’s goals, interests and motivations and tried to point them out as intrinsic motivations in your previous plans. They are still relevant and need to be referenced heavily in the counseling conversation, but the employee now needs to know that they are in absolute jeopardy unless behaviors and results are adjusted.

2. Point out the organization’s goals, expectations and requirements, and show documentation of how and when they were previously explained and discussed.

3. Regarding feedback in the counseling conversation, while you will want to point out what they do consistently well, the weight of this discussion has to be on what they need to improve.  As in the coaching conversation, you need to share specific and observed behaviors and as well as specific outcomes that are unsatisfactory. Once again, patterns make stronger case than one-off incidents that can be explained away or overlooked.

4. At this point, you are still interested in what barriers are preventing successful performance but you have to be more demanding of the new behaviors or results. Misunderstandings, lack of training or a shortage of resources need to have been cleared up long before this point.

5. While an action plan is still needed and relevant, this one is more one-sided, specific, time-bounded and demanding. The associate should be clear that if this plan is not executed precisely, then the next conversation will be one-step closer to termination.

These conversations are no fun, but they are more fun then letting someone drive off a cliff without doing your job, intervening to stop the loss before it’s too late, or wondering what you could have done differently. What other principles have you found useful in the counseling process at work? 

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