1. Haggard, Ann PhD, RN,BC, Column Editor

Article Content


In a prior column, I discussed employees who were not performing to standard and the frustration that ensues when managers look to educators to correct this problem. Sometimes a knowledge deficit causes poor performance. However, in most cases, employees know quite well how to do the required work; they are choosing not to do it. Part of the needs assessment process involves determining if performance problems are due to lack of knowledge or lack of compliance. Recalling Mager's (1997) performance analysis questions, the key is to ask, "Could they do it if their lives depended on it?" If the answer is "yes," you are not dealing with an education problem, you are dealing with a management one.


Once you have determined that the performance deficit is compliance based, the only real fix is for the manager(s) to hold employees accountable for their actions (or lack of same). I realize that you are reading this and saying, "Duh!" However, if educators do not want to be putting inappropriate and ineffective educational fixes in place, we need to develop strategies for helping managers cope with these problems.


So, why don't managers counsel employees for substandard performance? Reasons include the following:


1. Most people do not feel comfortable criticizing other people.


2. Many managers want all of the employees to "like" them.


3. Managers may see the task of improving employee performance as overwhelming and put it off unless forced to confront the problem.


4. Managers may just not know how to counsel or discipline and are afraid of doing it wrong.



All of these reasons spin off the last one-a lack of knowledge and skills. Here we are at last at our area of expertise. Whether in a classroom setting or individually, people need to be taught basic management skills. It is the rare person who knows instinctively how to get the best performance from a group of employees (however, if you find someone, nurture and support him or her-you have a very precious resource in your care).


Classroom Instruction. When preparing a curriculum for supervisors/managers, there is a great temptation to offer a course emphasizing self-assessment of personality traits, exploration of feelings about the role, and so on. I know-I have done it, too. However, going back into the operations end of things has completely changed my philosophy. What most managers need are hard skills, those practical activities that they must do day after day. Throw away the Meyers-Briggs (1998) instruments (or at least hold them for a future advanced course-but read the latest research on them first). Concentrate on the basics of hiring, orienting, scheduling, counseling, disciplining, and firing. Bring it home to the participants by inviting real-life problems to discuss and practice. Require each person to complete at least one improvement in the home department not only to provide relevance but also to enable the instructor to document cost effectiveness.


Individual Coaching. The most time-consuming yet most effective method of improving managers' performance involves one-on-one coaching by a mentor. This mentor can be an educator skilled in management development or a senior manager who has both solid management skills and the ability to teach. This is a tough combination to find. It is also sometimes difficult for a manager to find the time for effective coaching. Because of these undeniable time constraints, I believe that a management development specialist usually has the greatest impact. (Disclaimer: I happen to be a management development specialist.)


Introducing the idea of individual coaching for a manager requires both tact and salesmanship. Start right at the top with the chief operating officer and sell the idea as the newest, greatest idea in the management development arsenal (it is not new, of course, but few people outside of the education field will know that). Work your way down the organizational hierarchy, selling as you go, until you reach the manager directly above the target manager(s). Of course, you will not say, "Boy, does so-and-so need this!" Instead, offer a great opportunity to pilot test an innovative development strategy. Sit down with the manager(s) and boss(es) and develop goals for the coaching. What can you make easier for the target manager(s) to accomplish? This is the tack you want to take throughout your coaching-the whole purpose is to make the manager's life easier by providing the very latest strategies on a one-on-one basis. At no point use terms such as needs improvement or make things better.


Individual coaching enables you to do a much more accurate needs assessment of the coachee. After pinpointing the strengths and weaknesses of the manager, you can discuss exactly what strategies need to be implemented, down to helping the person come up with the actual words to say to employees. This scripting removes the pressure of "saying the wrong thing" and also lets the manager rehearse the counseling/discipline before meeting with an employee.


As you work with the manager, the whole goal is to help him or her gradually come to see that dealing with substandard performance immediately and effectively ultimately makes life easier. Getting rid of people who refuse to do what they are supposed to do dramatically improves the morale of good performers, so your assistance in counseling, documenting, disciplining, and firing poor performers can have a huge positive impact on the work area. As the people with potential improve and the incorrigibles drop away, managers really will find their workday easier and more pleasant.


The best part is the credit that will accrue to you and your department, raising both visibility and credibility. As you plant the seeds of better management throughout the organization, the crop that is harvested will make the company operate more effectively and efficiently. After all, that is ultimately what we in education are here to do.




Briggs Meyers, I., McCaulley, M. H., et al. (1998). MBTI manual: A guide to the development and use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Mountain View, CA: CPP. Retrieved from


Mager, R., & Piper, P. (1997). Analyzing performance problems (3rd ed.). Atlanta, GA: The Center for Effective Performance. Retrieved from