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To All Managers and Supervisors with Direct Reports – Avoid “Groundhog Day”

February 12, 2013

To All Managers and Supervisors with Direct Reports – Avoid “Groundhog Day”

During leadership training for managers and supervisors, we use the phrase ‘ground hog day’ referring to the movie starring Bill Murray. The phrase comes up during the Performance Coaching module when participants complain about feeling ‘déjà vu’ because they have the same discussion repeatedly with an employee who is not meeting expectations. If you have direct reports and sometimes feel like you are experiencing ‘ground hog day’ or anything close to déjà vu, read on.

There can be many reasons why ‘ground hog day’ occurs, but the number one reason we see is that supervisors (supervisor term refers to anyone who has direct reports) are not clear on the difference between giving feedback and providing coaching. Many times, the supervisors think that feedback is coaching and expect that the employee will make a change just based on them saying something like, “John, I observed that you didn’t follow procedures and that is why you made the costly mistake. I expect that you will follow the procedures next time. If not, your pay may be docked.” While giving this type of feedback is important, what is more important is that the employee knows how to prevent the mistake from happening again.

So, let’s differentiate between feedback and coaching.

Definition of Feedback (n) from Merriam Webster Dictionary – the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source. (Source for purposes of this article means ‘employee’.)

Giving feedback on an employee’s strengths and opportunity areas is an important component of supervising others. Giving feedback though is a one-way process and can’t always stand on its own. Feedback can stand alone if you are only stating strengths or if you are stating opportunity areas to an employee who is a self-directed, highly internally motivated individual. However, if you have given the same corrective action or opportunity area feedback to an employee more than once, there is a good chance it can’t stand alone and you need to change your approach.

We saw the need for supervisors to change their approach a few years ago while we were developing training for a sales department’s managers and sales reps. As part of our initial consulting, we surveyed the sales managers first, and one of the questions we asked was “How often do you coach your employees?” The #1 answer was “Daily”. We then surveyed the sales reps and asked, “How effective is the coaching you receive from your supervisors and managers?” Their # 1 answer was, “We don’t get any coaching.” This was a dramatic difference so we explored further by asking the managers to describe their coaching sessions. They proceeded to tell us that at the end of every shift they told their reps how they did that day, which metrics they had achieved, the number of calls they made, the number of closes, etc. and then what they needed to do differently the next day.

It turns out that the sales reps were very astute in realizing this wasn’t coaching. This was feedback. Moreover, since the goal of the training was to help the reps increase sales, we dug deeper and realized the ‘coaching’ (feedback) the managers were providing not only didn’t help increase sales, it decreased the morale of the department because they were often giving the same feedback day after day.

What the sales managers needed to do more of in the example above was more coaching. They needed to have discussions with the sales reps to identify how the sales reps could internalize what needed to change and how they could make that change long term.

Definition of Coach (v) from Merriam Webster Dictionary – to instruct, direct, or prompt.

By definition, coaching includes feedback but it also includes the act of instructing, directing or, most importantly in business coaching, prompting. Supervisors should be prompting their employees to get them thinking about why they do what they do and what they need to do differently to get different results. This prompting should be in the form of a two-way dialogue. Prompting employees to recognize what needs to change and getting them talking about how to make the change empowers employees to make a long-term commitment to the change.

In sports, coaches prompt or instruct and players ‘do’. The same goes in business. Supervisors are not doing; employees are doing. So, who knows best about how to make a change to what employees ‘do’? The employee knows best. Supervisors need to prompt the employees to get them talking. Just giving feedback does not prompt talking; asking and listening does!

So, to avoid ‘ground hog day’, observe your employees, prepare feedback and then plan a coaching dialogue which prompts the employee to talk and enables you to state your feedback in a way that saves you from ‘déjà vu’!