Supervisors sometimes avoid taking corrective action because it feels too much like parenting. Other times they withhold critical feedback because the childhood injunction, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything,” still rings in their ears. It is time to set these socially induced feelings aside and talk about a new approach called valuative coaching.
The purpose of valuative coaching is to provide underperforming followers with an understanding of what they are doing right, an awareness of the mistakes they are making, and a perspective of what they need to do differently.
First, pick a low performer and make a list of his strengths and weaknesses. Next, pull that person aside and show him the list. Before you say anything, let him react to each item while you listen without comment. Focusing on his perspective may help to pinpoint the source of your unmet expectations. And with some gentle urging, you may get him to raise his sights a little higher.
A good way to open the discussion and focus on performance is to ask the person to explain the purpose of his job. Then follow these steps:
- Emphasize that you value what he does when he does it right.
- Go over those situations where his response did not match your expectations.
- Try to determine what happened from his point of view.
- Make him aware of what needs to be done differently.
- Provide a summary of your expectations for him in the future.
Here is an example of how the process was applied in the case of Howard who showed up on his first day with few expectations other than a paycheck.
Thinking this job would be like every other job, Howard was surprised when his supervisor thoughtfully explained his duties and briefed him on the importance of teamwork and personal accountability.
Shortly after that, Howard was given a tour of the shop and shown the full extent of the operation. The supervisor emphatically pointed out how what he would be doing fit into the overall workflow. After an intensive training session, Howard was introduced to the other employees on his team who made him feel very welcome.
So far so good thought Howard. However, it was not long before he ran in to trouble. Howard was making mistakes, which caused his team to fall behind schedule. When his supervisor came by to see how he was doing, Howard told her that everything was okay which she knew was not true.
Next morning, Howard found himself in the supervisor’s office. But, instead of being upset, she enthusiastically explained to him the importance of his work and how the firm depended upon him to do the rights things the right way.
The supervisor went on to explain that all employees should be thinking about the highest and best use of their time and talent so as not to lose an opportunity to improve both their work performance and their sense of well being.
She further stated that whenever Howard was having difficulty, he was to let her know. Howard was relieved that he still had a job. On the way out his supervisor requested that Howard communicate more frequently with her and encouraged him to ask for help if he needed it.
It was clear that this company was prepared to invest in Howard and was not about to give up on him the first time he stumbled. Howard eventually understood that he was expected to take responsibility for his own development.
Valuative coaching is based upon a blend of mutual expectations. Your challenge is to the raise the expectations of substandard performers to higher levels without being critical or judgmental. Managers who practice this techniquefind it to be a nonthreatening way to upgrade the performance of underachievers by letting them know you expect them to reach higher because what they do is important.