I once had a discussion with one of my old bosses regarding his perceived ability to quickly determine what motivates an individual into exhibiting a type of behavior. He adamantly believed that within an hour or two, he could determine the key motivation/incentive an individual had deep within them that drove them to be a strong performer or otherwise.
And I was throwing out the BS flag for one simple reason – as I sat across from him, my boss of four years had no idea what motivated me and what was most important in my life, let alone that of a stranger.
Which leads me to one of the best books I’ve read on coaching employees with a performance “problem”– Ferdinand Fournies’, “Coaching for Improved Work Performance.”
Please note that I separate coaching “problems” from coaching success or as I like to say, “throwing wood on a burning fire” because I believe the approach is entirely different.
It’s interesting however that most questions I receive from first-line leaders focus on how to handle the “tough” conversation or the employee who just doesn’t seem to want to complete some aspect of their responsibilities, or at the very least, do it in an acceptable manner.
Coaching for Improved Work Performance, which has been around since before I was a first-line leader (yes, it’s ancient), provides a great framework in dealing with this employee situation and has at its core a very simple philosophy.
Only the full understanding of consequences can lead to long-term changes in behavior and it is this understanding that is one of the most important aspect in coaching an employee with a performance issue.
What I really like about Fournies’ approach is that it takes away the deep, soul-searching, gut-wrenching, PhD–like insights that many leaders feel they need, and even scarier – some believe they innately possess, in order to understand where the employee is coming from with regards to the undesirable behavior.
In fact, Fournies states, “There is no such thing as an amateur psychologist, so stop trying to be one.”
Instead, Fournies’ approach is one focused on the consequences of the behavior rather than the root cause and the simple premise that the employee’s behavior dictates the leader’s behavior.
One example from the book that I really enjoy utilizes a group of people who were on a cruise ship in the Caribbean that sunk and who now find themselves together in a lifeboat trying to stay alive.
“Some of them have to row, someone has to steer, someone has to fish, someone has to catch rainwater and someone has to hit seagulls on the head for lunch. After you get everything settled down, someone jumps up, says, ‘I want to dance,’ and proceeds to do so.
Now what are you going to do? Are you going to set this person down and try to get to know him better by talking about his previous life and work experience? Are you going to discuss family background, whether he loved mom or dad the best, what his brothers and sisters were like, whether he had a lot of toys to play with? Are you going to try to learn what his disappointments were in life, achievements, and life aspirations?
Or will you most likely point out that he can row, steer, fish, hit seagulls on the head, or catch rainwater but dancing is not an alternative?”
For the good of the boat and everyone else aboard, I hope you chose the latter – dancing is not an alternative regardless of the reason because the consequence, capsizing the boat in shark-infested waters, is not an acceptable consequence for the dancer, the leader, or the team!
The same is true with sales teams. No doubt there is one or maybe even two individuals on your team whose behavior from time to time is detrimental to not only themselves but the team as a whole.
Fournies’ approach, and I fully agree, is to not waste your precious leadership time trying to figure out why these employees are exhibiting negative behavior, rather meet it head on by helping them understand the consequences of their behavior – to them as individuals and the team. Once that crucial step is complete, work with them to develop a plan towards acceptable behavior, and hold them accountable to that plan.
Then take your precious leadership time and spend it throwing wood on the burning flame of your top performers.
And what happens if the undesirable behavior continues to be exhibited time and time again by those individuals despite your coaching?
Well my friends, that splash you heard was them being escorted off your team’s boat. And the beauty is that it wasn’t your decision – it was all theirs.
You see, there really shouldn’t be any true difficult conversations – at least for you. For as Fournies writes, “It’s their behavior that dictates your behavior.” Ultimately, knowing the consequences, they still decided they wanted to dance, which as leader of your boat and with your team looking on, you were forced to free up their future on your team’s boat.
And leaving you more time to find some wood for your Star’s fire once you get safely back to shore.
Have a safe and successful week everyone and best wishes keeping your boats afloat!