'Valuative coaching' highlights employee's critical role in workplace

Clearly, a manager's motivational objectives should be to praise the efforts of the high achievers and raise the standards of the low performers. Yet many struggle with the latter. Finding ways to heighten the expectations of unproductive employees is not easy.

Some managers avoid employee feedback because it feels too much like parenting. Others don't like to make unilateral determinations about the worth of another person. The childhood admonition judges not, lest yea be judged still rings in their ears. Let's set those issues aside and talk about an approach that I call "valuative coaching."

The purpose of valuative coaching is to provide underperforming employees with an understanding of what they're doing right, an awareness of the mistakes they're making and a perspective of what they need to do differently.

Blending expectations

To get started, pick a low performer and make a list of his strengths and weaknesses. Next, pull that person aside and show him your list. Before you say anything, let him react to each item. By focusing on his perspective first, you may pinpoint the source of your unmet expectations. And with some valuative coaching, you may get him to raise his sights a little.

As you begin the valuative coaching process, it is always helpful to ask the employee to explain the purpose of his job. Then follow these steps:

1. Emphasize you value what he does when he does it right.

2. Go over those situations where his response did not match your needs.

3. Try to determine what happened from his point of view.

4. Make him aware of what needs to be done differently.

5. Provide a summary of your expectations for him in the future.

Let's see how these steps were 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 boss thoughtfully explained his job 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 owner emphatically pointed out how what he would be doing fit into the overcall workflow. After an intensive question-and-answer session with his supervisor, Howard was introduced to the other employees who made him feel very welcome.

So far, so good. However, it wasn't very long before he ran in to trouble.

Before the week was out, Howard was making a lot of mistakes, which caused his coworkers to fall behind schedule, but he wasn't about to ask for help. When his supervisor came by to see how he was doing, Howard told her everything was OK, which the supervisor knew was not true.

Next morning, Howard found himself in the manager's office. But, instead of being upset, the boss enthusiastically explained to Howard the importance of his work and how the shop depended upon him to do it right.

The boss went on to explain that everyone who worked there 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 his supervisor know. Howard was relieved that he still had a job. On the way out, the supervisor requested Howard communicate more frequently with her and encouraged Howard to ask for additional coaching if he needed it.

It was clear that this company was prepared to invest time in training Howard and wasn't about to give up on him the first time he stumbled. Howard eventually understood that as an employee, he was expected to take some of the responsibility for his own development.

Changing expectations

Howard typifies the expectations of a modern-day employee. We've set these people up in the educational system, and also in the home environment, to believe that all they have to do is find a good job and a good place to work. After that, it's just a simple matter of putting in their time and staying out of trouble.

People are coming into the workplace with the attitude that what they do doesn't really matter, so they're not expecting to play a critical role in determining how things get done.

In reality, today's employees are in the front line of information, because they, not management, are in touch with the customer.

Employees are the first to know about customer complaints and problems. They have the dual responsibility of keeping an eye on the customer while making sure that their job continues to meet the company's goals. If they can do that collectively, with management, then you have the foundation for a well-run company.

Performance improvement must be based on a blend of mutual expectations. Your challenge is to the raise the expectations of substandard employees to higher levels without being critical or judgmental. Managers who practice valuative coaching find it to be a non-threatening way to upgrade the performance of underachievers by letting them know you expect them to reach higher because what they do for you is important.

Taken from Jones' new book, "Help! I'm Surrounded By Idiots: A Workplace Survival Guide," available at Jones is a motivational speaker and seminar leader. Send comments to All letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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