8.27.10 Issue #442 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Nancy Haller, P.h. D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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Coaching Employees for Success
By Nancy Haller, P.h.D., Leadership Coach McKenzie Management

We will be celebrating Labor Day in another week, the holiday dedicated to the achievements of the American workforce. It was first intended to honor workers and give them a day of rest. In truth, President Cleveland declared it a national holiday to appeal to unions.

It’s unlikely that you have to contend with unions, but you are likely to have some labor struggles in your practice from time to time. If you are concerned about creating adversarial, 1930’s style labor vs. management problems, you probably avoid talking with your employees about their performance. Dentists are not trained to deal with the sensitive interpersonal dynamics involved in changing unacceptable employee behavior. Naturally there’s a desire to steer clear of conflict.

But your success is measured in terms of the way your employees perform. You need them to take responsibility and to make a commitment if they are going to serve you well. Face it – a poor employee isn't going to get better unless he or she is made aware that there is a need to improve. Don’t wait until there’s a threat of a walk-out before you address deficiencies in an employee’s performance. The challenge is to use mistakes to impart knowledge, to expand skills, and to develop heightened awareness.

Whether you are dealing with a new employee or a seasoned veteran, the goal is to concentrate on the desired results rather than the person’s shortcomings. Feedback tells people whether they are “on course” - keep doing what you’re doing - or redirects them. The problem is that most people associate the term “feedback” with criticism rather than information. What if you were to think of your intervention with an employee as collaborating with them and helping them succeed? Instead of using feedback to punish employees, try coaching them. A coaching approach to performance problems enables you to inspire and support your employees while giving them the direction and clarity they need and deserve. 

A large percentage of the problems related to employee performance are due to inadequate data. Much of this can be traced back to inadequate direction and guidance as well as inadequate feedback. The reality is that we don’t get much feedback generally. In the absence of feedback, most people tend to think they’re doing well - even when they are not. Feedback is essential for learning. Consistent feedback to your employees enables them to do things better. 

The problem with “negative” feedback is that it focuses on the past, on what has or has not occurred. The emphasis is on what’s gone wrong. On the other hand, coaching employees about their performance focuses on the future. This difference has a profound effect on how the conversation might go, and therefore on the motivation and engagement of your employees.

Let’s take a corrective feedback conversation. It might go something like this:

Doctor: (assertively) “Here’s what I noticed. Why did you do that?”
Employee: (defensively) “These are my excuses – blah-blah-blah.”
Doctor: (authoritatively) “Well it’s not good enough. Here’s what you should have done. From now on I expect you to do A-B-and-C.”

If you put yourself in that employee’s shoes, what might you be thinking and feeling? How useful would that conversation be to you? What would happen to your commitment to that manager and to the job? My hunch is that you wouldn’t be inspired.

Let’s take the same situation with a focus on the future. It may go something like this:

Doctor: (assertively) “Here’s what I noticed. Let’s talk about why it will be important for us to get this right in the future.”
Employee: (objectively) “Well, for this reason and for that reason.”
Doctor: (curiously) “So what could you do differently when you face a similar situation in the future to be sure you get it right?”
Employee: (without emotion) “Well, I could do this or that.”
Doctor: (supportively) “I think that the first of those ideas is especially useful because X-Y-and-Z. Let me also suggest something that’s worked for me (provides example). How would that be for you?”
Employee: (smiling) “That’s a great idea. I think that’s something I could use. Thanks.”
Doctor: (establishing agreement) “So, can I get your commitment to put that into effect the next time this situation occurs?”
Employee: (accepting the positive pressure to change) “Yes, I will do that.”
Doctor: (supportively) “Great. Let’s get together again next week to see how it’s working for you.”

If you put yourself in the employee’s shoes again, I would bet that the level of engagement and desire to improve would be much better. Rather than an interrogation (no wonder employees get defensive), a supportive coaching discussion emphasizes creative problem solving. You and the employee are working together in a collaborative vs. accusatory manner. By supportively talking about solutions, you show respect and caring for the employee which builds trust and commitment. And that creates a strong labor force.

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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