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How to Coach the Employee Who Won’t Accept Direction

Updated: Feb 29

In this article:

Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed to Do

Ever feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope in trying to “help” an employee?. One who, for whatever reason, will not follow instruction, who cannot see reason, who “knows” the “best” way, etc. These employees may be high performers that are experts in their fields, yet they refuse to respond to feedback in exhaustive efforts to help them “be better”.

End of rope

In each case, you as a manager find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time trying to “help” them see the light, while the rest of the team may see someone not being held accountable.

What’s a manager to do? You’ve told them they need to change their behavior. They need to listen and engage with their teammates. They need to show respect to you and others. If they want [fill in the blank] then they will need to [fill in the blank]. And yet, they either choose not to adjust to your recommendations, they seem to ignore them or they may respond positively for a period of time then slide back into their previous behaviors.

The reality is the employee who is resistant to coaching may:

·       Not think we’re right

·       Believe they have a better way

·       Think they are doing it

·       Don’t know how to do it

And therefore, not accept your direction. We must then accept that there is NO coaching where the employee is not open to coaching. How then, do you as a manager influence their engagement and behavior?

The following steps may assist you:

1)      Remain positive and manage yourself. The reality is the only person you can control 100% is yourself. These situations create stress and anxiety and the most important ingredient in your ultimate success as a leader is the ability to manage your emotional state to respond to situations rather than react.

2)      Be clear about your authority. You are the manager. You have been tasked with managing the people and work product for the organization and as such you have the authority to set expectations, provide feedback and direct activity.

3)      Establish clear expectations. Without clear expectations there is no standard to measure against.

a.       Lay out exactly what your expectations are for new hires.

b.       Don’t just hand staff members your expectations guide; meet with them to discuss what they are.

c.       Address any questions employees have about your expectations.

d.       Ensure they understand what your expectations are and what your boundaries are.

4)      Explore their thinking. Sometimes resistance is based in misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

a.       Ask them what they believe your expectations are for them

b.       Ask them if they are able to meet those expectations

         i.      Is training needed?        ii.      Are there any barriers

5)      Align consequences. If you are telling them one thing but their consequences (performance reviews, rewards, etc.) are not aligned, the message is mixed and confusing. Ensure that there rewards match their performance.

6)      Provide succinct feedback in a timely manner relative to expectations (positive and corrective)

Feedback that Lands

A great tool to utilize when providing feedback is the SBI model. This model succinctly encompasses:

1)      Situation: describe the situation (when & where) specifically

2)      Behavior: describe the observable behavior. Care must be given to ensuring that you stay on point here and avoid opinion related to what they might have been thinking or their intent.

3) Impact: describe how it landed on you and the impact to the team.

SBI Model

These steps should provide the employee with a very clear set of expectations and provide you, the manager, with the foundation to encourage accountability.

What to Do When the Coaching Door Opens

If, following feedback and reflection, the employee is more open to coaching, then a follow up session utilizing the Manager as Coach skill set will further encourage engagement and development.

However, keep in mind that the employee has a choice. A choice of whether to engage or not and if the employee remains resistant, judgement will be needed to determine the next steps.



 An Example Case

The Situation

I recently worked with a manager who was responsible for a highly technical team of experts. She had significant technical skills as well but perhaps not at the level of some of her team.

One member of the team had deep knowledge of his area of expertise and

The Exprt

believed that his technical knowledge entitled him to “make the rules” and do things his way in spite of consistent guidance and feedback to the contrary.

The manager was exhausted. She had tried everything she could think of to give this employee the benefit of the doubt, give him direction and give him feedback on what he needed to do differently to progress in the company, yet he remained defiant and disrespectful.

What we discovered

What we discovered while she was giving him feedback on the need to “change” his behavior, was that his performance review ranking was satisfactory indicating acceptable work performance, he and his final work product was protected to avoid the appearance of the manager not managing well and his teammates and peers would acknowledge his technical prowess and hesitate to challenge him. All of this and more reinforced his belief that it was his technical expertise that was the only thing of importance. The result was that while he was being “told” he needed to change his behavior, there was no consequence to not changing it and no belief that he needed to. In effect, his experience outside of the managers feedback was reinforcing his behavior, not indicating that it needed to change.

What We Changed

In this situation, two adjustments changed the managers (and the employees) situation.

1) Aligning Accountability with Choices

The first was aligning accountability with choices. His work product was given the opportunity to stand on its own merit and it failed. This raised the visibility of his unwillingness to collaborate with team members and submit his work for review. Because of this and other relevant behavioral concerns, his next performance review reflected a lower ranking with direct feedback on the gaps and the significance of improving his performance beyond technical expertise.

2) Adjusting the Framework of the Feedback

The second adjustment was in the framework of the feedback provided. Instead of just telling the employee what needed to change and believing that he both understood and would naturally change in accordance to the feedback, she provided structured feedback utilizing the SBI model which led to greater understanding and acceptance of his behaviors and their impact. This ultimately enabled her to engage in more forward-looking productive coaching conversations around developmental opportunities:

In Conclusion

Now, it wasn’t magic and there were still bumps along the way, but by establishing clear expectations, identifying the impact of misaligned behaviors, it ultimately encouraged the employee to choose to make adjustments, as well as explore further, how to make them.

If you are struggling with feedback and/or issues of accountability, check out our blog for additional insights or contact us for a confidential discovery call to discuss how we can assist further with your leadership needs.

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