4 Facts That Nobody Told You About Coaching Employees

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We coach employees to make them better, and to correct unacceptable performance. In both cases, there are four things you, as a “coach” must do to make coaching bring out behavioral change.

The Four Things Coaching Must Be

Immediate – You can’t put off coaching discussions.

Foreseeable – Your expectations must be clear, so no one is surprised. Ever.

Consistent – You can’t give corrective feedback sometimes, and then other times turn a blind eye.

Impersonal – You can’t talk to some employees about poor performance, but sit back and let some employees make the same mistakes. Doing this makes you seem unfair, and this spells big problems.

Feedback to employees should follow what Douglas McGregor calls the Hot Stove Rule.


1. Immediate

If I stick my finger in a flame, the burn is immediate. Unacceptable employee performance or attitude needs to be addressed immediately. Not after things have built up over time, not on the annual review; immediately. Your employees need, and deserve, immediate feedback on their performance.

2. Foreseeable

A hot flame is visible, so any burn is no surprise. Any disciplinary action you take on an employee; verbal warning, written warning, probation, etc., must be foreseeable. Your expectations must be clear. Consequences for failure to meet expectations must also be clear. Constructive feedback and discipline should never be a shock to your employees.

3. Consistent 

If I stick my finger in a hot flame today, I’ll get burned. The same thing would happen next week, should I choose to get in the flame again. Feedback, coaching, and discipline are to be consistent if they are to be effective in ushering in change. You can’t ignore a variance today and then stand firm against the same infraction 6 months from now. You must consistently address unacceptable performance and poor attitudes. You must consistently offer support, coaching, and counsel.

4. Impersonal

A top tier chef would get burned if she touches the flame. And so would a toddler. Fire is not personal. Your feedback and discipline must be impersonal. Consistently give the same level of feedback, coaching, and discipline to any employee who fails to meet expectations.

You have a professional and ethical responsibility to coach your employees fairly and to give them every possible opportunity to deliver their best performance. You do this by ensuring that your coaching and discipline is immediate, foreseeable, consistent and impersonal.

 When we fail to follow the hot stove rule, we make coaching harder for ourselves; we’re unfair to our employees; we may put our companies at risk for litigation.

Continue the conversation with me?

On Friday, February 1st I’m facilitating a 45-minute webinar on How to Solve Your Biggest Problems with Coaching Employees. If you struggle to address unacceptable performance or behavior, you should join me.