I have the good fortune of working with lots of leaders, and often have the chance to talk with, teach or consult with them on a variety of issues including their role as a coach. The vast majority of those I work with truly want to be more effective and make a difference for their people and their organizations.
When the subject of coaching comes up, invariably the conversation moves to how to coach underperformers. This makes sense for a variety of reasons, including:
- Underperformers are on our radar screen and so they are top of mind.
- Some of the gaps in performance cause problems or even add to the leader/coaches workload.
- Often leaders are being told by their superiors to solve that performance problem.
- An underperformer is a problem, and leaders are usually good (and expected to be) good at solving problems.
So while it is logical that leaders would ask about these challenges, it masks the bigger question. The question I am always thinking, and sometimes ask is: “Hey, Coach, why are you so focused on your poor performers?”
I’m not suggesting that you should accept poor performance and let people continue to work at levels below the needed expectations, nor I am suggesting that you should fire poor performers. You should still coach them and offer them the chance to grow and develop. So what am I suggesting?
Rethink how you allocate the time you spend coaching
Based on years’ of experience and observation, I’ve found that most leaders are spending 70-90% of their coaching time, effort and focus on their poorest performers. That just doesn’t make sense, because when they do that, they don’t have time for everyone else.
The best coaches spend at least 50% of their time coaching their top performers to even higher levels of success. Here is why:
- Top performers get more done, and as they continue to improve, their productivity will continue to rise.
- Top performers are likely the future of your organization, and should have ongoing support, development and coaching.
- Top performers thrive on coaching, and they want it. If you don’t offer it, they may quit and go where they can receive it.
- They are already accomplishing more than others. Don’t you want to support that effort and reward those results?
Focus more on strengths than you do weaknesses
Your employees should understand their strengths and weaknesses, and they should spend at least as much time working to enhance their strengths as they do to improve their weaknesses. That applies to your coaching too, both on an individual basis and for your team as a whole. When you hold coaching sessions with an employee, spend half the time focused on the person’s areas of weakness and the other half on building strengths.
Additionally, think of your whole team as a pool of strengths and weaknesses, and spend at least half your time working on the strengths (or top performers), and the other half on your weaknesses (your poor performers). If you do, you will see boosts in productivity, morale and performance across the board.
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