Coaching for Improved Performance

How to Create Employee Change

Business Meeting
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Executive Summary

Looking for improved performance and better coaching? Since Robin submitted this article for publication, I asked two managers in one of my client companies to use his approach in talking with several employees who needed to improve their performance.

The meetings were positive and I believe we will see their performance improve within the 90-day agreement. Both managers were very comfortable using Robin's recommended technique.

Give it a try--you'll be happy you did! (Executive Summary by Susan Heathfield)

I've always regarded problems as opportunities to do better, gain experience and learn more in order to be a little bit smarter and perhaps "streetwise" about handling life issues and situations. After all, we learn best not by being taught or by studying or reading, but rather by experiencing and then reflecting on what we did, what happened and then drawing conclusions and experimenting.

As a coach, I've practiced this method with considerable success. If we don't learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and experience the same problems repeatedly without growth or development.

Kolb's Learning Cycle Expanded

In my coaching I have advocated and expanded David Kolb's Learning Cycle:

  1. Life gives us gifts in the form of opportunities to have experiences.
  2. Coaching provides the opportunity to get FEEDBACK from these experiences - this is achieved by questioning and clarifying.
  1. Further probing and questioning create insights and common themes which lead to the learner REFLECTING on the experiences, the action taken and the consequences.
  2. From these insights and personal discoveries, CONCLUSIONS are drawn that, if sufficiently powerful, can relate back to other current or past situations.
  1. The valuable lessons learned from this exercise are then applied to future situations in the form of EXPERIMENTS.
  2. From these experiments, EXPERIENCES result as well as further opportunities to learn more, and the cycle goes around again.

I have found that Kolb's learning cycle becomes much more effective when approached from a coaching perspective. It incorporates the coaching technique that "empowerment causes involvement which causes commitment which results in increased performance" with the "commend, recommend, commend" Toastmaster principle.


Robin Nitschke is a Certified Career, Business and Life Coach. Robin has spent 22 years in various management roles where he has been involved with training and motivating people to achieve their potential. He has worked with both large and small businesses, managing all aspects of human resources, training, management development, marketing and customer service departments. The enthusiasm, dedication and passion he brings to coaching, inspires, motivates and empowers people to achieve their lifelong goals.

As a professional, certified coach, Robin is committed to helping you identify what is truly important in your life, guiding you to discover hidden opportunities, helping you set and achieve challenging and inspiring goals, and aiding in your journey to be the person you want to be.

You can reach Robin by email.

Let me give you an example of the effectiveness of this technique in a non-performance situation: Recently the manager of one of our departments told me he couldn't work with a member of his staff because she didn't do anything she was told and he didn't want to "have to write everything down for her."Instead of approaching this from a disciplinary perspective, I used the coaching feedback technique and set the situation up so that she asked me for help, rather than my forcing the help upon her.

Broadly speaking, this process involves three parts: Commendation, Recommendation and Commendation:


First, commend the employee on any significant duty he been carried out well - this will help set the tone of the meeting and help diffuse any hostility. Be careful not to sound patronizing though.


  1. Get straight to the point. Say, "The purpose of this meeting is to ____" or, "I want to spend some time discussing  the situation around this issue with you."
  2. State why you are having this conversation. Say, "I have a concern about ____" or, "A problem has occurred in this area."
  3. Describe the behavior causing the problem. Say, "I noticed that you ____" or, "When I was told that you made this decision, I looked into it and discovered this result." (Provide evidence, if necessary. Never try to coach or discipline on hearsay. Also, during the discussion, make sure you focus on behavior rather than on personalities.)
  1. Explain the consequences of this behavior. "The customer would see your behavior as uncaring." Or, "The effect of your lateness caused your workmates to ____."
  2. Describe how this behavior makes you feel. "When you behave in this way, I feel _____."
  3. Ask for the individual's point of view. "But that's how I see it; what's your perspective on the situation?"
  1. Ask her to assess her own behavior. "How do you think he felt when you ____?"
  2. Review the employee's job competency requirements. As an example, assess his understanding of his job description to ensure that you both have the same expectations of the task or duty.
  3. Ask the person how she will correct her behavior and how she can convince you she will carry through. Ask, "What's getting in the way for you?"  "How confident are you that you can change?" Or, "What can you do to convince me that you will change this behavior?"
  4. Ask the employee to say, in his own words, what specifically he will do to change his behavior. "Tell me in your own words what you will do differently as a result of this discussion. What will do you anticipate the outcome will look like if you are successful in making the changes? (In this way you are effectively empowering the employee to change himself. By approaching the change in this way, the employee is setting his own standards by which he will assess his own behavior.)
  5. Decide on the actions that the employee will take. "Let's both agree, then, that you will do the following and we'll review the situation in three months."
  6. Summarize your agreements. "To recap, you said you will do the following, and I will do this."

    The manager had written the employee off as totally lazy and stupid - a real hopeless case. When I got to number nine above, I suddenly realized that she was not lazy or delinquent - far from it. Rather, she just learns things differently than others. I discovered that she understands everything in a visual way, so telling her what to do was ineffective.

    What was required from us was a checklist, so we created one and the difference was truly amazing. She's now a very motivated and conscientious employee.


    Finish with another positive comment. In my view, it is vital to end the conversation on a positive note because the last thing said is remembered the longest. Dignity is everything. If you destroy it, you undermine the employee's self-confidence which will reduce her commitment to change and create hostility and apathy.

    When employees feel valued, they want to change. If employees feels undervalued, they just won't care.

    That's basically the structure for feedback we use when coaching employees. With the exception of totally defiant people, it really does work.

    I don't discipline my staff. I coach them in a way that makes them aware of the consequences of their actions and allows them to tell me how they will take action to change their behavior. In doing so I am "empowering" them with the responsibility of changing their own behavior so they feel directly accountable and involved with the situation, the problems and outcome.

    Being involvement makes people committed to the change required and, almost without fail, will result in greater respect, a higher level of motivation and improved performance.