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When Does Feedback Turn Into Coaching?

While there can be a great deal of overlap, feedback and coaching are different things. They both strive to change behavior. To me, the biggest differences are in time and responsibility. In feedback, it is quick and the responsibility of the manager to deliver the information. In coaching, it is a longer process and the responsibility is on the employee (with support from the manager).

However, there are certainly times where feedback has to morph into coaching. At first glance, this seems difficult if not impossible.

The most common way this shift occurs is when multiple attempts at feedback have not changed behavior. This lack of improvement is either because the employee doesn't want to change or the employee doesn't know how to change. Only in cases where the manager gave poor feedback might it be that the employee didn't know what to change.

Let's use an example: An employee has been late to work and you have given feedback each time about the importance of arriving on time. After a few times, I would switch this to a coaching conversation. Whereas before the manager was giving the feedback, now the manager would simply lay out the problem and get the employee to own the answer. This would mean ensuring the expectation was understood, ensuring the employee knew that the expectation was not being met. Then walking the employee through the coaching process to help them improve.

This is where the ownership has switched from the manager to the employee and where it goes from feedback to coaching.

You can brainstorm ways to fix the situation and even agree to test a few things. However, you must set the expectation clearly. If an employee won't or can't do the behavior, then the conversation changes to removing the employee from the team. It does not have to be an immediate termination (although it could be); it could simply be a discussion that maybe this isn't the right spot and how can you help the employee move to somewhere they can be successful.

Obviously a conversation of that nature is more serious and this post does not cover that specific topic.

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