ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — August 2003

In This Issue

Changing Attitudes and Accelerating Change
Coaching and Performance Reviews—Time for Some Changes
Leading Wholeheartedly: A Quality Approach
Negotiating for Quality
Looking Toward the Future

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Coaching and Performance Reviews—Time for Some Changes

“Coaches are judged by how their trainees perform.” I saw this quote the other day, and it started me thinking. It certainly is true with athletic coaches. The most sought after athletic coaches, those with the big contracts, always have a record of success derived from the output of outstanding performers.

So it led me to think that this concept also might be true for the rest of us—both in our daily lives and on the job. The best coaches are the ones whose learners deliver outstanding performances. Whether it’s the music coach, the art teacher, or the coach of our work unit improvement team, it really is all the same.

I can remember many times over the years where I sat in my work area and mentally prepared for the dreaded annual performance review. I never thought about “performance” being the key word; I was focused on the “review.” I never saw the experience as an opportunity for learning. I never connected the goals buried inside my annual plan to my
performance rating.

Now, when I think about performance reviews and focus on the word performance, I realize how much of a learning opportunity they offer; however, we need to quantify performance better if we’re going to coach performance improvement more effectively and increase learning. This doesn’t mean that we just assign a performance rating or check off a box, but that we establish a measurable baseline from which we can view progress.

If we examine the learning process, we can see that it involves three phases: education (where we learn concepts), training (where we learn skills), and development (where we learn how to apply those concepts and skills). When we establish a performance measurement system and quantify each person’s baseline level, we can conduct a more in-depth analysis of the opportunities for learning and improvement. We can determine whether additional education, training, and/or development are most likely to raise the performance level. We also become more effective at describing the gaps in objective terms and formalizing the action plan and tying the plan’s steps to specific, anticipated levels of performance improvement.

At the same time, performance measures and their associated action plans can clarify what and how coaches should approach their process. Should they focus on educating the learner on concepts and principles or focus on teaching the learner new skills? Should the coach create opportunities for the learner to practice without undue risk to him/herself or the organization? Should the coach focus on letting the learner discuss his/her experiences and seek feedback?

A multitude of interventions are available, but they aren’t totally interchangeable—they don’t work equally well in all situations. By having an objective measurement system, knowing the measured performance history/trend, and being able to track changes, the coach and the learner can fine-tune the learning process—ensuring positive performance changes.

So, should we view performance reviews as coaching sessions? Should we explore how we can be a better coach during performance reviews? Should we be open to coaching ourselves when we’re giving performance reviews? Absolutely! But how?

It’s easy to say, “Managers are now coaches,” but there is much more to making this statement a reality than simply announcing the concept. The role of a manager calls for setting objectives and plans for achieving those objectives, designing and implementing controls to ensure processes are carried out appropriately, and overseeing others’ activities. These duties sound far more directive than coach-like; yet they are essential to performance management and organizational achievement. Hopefully, the measurements used to assess performance will be derived from these management tasks, ensuring that there is alignment.

When that’s the situation, managers have an objective tool—rather than a subjective opinion—that they can use for coaching. Instead of “telling” subordinates how to change, these managers can share measurable results and provide observation-based feedback linked to those results. Manager-coaches work with subordinates to develop action plans, guide learning experiences, and track improvement. This approach builds relationships and has a much better chance of improving the performance of both learners and their coaches—because it’s collaborative and fosters exchange. After all, learning is not a one-directional process; the learners always have something to give to the coach. We never should forget that coaches need coaching, too.

So, why don’t we shift the focus of performance reviews and concentrate our efforts on identifying performance measures that can be improved through education, training, and development? Here are a few suggestions that we may want to consider:

  • Change the name from “performance review” to “performance measures evaluation.” Identify key performance measures for each employee/position to use as a basis for the evaluation.
  • Evaluate the rate of improvement/change for each measure, keeping track of the original baseline level and the trend. Realize that excellent performance isn’t necessarily about attaining or surpassing a specific target level; it’s about improvement. Even when a person has a high baseline level there’s an opportunity for improvement.
  • Understand that performance success is achieved through a combination of factors and that different combinations work well for different people; therefore, every person does not need to attain or exceed the same specific minimum level for each performance measure to succeed overall. For some people, success may be based on leveraging and improving strengths, rather than turning around weaknesses. On the other hand, no one should set aside (or give up on) any specific measure. Continuous improvement of both strengths and weaknesses generates sustainable success in a constantly changing business environment.
  • Select a vital few performance measures and connect them in a way that creates cause-and-effect relationships. The overall outcome measures (the effects) should be related to achieving the individual and organizational plans. The subordinate measures (the causes) should relate to processes/transactions.
  • Give raises based on the performance of the outcome measures. If your organization uses a merit system that mathematically ties raises to performance ratings, at least tying the raises to outcome measures reduces the subjectivity of the system—even if the differences in performance and raises from person to person may be quite small.
  • Use the subordinate measures to assess why the overall outcome measures are performing at their current level and to identify what coaching interventions are needed and are most likely to change overall performance.
  • Create a process for developing the coaching action plan collaboratively, and make sure that the process includes ample opportunities for the learner to provide feedback to the coach.
  • And if you really want to be daring, add one specific outcome measure to every manager’s evaluation—one that is based on how well subordinates are performing. After all, we’ve all heard that, “What gets measured gets done,” so if we want to encourage managers to become coaches, why not measure their results?

WILLIAM SCOTT is president of Pioneer Learning, an organization that works with individuals to improve their performance through education, training, and developmental coaching. He has an extensive background in quality management and has been recognized by his peers and subordinates for
his coaching abilities. He can be reached at

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