Are You Coaching or Berating Employees?

Are you coaching or berating employees? Stick with me on this because there is a valuable lesson to learn.

This past Saturday I was enjoying my cup of java and sitting at a local coffee shop. We all know that it is easy to overhear conversations, it’s apart of the buzz of what is going on around you. Today, one conversation stood out to me. A local business owner and the manager were ‘coaching’ an employee.

Let me paint the scene for you and as I share this example I would ask you to think of any recent example of this happening within your company. 

At a table sat three men. 

The manager is sitting silent and staring at the employee. 

The owner is leaning in towards the employee talking excessively with his hands as he explains how they want the company to grow, 

I quickly understand that this is an employee coaching session in action. What’s the employee doing? He sits quietly, sitting up straight, his face is flush and you can tell he is petrified that he is about to be fired.

The scene wasn’t good.

Quickly the managers must have noticed the look of panic on the employees face as the conversation lightens and the employee begins to smile. The meeting ends with a saying I’ve heard managers give employees all too many times and it is a nail on the coffin. What did they say? I’ll paraphrase it for you, “you’re a really nice guy we just need you to do better”.

Let's pause. What went wrong here? The truth wasn't fully spoken about the reason for the meeting. As the employee walks away from the two managers then go on to discuss the exact examples of what the team isn’t doing right. Why wasn’t that communicated to the employee that was just put on trial?

Let’s break this down and first look at what the manager & owner did well?

  1. Environment- They pulled the employee out of the normal environment to provide a fresh space to give feedback. Excellent! 

What could they have done better? Be specific. Period.

When giving feedback to employees try, at all cost, to avoid phrases like:

  • “I’m starting to feel” 

  • “It just seems like you don’t want to be here”

  • “You need to do better” - this one is my all-time least favorite because it isn't specific on what the employee needs to improve on. 

Why should you not vocalize your 'feelings' to an employee in a coaching scenario?

Even though you might feel this way, keep that communication between yourself and the leadership team. When dealing with employees the feedback needs to be specific.

How should you handle this type of conversation?

  • Who Takes the Lead? First, decide who will have the conversation. Typically when an employee is meeting with two managers that is an immediate red flag something has gone from bad to worst, and in working with companies for 20 years I’ve found (and experienced myself) most of the times employees didn’t even know they were in the bad zone, to begin with. When dealing with employee performance issues there should be a primary person to have this conversion, that should be their direct manager. If the manager is not capable of having the conversation ask yourself why are they a manager?

  • Stick to the Facts- There are baseline facts (performance metrics) that every business owner should be able to provide examples to the employee. How do you get examples? First, look at any reports that outline tasks the employees have done, sales that have been completed. 

Okay so back to the coaching session.

At the end of the day, I could tell the owner and manager really liked the employee (because they said so after the employee left) but the concern is that his sales numbers have dropped. Whenever you notice an issue within the business don’t sweep it under the rug, you must address the problem (or don’t and see how far that gets you).

How do you address performance issues within your company? Be specific. Give facts. Train your people.

This Thursday at Noon EST I'll be teaching more on this topic in a private 60-minute live webinar for CEOs and Executives. Seating is limited and you can register at



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