Coach, Counsel and Correct

I had coffee with a CFO in town the other day that inspired me. As he coached me on how to drive performance in the workplace strategically, it boiled down to what he calls the 3C’s: Coach, Counsel, Correct. Driving performance is a process. An employee should never be surprised if served a performance improvement plan or worse, terminated. A lot of times when the shock of bad news takes place, it’s because the Manager is afraid of the confrontation. The foundation of a solid relationship is building rapport. With the rapport, comes trust. When trust exists, it allows a safe place for candid conversations. In thinking about the 3C’s, this is how I best interpreted it.

Let’s say you have a direct report that constantly misses deadlines. Your CEO is asking why and demanded you fix the problem. Follow the 3C’s.

  1. Coach. Put on your “helper” hat. No need to be demanding at this point. Positive reinforcement goes further than badgering. Be clear to identify the issue. “Hi Casey, I want to check in with you. I have taken note you missed the last 3 report deadlines. How is your workload? Is there anything I can do to help?”. Our job as Manager is to support our team members to do excellent things. Before jumping down Casey’s throat, find out if Casey is doing alright. I do not recommend prying into Casey’s personal life, but asking a high level question pulsing their well being will create a safe place for them to share. From there, you can determine how you can clarify, align and hold them accountable to meet deadlines going forward. Use language like, “I’d like you to meet your deadlines going forward so we can all succeed. Let me know how I can help you accomplish this so please keep an open dialogue with me. I want to see you succeed.” Set a check in date so Casey knows it’s coming. “We will check in on this topic in 2 weeks.” The tone of this conversation is positive.
  2. Counsel. Two weeks has passed. Casey is still missing deadlines. Now it’s time to be more stern. Here’s how I’d start, “Casey, we talked 2 weeks ago about meeting deadlines. I am still observing you are behind. It’s important to the business that the reports are turned in on time. We count on you and your reports move the business forward. I need you to start meeting your deadlines as of today.” During the Counsel stage, it’s important to stress the “why” statement. Tie in the value this person provides the company. No need to be overly positive. You tried that and it didn’t work. It’s time to be clear they let others down when they let themselves down. Clarify what you expect, gain alignment before the conversation ends and repeat how you will hold Casey accountable. Give Casey a clear check in date so they know it’s important to you. After this conversation, recap the conversation in an email so they can process the expectations clearly in their own time.
  3. Correct. During the counsel stage you defined the next check in date for 1 week out. The week has passed and Casey missed an important Executive report which left you scrambling at 11pm to pull it together. At the end of the day, if the direct reports don’t do the work, managers must pick up the slack. During any of the 3C’s, it’s important to remove yourself from the equation. Remain objective. Even if you are peeved because you had to pick up slack, it’s not about you. It’s about their contribution to the business. The Correct stage is where you tell Casey clearly, “You must submit your reports in on time. If not, you will be put on a performance improvement plan (or terminated). Set a clear expectation. “If one more deadline is missed from this day forward, you will be put on a written performance improvement plan.” There, you said it. A very difficult conversation but you followed the 3C’s consistently so the element of surprise doesn’t exist. You gave Casey plenty of opportunity to improve and/or share the reasons why they are not performing. It’s up to Casey to decide destiny.

Let’s hope Casey self corrected and you no longer have issues. If Casey didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, you must follow through with the correction plan you established. No stalling. It must be immediate once the deadline is missed. If you don’t, it sends a message to the rest of the team you don’t need to be taken seriously. Accept that Casey probably told their peers about the issues from their point of view. That is ok.¬† You have been fair and consistent the whole time.

If a 4th C could be thrown into this process, I would add Consistency. It’s stressful to work for a boss that slings from the hip and is unpredictable. Be steadfast, consistent and fair. Not too nice, fair.

For a deeper dive, I highly recommend the book, Crucial Conversations. Performance conversations are never easy. Crucial Conversations¬†provides excellent tools and role play examples on how to communicate when the stakes are high. If someone’s job is on the line, the stakes are always high. I constantly remind myself not to judge the person’s character when performance slides. Be hard on the problem, not the person. During the recruiting process, I must have seen potential in them otherwise I wouldn’t have hired them. Not all hires work out and that’s ok. Having open conversations will help you figure that out where both parties walk away with dignity.


Are you Gritty?

I recently saw Angela Duckworth speak at a conference and from that day forward, my outlook on assesssing talent has pivoted. I take it personally when I hire someone for an organization that was promising during the interview process and fizzles out over time. Not because they are falling behind, but because they didn’t try hard enough. Success is measured by effort. Relentless effort plus dedicated time equals achievement. Angela would call this Grit.

Memorize this formula


For example, I take an interest tennis. Interest is where it stops me. I play once every few months and far from good. I’d say “just ok”. Outside of anatomical advantages, a tennis player isn’t a legend without effort. With a little bit of raw talent, the tennis player practices diligently and over time, they will develop skill. The problem is most people stop there. Not Serena Williams. Her secret weapon to arguably being the best woman tennis player of all time is her serve. Was she born with a good serve? No. She took the talent put in the effort to yield skill. With the skill, she puts in countless hours of training, conditioning and deliberate practice to achieve. Angela says deliberate practice day in and day out is the key. Serena Williams defines Grit in the tennis world. Grit is also found in the workplace.

If you influence the hiring process, it’s essential to assess Grit and make it your number one priority. I couldn’t put Angela’s book down because with every page turned, my mind was blown. Here are a few takeaways.

Ways to identify Grit in the interview process.

  1. Identify passion. Before hammering on technical qualifications during the interview, ask this simple question. “Tell me something you are passionate about.” Actively listen to the response. Do they convey themselves as a natural? Do they emphasize the dedication, effort and loyalty put into their passion? Is their passion an exciting topic to discuss? It’s impossible to find the perfect technical fit for any position. You will fail if you try.¬† Grit turns passion into achievment.
  2. Have the candidate define effort. Effort counts twice in the Grit formula. Effort is the driving force to achievement and if someone is striving to achieve effort being deliberate is a must. Nothing in life comes easy. I would never tell Serena Williams she’s a world legend because she’s naturally talented. She would say it’s the long, grueling hours of deliberate practice that yields her results. World class olympic gymnasts don’t show up on the mat and stick it. If there are roughly 1460 days in a 4 year period, you can bet they are practicing at least 1350 of those days up to 12 hours a day. That’s 16,200 hours for the short performance on the world stage once every 4 years.
  3. Ask about failures. Do they take ownership for their set backs or do they point fingers? How do they react? A gritty person takes ownership and looks at set backs as a learning opportunity to try even harder.

Deliberate practice translates across an entire organization. Every position, big or small, requires grit. Gritty sales people never give up chasing the sales. Gritty designers go back to the drawing board over and over again until they produce great work. Gritty nurses go above and beyond to provide world class care. Never settle. Don’t let yourself be swooned by buzzwords and their ability to win you over in a short interview. Technical skills are convenient. Knowing how a candidate applies their technical skills is where the bets will be hedged. Hire for Grit.