How to Coach and Discipline a Manager
By Sharlyn Lauby
In both our personal and professional lives, we make mistakes. When we do, we need to own our mistakes, learn from them, and work hard to make sure they don’t happen again.
In the business world, when mistakes happen, we have conversations with employees about the situation. There is a great deal of information about how to coach and discipline employees. However, do the same principles we use to discipline employees apply to managers as well? Some could argue that managers are different because organizations have different levels of expectations for their performance.
Of course, managers are employees too. Organizations must coach and discipline them when circumstances require it. Consider the following when it's necessary to have a coaching or disciplinary performance conversation with a manager:
1. Timing is Important
Organizations have to balance having a performance discussion with the demands they are placing on a manager's schedule. On one hand, the longer you wait, the harder it may become to correct the behavior. Conversely, managers are often asked to work extra hours and make sacrifices for the organization. Having a performance conversation when a manager is working extra-long hours to meet a tight deadline might be perceived as neglecting to cut the manager some slack. Find a right moment so that the manager can focus on the conversation.
2. Be Specific
Companies change policies, procedures, and guidelines all the time. Use the performance conversation as an opportunity to remind the manager what the performance standards are, specifically where their performance may be falling short, and why they need to correct the situation. Don't sugarcoat the message in the hopes that the manager will "get it." Asking the manager to read between the lines isn't fair, and it isn't coaching.
3. Brainstorm Options to Correct the Situation
Just because you're speaking with a manager, it doesn't mean they have all the answers. Sometimes managers need help. In fact, they could be hesitant to express the need for help because they hold a manager title. So, the conversation shouldn't be a simple, "Just fix it." Use problem-solving techniques to surface ideas, then work with the manager to identify a plan that will help correct the situation.
4. Explain the Consequences
Managers are accustomed to holding employees accountable, so they should understand the need to be held accountable themselves. It's a credibility issue. Inform the manager of the consequences if the situation isn’t corrected. The consequences do not have to include disciplinary action, although they might, depending on the situation. Other consequences might include losing some of their schedule flexibility, being excluded from the opportunity to work on a special project, or the need for additional training.
5. Express Confidence in the Manager's Ability
Organizations invest in too many resources to hire, engage, and retain talent to terminate someone after a single infraction. The goal here isn't to punish the manager; it's to correct the behavior. Let the manager know that you're there to support them and have confidence in their ability to turn the situation around. The way that the manager is treated could go a long way toward their success. It may also have a tremendous impact on the way they coach employees in the future.
When managers need to be coached, it's important to realize that employees are watching. Failing to coach and discipline managers can impact the organization's credibility, which can impact employee engagement and morale. Employees want to know there's no double standard, and that managers are coached and disciplined in the same ways they are. Managers also want to know that they are being held to a fair standard, given the work they do.
Managers have tough jobs. Organizations give them tremendous responsibility and should be fair to all employees. There will be times when managers need coaching and, possibly, discipline. Again, this isn't an exercise in punishment. It's to ultimately help managers improve their performance.