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Improve Performance with On-the-Spot Coaching

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Disciplining an employee can be one of the most uncomfortable tasks someone in a leadership position has to undertake, says Steve Trapp, North American strategic accounts manager at Axalta Coating Systems. Even worse, is letting an employee go. However, Trapp says that should be the last resort. Instead of waiting for annual performance reviews to discuss deficiencies, he recommends on-the-spot coaching sessions, an idea Ken Blanchard introduced in his book, The One Minute Manager. Trapp discusses the concept of on-the-spot coaching to resolve problems, and how to determine when an employee should be let go. 


If zero-tolerance policy violations weren’t violated, firing an employee should always be the last step in the process. The employee should never be surprised that they are being put on a path to progressive discipline. That’s where the concept of on-the-spot coaching— both positive and negative—comes in. This is something that should be done every day. The reason is that it builds mutual trust and lets them know that the goal is not to fire them. You’re not writing the employee up to be a jerk and build a case against them.

Truly, you have to do four positive on-the-spot coaches over time for every one negative coaching session for people to perceive that you’re being genuine. That’s four over a period of time, such as six months. Because, if you don’t say squat to me for six months and then walk over and do corrective on-the-spot coaching, you’re not building any trust; you’re not building that emotional bank account that lets the employee know that you care enough about them to catch them doing things correctly and not just incorrectly.

Whether it’s positive or corrective, on-the-spot coaching should follow a simple procedure:

1) You have to define the thing that bugs you or that they’re not doing. You can only focus on one behavior or skill at a time. This is why I set interdepartmental standards and I spot check cars periodically to those standards to reinforce good and bad behaviors. I’m giving them very specific feedback. Keep your tone neutral and not punishing. If you get too punishing with your tone, it can make people defensive. But, you can be assertive by calling attention to your observations. Be clear that the behavior is unacceptable.

2) Have a specific recommendation in mind as a plan for improvement. You’re always giving them a specific example.

3) However, invite them into the discussion, too, and ask for their ideas. Allowing them to be a part of it and asking if there are any ways to enhance the correction gets you their commitment.

4) During that discussion, also mention the benefits for both them and the company of fixing the behavior.

5) Next, set some checkpoints that can be put in place for regular follow- up to make sure that the recommendation is being followed.

6) Finally, thank them for the coaching moment. That way, they realize this was a coaching session. This wasn't just you randomly walking up to them.

If you let a problem go for too long and didn’t mention it initially, you can still use the above process, but the approach changes a little bit. You can either do a group coach or an individual coach. In a group coach, gather everyone together and simply say you’ve noticed this has been going on for a while and wanted to discuss it. However, you can never point out an individual in a group setting. In an individual coach, say, “I’ve observed this in the last three days. It could have happened before that, but let’s not worry about how many times it occurred. Let’s just agree that this is something that we need to stop now.” That way, you aren’t bringing up a lot of baggage. 

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