Leaders who supervise the work of others should continuously provide evaluations and honest feedback, while addressing poor performance and inappropriate behavior in a timely way. Consistent assessment contributes to the overall morale of the workforce; the immediate feedback clears up confusion, reinforces excellence, and shows everyone that performance and productivity matter.
When managers recognize honest effort and hard work, it provides high performers with the incentive to reach for even loftier goals. Addressing poor performance is equally important, because it raises productivity levels and reassures high achievers that the company’s status as a place that rewards excellence and attends to substandard work is well deserved.
Organizations should encourage supervisors to field complaints, accept criticism, challenge inconsistencies and communicate negative information without judgment or prejudice. Doing so will establish the organization as a place where open communication is the norm.
Problems arise when supervisors 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 at all” still rings in their ears.
What Is Evaluative Coaching?
It is time to set these socially induced feelings aside and consider an easy approach called evaluative coaching. The purpose of evaluative coaching is to provide underperforming employees with an understanding of what they are doing right, an awareness of the mistakes they are making and a perspective on what they need to do differently.
Unlike a scheduled performance review, evaluative coaching is a preemptive activity that takes place whenever and wherever the supervisor recognizes a need for clarification, correction or confirmation. Receiving timely feedback is especially important and valuable to an employee whose job duties have changed as the result of a transfer or recent promotion.
Managers should start by making a list of low performers, writing down each person’s strengths and weaknesses. Next, they should show the employees what they wrote about them, in private and one at a time. Before saying anything, managers should give the employee time to react and explain while they listen without comment. Focusing on their perspective may help to pinpoint the source of the manager’s unmet expectations. And, with some gentle urging, the manager may help the employee raise his or her sights a little higher.
A good way for managers to open the discussion and focus on performance is to ask the person to explain the purpose of the job as he or she see it and then follow these steps:
- Emphasize that they value what the employee does when he or she performs the job correctly.
- Go over those situations where their expectations were not met.
- Try to determine what happened from the employee’s point of view.
- Make the employee aware of what he or she needs to do differently.
- Provide a summary of the manager’s expectations for future performance.
Evaluative Coaching in Practice: An Example
Here is an example of how a manager used evaluative coaching 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 conversation, the supervisor gave Howard a tour of the shop and showed him the full extent of the operation. She emphatically pointed out how his job fit into the overall workflow. After an intensive training session, she introduced Howard 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 OK — which she knew was not true.
The next morning, Howard found himself in the supervisor’s office. Instead of being upset, however, she enthusiastically explained to him the importance of his work and how the firm depended on him to do the rights things the right way. She went on to explain that all employees should be thinking about the highest and best use of their time and talent so they didn’t lose an opportunity to improve both their work performance and their sense of well-being.
The supervisor 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. He eventually understood that he was expected to take responsibility for his own development, and he went on to become one of the most relied upon performers in his department.
Evaluative coaching is based on a blend of mutual expectations. The challenge is to raise the expectations of substandard performers to higher levels without being critical or judgmental. Supervisors who practice evaluative coaching find it to be a nonthreatening way to upgrade the performance of underachievers by letting them know that the expectation is for them to reach higher, because what they do is important to their career and to the organization’s future.