Coaching: Making the vague more specific

Geek 5, Managing people

Last week I gave some advice to a less experienced manager.  She and I are friends and have worked on projects together in the past.  About a year ago she was promoted into her first role in which she manages people.  Unfortunately she inherited a tough team.  Early on she had to manage a long-time employee out of the business.

Last week, she had to coach someone on performance issues.  She was stressed out from the conversation.    So we talked that through and I think she felt better.  She just needed a friendly ear.

Then we talked about the action plan she was setting up for her direct report.  He was struggling with some tough issues.  They were more about “will” versus “skill”.  Skill issues are easier to fix – they usually require teaching and time.  Will issues are about someone not wanting to do something or not being willing to change.

This direct report, let’s call him Charlie, has solid skills and does his job reasonably well.  However, he is difficult to work with.  He can also be argumentative and closed to other perspectives.  His body language screams when he was unhappy.  Maybe he even has a bit of the cringe factor.  One key problem is that he often ignores input from internal clients about his project work.  He will not incorporate changes if he does not agree with them.

The manager did all of the right things – she had the difficult conversation and and used specific examples.  However, she wasn’t sure how to turn that information into an action plan for fixing the problems.   Similar to advice given about performance reviews, there are some basics about writing good action plans.

In this case it was about being more specific and behavioral.  Originally the plan stated that he needed to be more open to input from internal clients and incoporate their feedback into his work.  The problem was captured but this description was not specific enough to help him understand what he needs to do.

So we worked together until the manager had an idea of what to tell him to do.  In this case the action plan was modified to say that he needed to send an email after content meetings with internal clients.  In the email he will specify what he had heard in the meeting and what changes and work he will do as a result.  He will copy the manager, so she can follow up on progress.

I don’t know how this story will end.  But the manager handled it well with a few tweaks to the action plan.  Charlie has a chance to turn things around and the manager has grown as a leader of people.

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