I'm not a manager (yet).

However, I do have a question about the coaching model. It seems to me that the coaching model hopes to improve the productivity of a direct report before his/her job is in jeopardy.

I whole-heartily embrace this idea. I have seen many cases where people who were under-performing were basically just isolated. (I've worked for big corporations for all of my career).

However, at my company, there is basically a quota for reviews. 10% of the population [i]has[/i] to get binned as needing improvement. (This bottom 10% gets punished financially.)

So, basically we have a situation where my manager has to give someone this bad review, and has no control over their compensation after this review is given.

In this case, what is the point of coaching someone? Even if that employee does get better, someone in the group is going to have to get a bad review? Can the team as a whole ever get better in this environment?

ashdenver's picture

Part of the reason, I think, that companies insist on segmenting the team into bands of performance is so that the manager doesn't just say "Yeah, everyone's doing fine" and actually forces the manager to take a long, hard look at what's really going on and who's doing what.

There was an episode of "Malcolm in the Middle" where the new teacher for the gifted class said "You all got A's" and the kids were happy. Then he unveiled The Chart. The A's were broken out into percentages: 99.999987, 99.998991, etc. The kids were happy when they were all on a level playing field: A's across the board. When they saw that there was a hierarchy within that top tier, they started getting competitive.

This is, I think, another goal of the system you describe. By saying "Yes, you seem to be doing as well as Suzie and Todd but you're down here and I'd like you to be in the next level up when we meet again" the manager is pushing this employee to move up to that tier which, as you've pointed out, moves maybe Todd to the lower slot. Even if they're all "good" or A-students, there's still a hierarchy involved. When Todd finds himself in the lowest slot, he may (or may not) try to edge his way back up out of that lowest tier. (The manager may replace Todd or Todd (or someone else) may find a new job thus rearranging the standings once again.)

When you say that the bottom 10% gets punished financially, I trust you don't mean they are forced to take a pay cut but rather they are given a smaller merit increase (or none at all) as a result of their standing in the lower echelon. Money is generally recognized as a motivator and by withholding money, it's seen as the carrot at the end of the stick - goading the employee to work harder, smarter, better, faster to achieve a higher ranking & thus earn more money.

Unfortunately, I think the majority of issues in this regard lie in the manager's ability to effectively coach, mentor and motivate their people. While it's true that a non-zero portion of the population wouldn't lift a finger to save themselves from a burning building, the majority of the population [i]would[/i] follow the advice of the Person Who Can Help Them. If that advice is being followed and the results aren't trending upward, it's the wrong advice.

1g9lv9jwnjg's picture

Hi, ashdenver.

Your reply definitely made me look at things in a different light. It also helped me to focus on the problem at my company.

You guessed that the "10% get financially punished" really meas "10% don't get rewarded". I agree with your motivation arguments. After all, that's why we all work: for the money.

Unfortunately, the problem I ve is that maybe my manager himself is very demotivated to coach anyone, because he knows he has to pick someone to be in the bottom 10%. So, it was basically a revolving anti-trophy that got passed around.

I realize that the hierarchy model may be good at competetively motivating people, but isn't it particularly bad at motivating managers--or even peers for that matter--to help a person who needs coaching?

ashdenver's picture

My view on coaching is probably a little different from the corporate norms. I tend to view coaching as an individual thing, removed from the other things like reviews, money, etc. Coaching, from my perspective, is about two things:

1. Helping the employee achieve his/her goals.
2. Getting the most/best work out of the employee.

And yes, in that order.

I could spend three days coaching an employee on how to be a better "data entry specialist" but if they really don't want to be a data entry specialist, giving that person tips on how to do a job they hate better will get both of us nowhere. If, instead, I work with the employee to figure out what they want, what their top concerns are and where they want to end up to be happy, it's a win-win. It might just turn out that they'd be happier in another job or in another company and all the coaching in the world won't help either of us get that person out of the bottom 10%.

I've met (and worked with) many managers who don't bother with coaching for a variety of reasons. They're too burned out themselves; they figure the employee needs to sink or swim on their own; they don't see any or much value in coaching; they don't know how to coach; they've learned they're not good at coaching so they don't try anymore because they've learned that nothing good comes from it; they think that coaching is an on-request thing and no news is good news; etc. You get the idea.

Managers usually get rated on several things themselves when it's their time for a review and those things usually include employee turnover and productivity of the team. To some managers, coaching doesn't even enter their minds because they don't see a correlation between coaching and the results they want to achieve. As you point out, some just don't bother because they don't think it matters in the grand scheme of things. Those people, IMO, shouldn't be managers or should be moved to a different job that excites them to do some actual managing. *two cents*

That said, I refuse to believe that exceptions cannot be made when it comes to reviews and raises.

When you say that "someone will get the bad review" I can't help but think you (and your manager) are seeing this as a "glass is half empty" type of thing. An A- is bad when two people got A+'s and ten people got A's but an A- is still a good rating overall. Are you saying that your company's rules are such that someone MUST be given a D (or comparable) in order to conform to The Rules?

Mark's picture
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My apologies for my delay.

[b]Coaching has nothing to do with pay or performance reviews. It also has nothing to do with people's jobs being in jeopardy.

Coaching is a core responsibility of every manager to improve the performance of every employee over time in all areas where they are expected to achieve results to the benefit of the organization.[/b]

Our model has no bearing on corporate norms because corporate norms STINK, because managers don't know how or don't want to go to the trouble... which is garbage because it takes very little time at all.

The point of coaching someone is that it is your job everyday until they don't work for you. If it is not in your nature to do this, then you must accept that your role as a manager requires you to do things that are not natural, and so you do them. That's why we call it work. ;-)

In every situation I've ever seen or been in, when managers do their jobs, EVERYONE improves and the team gets better.

Again, I regret my absence.


1g9lv9jwnjg's picture

Thanks for the reply Mark. There's no reason to apologize. I didn't post to the forum with the expectation that you'd respond to each and every message.

I happen to work in a field that demands a high level of innovation. However I am starting to realize that innovation is a part of business, and is not specific to my business. Within this context, I define innovation as the creation of options. People tend to perceive fewer degrees of freedom than actually exist.

That said, I present the following question: My manager is in a position where he [i]has[/i] to rank people, and people are (in some sense) penalized for being ranked lower. Let's assume that he recognizes that his team needs coaching and he starts to do it. Is there some level of innovation where he could leverage this ranking system to aid in his coaching endeavour?

Obviously, I have been thinking about this for a while. The answer I come up with is that if he coached his team and documented the results, the rankings would not be arbitrary (or perceived as such), and everyone would be more comfortable with the results. The responsibility for improvement would lie with his employees (rather than the blame for a bad review falling with my manager).

Perhaps there's an even better way to leverage this system. Or, is the system just broken and no work-arounds will fix it?

Mark's picture
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Don't conflate coaching and ranking. Ranking comes from the company, and is an administrative process related to human resource costs. Coaching is about individual performance improvement.



1g9lv9jwnjg's picture

I want to make sure I understand this clearly: coaching and ranking cannot be melded into the same cohesive system. Ranking is really about cost control (but is sold as performance improvement). Coaching is truly about performance improvement.

Mark's picture
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Not exactly. What I am saying is that coaching and ranking do not relate to each other directly in a way that would justify connecting them. it would be like connecting a car advertisement with the cost of producing one of the gadgets on the steering wheel. Those things are tenuously connected, but in no way would one want to make connections to them and make decisions based upon that connection.

Managers coach EVERYONE to be better. We coach top performers to become better so they can have more responsibility, rounding them out for a promotion. We coach weaker performers to meet minimum standards, so they can stay employed and we can meet our objectives. Pretty soon they'll raise the standards, and if we're lucky we'll be the ones leading that charge.

Our bottom performers will be coached all year, and they may get a low ranking. Our top performers will also be coached and that will help them get a bigger raise.

How are we doing now? :wink:


1g9lv9jwnjg's picture

You tell me :) :

Ranking is about selection: selecting who will be rewarded (and who won't). Coaching is about inclusion: getting [i]everyone[/i] to participate in the organization's goals; getting [i]everyone[/i] to perform better (even the top performers).

The two processes can be correlated (if coaching improves the bottom performer to change rankings for example). However, trying to cohere them more than their natural correlation is not valuable.

Mark's picture
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