Coaching Tactics for Tough Times

 by Jamie B. Telegadis

When companies are instructing departments to cut costs and headcounts, leaders at all levels must rise to the occasion and help their people stay engaged and focused on their performance. What is required – a no nonsense, no excuses, yet encompassing supportive approach to coaching. When many managers want to back off or look the other way in tough times because they are stretched too thin and doing so much with so few, it takes courage to raise the bar, discuss mediocre performance, and finally stop procrastinating. 

They need to have the performance feedback discussions that are so important, yet not done nearly enough. An experienced leader knows that the only way to get through the tough times is to make a positive impact and to prepare to surge into the more successful times ahead.

Coaching tactics for tough times calls for a total and unvarnished evaluation by managers on all levels -one which demands more of themselves and also confronts the average, perhaps even mediocre performance of others that they may have tolerated in better times.

Coaching in tough times requires:

1. Courage.
Managers and supervisors must seize every opportunity to re-clarify and reinforce the job/project/role expectations that they have of an employee and place value on it, especially when observable performance falls short of expectations.

Managers must demonstrate the courage, despite the hectic schedules, to meet with an employee and say “this is part of your job, and these are the skills expected of you, they are a very important part of your job, especially now….and let me tell you why….”

Conveying expectations is an essential element of a manager’s job in dealing with employees. It allows opportunity for clarity, commitment and sometimes, if warranted, renegotiation.

2. No nonsense feedback…
Managers have a responsibility, now more than ever, to provide clear, direct feedback regarding the employee’s current results, actions and behaviors. It means caring enough to give specifics and examples about the present performance, both good and bad and how the employee can improve.

Now more than ever we don’t have the time to wait for employees to do a better job. The consequences of inadequate performance are all too real; we must all be at the top of our game in all that we do.


While defensiveness to negative feedback is normal, the right techniques can ensure that it be done in a respectful, caring and kind manner. Most times feedback can be received non-defensively when the person giving feedback can provide specifics and examples.

3. Tension.
Change in behavior is brought about by tension. It is not until a manager helps an employee understand the impact that their negative behavior or performance has had on their clients, their colleagues, the quality or quantity metrics, timeframes, perceptions, reputations etc. that an employee will be willing to discuss and implement a plan for improvement.

4. No Excuses. 
Care enough
 to help an employee develop a plan to turn around a project, increase sales, improve punctuality, and/or provide better customer service to difficult clients without accepting excuses!

Managers must get a documented plan of what specifically will be done for the benefit of both the manager and the employee to ensure the mutual expectation(s) of the project/responsibility are met. It is not good enough for managers to accept the general reaction “Oh, OK, you’re right; I will take care of it.

Managers must also ensure that employees create a plan that takes into account certain realities that may impact the plan e.g., there will be difficult clients, the unexpected will occur, trains and buses will be late on occasion, there will be conflicting priorities etc.

Excuses for inaction must be discussed. Savvy managers know the difference between a valid reason for a performance problem and an excuse.

Either way, when an employee raises issue(s) that might hinder the success of their plan, whether it is a valid reason or excuse, managers need to coach the employee by communicating understanding yet re-confirming the responsibility. It is not about justifying past actions or future problems. It is about committing to a realistic and feasible plan to improve performance to achieve what is expected.

Managers can provide empathy while leaving the responsibility on the employee’s shoulders to meet the work objective. No excuses.

5. Accountability
Tough times require mutual accountability. Managers must do what it takes to ensure that the plan is working. Periodic review of the plan and of the employee’s individual performance provides managers the opportunity to continually develop their dynamic role as a courageous coach. Building an effective problem solving relationship between manager and employee is essential in these turbulent times because the standards for our collective success will continue to change and increase.

Tough times, tough love?
Are managers willing to look in the mirror? How courageous have they been? Have they been looking the other way? Have they realized doing more with less means honing their courageous coaching skills? 

Learn more about Jamie’s Coaching programs. Managers will enhance their coaching skills and coaching confidence by utilizing an interpersonal road map, tools and tactics for conducting these coaching discussions.

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