Bennett: A Leader’s Guide to Turning Underperformance Around

Nov. 24, 2023
12 tips and strategies to help auto repair shop owners improve employee performance.

Are you a leader or business owner who often grapples with the frustration of missed opportunities and untapped employee potential? You're not alone. In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving business world, effectively coaching underperforming or inexperienced employees isn't just a leadership task; it's a key driver of organizational success. When done right, this process goes beyond mere performance improvement; it fosters a culture of continuous growth, mutual respect, and high engagement. The benefits of mastering this coaching technique are numerous – from enhancing employee performance and deepening loyalty to boosting job satisfaction and overall organizational productivity.

The following guidelines serve as a roadmap for managers and leaders, detailing the critical do's and don'ts in coaching young, inexperienced, or inconsistent employees. These actionable steps not only aim to remedy underperformance but also seek to instill a culture of proactive growth and skill development. Through these recommendations, we'll explore how you can effectively implement coaching to nurture an environment where employees and the organization can thrive in unison.

Top 7 Do's: Essential Strategies for Elevating Employee Performance


Establish Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations is the foundation of effective coaching. It involves defining success in specific, measurable terms and ensuring these expectations align with the company's goals. Explain why each task is important and how it fits into the bigger picture. This clarity helps eliminate ambiguity, enabling employees to focus their efforts more efficiently and understand the impact of their work. It's crucial in guiding them towards not only what needs to be accomplished but also how to prioritize tasks.

Provide Laser-Focused Coaching

Laser-focused coaching means homing in on specific areas that will significantly impact an employee's performance. Instead of overwhelming them with a barrage of improvements across the board, identify one or two critical areas for development. This focused approach ensures that the coaching is manageable and meaningful. Discuss why these particular aspects are essential and how improving these can lead to noticeable enhancements in their overall performance. It's about quality over quantity in skill-building.

Coach on Behaviors, Not Results or Outcomes

Always coach specific actions rather than focus on outcomes. Changing the focus shifts attention from what we want to occur: "We must produce higher invoice value" to what steps will lead to higher invoices: "Every vehicle will get our thorough vehicle inspection." It's about identifying and reinforcing the actions and mindsets that lead to success, such as effective communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. This approach helps in creating a more adaptable and skilled workforce. Employees can replicate these actions in various situations by understanding the behaviors that drive good results, leading to consistent performance and personal growth.

Provide Regular, Constructive Feedback

Regular, constructive feedback is a cornerstone of effective coaching. It should be specific, highlighting what the employee did well and what can be improved. The aim is to guide and encourage employees, not to chastise them. Always celebrate victories. Find opportunities to praise when a new behavior leads to the desired outcome. If there is an opportunity to coach through a struggle, explain the impact of their actions and provide clear, actionable advice on how they can improve. The frequency and positivity of this feedback reinforce good behaviors and offer a steady guide to professional growth, ensuring that employees feel valued and understood.

Invest in Their Development

Investing in an employee's development is a testament to the company's commitment to growth. Development can involve providing training, educational resources, mentoring, and more. Explain how these investments enhance their performance and prepare them for future roles and challenges. This investment should be aligned with their career aspirations and the company's needs, creating a mutually beneficial growth path. It signals trust and confidence in their potential, boosting morale and loyalty.

Engage in Active Listening

Active listening goes beyond just hearing what employees say, it's about understanding their perspectives, concerns, and motivations. This engagement shows that you value their input and are open to seeing things from their viewpoint. It fosters a two-way dialogue where feedback and ideas flow freely, enhancing trust and respect. Explain how their insights can contribute to the company's success and personal development. Such an approach encourages a more inclusive and collaborative workplace culture.

Foster a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is crucial for employee development and performance. It's about building a culture where mistakes are learning opportunities, and open communication is encouraged.

Explain how such an environment reduces the fear of failure and promotes innovation and experimentation. Employees need to know that the organization supports them in their growth journey through both successes and challenges. This support is key to building a resilient and agile workforce.

It's crucial to recognize that avoiding certain unproductive habits can be as impactful as our positive tactics. Effective leadership isn't only about doing the right things; it's equally about steering clear of misguided behaviors that can hinder the growth and development of our team members. With this balance in mind, it is essential to consider standard practices you should avoid at all costs, the subtle yet significant actions or inactions that might inadvertently stifle an employee's potential rather than nurture it.

Top 5 Don'ts: Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Employee Coaching

Don't Micromanage

Avoiding micromanagement is essential in empowering employees. When you micromanage, it can signal a lack of trust and undermine an employee's confidence and ability to work independently. Instead, provide clear guidelines and expectations, then step back to allow them to take ownership of their tasks. This approach fosters a sense of responsibility and helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Trust that they will come to you if guidance is needed, reinforcing an environment of mutual respect and confidence.

Don't Ignore the Problem

Failing to address underperformance can lead to larger issues, impacting team morale and overall productivity. Acknowledging and addressing issues as they arise is crucial, providing a clear and constructive path to improvement. Avoid being overly critical; it's about identifying the problem, discussing potential solutions, and offering support in implementing them. Timely intervention can prevent minor issues from becoming major problems, maintaining a healthy, productive work environment.

Don't Give Only Negative Feedback

While constructive criticism is necessary, focusing solely on the negative aspects of an employee's performance can be demoralizing. Balance this with positive reinforcement, highlighting their strengths and achievements. This approach encourages a more positive work environment and helps build self-esteem, motivating employees to improve. Positive feedback should be specific and genuine, reinforcing the behaviors and actions you want to see more of.

Don't Make Comparisons with Other Employees

Comparing employees against each other can create a competitive, hostile, and stressful workplace. It's demotivating and can harm relationships among team members. Focus instead on everyone’s personal growth and development. Acknowledge that each employee has unique skills and contributions. This individualized approach helps foster a team spirit and a culture of mutual support and respect.

Don't Overlook Personal Circumstances

Personal circumstances can significantly impact an employee's performance at work. It's important to show empathy and understanding. If you notice a change in an employee's performance, open a dialogue to offer support and find ways to accommodate their needs where possible. Support might include flexible working hours or additional training. Demonstrating empathy and support for personal situations helps resolve performance issues and builds loyalty and trust, creating a more dedicated and committed workforce.

In navigating the complexities of coaching underperforming or underdeveloped employees, the balance between guiding and empowering becomes paramount. This article has outlined essential strategies and pitfalls, providing a blueprint for creating a nurturing yet challenging work environment. Emphasizing clear expectations, focused coaching on behavior, and constructive feedback while avoiding pitfalls like micromanagement and negative-only feedback sets the stage for a transformative growth experience.

Leaders and managers need to remember that the development of employees is a continuous journey that demands patience, understanding, and adaptability. The action plan is straightforward: evaluate your current coaching methods against the do's and don'ts outlined here. Identify key areas for immediate implementation and prioritize personalizing your approach based on each employee's unique needs and circumstances. 

The journey to transforming underperforming or underdeveloped employees into thriving, productive members of your team is challenging. However, armed with these best practices, you can approach this task with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. By fostering an environment that values growth, learning, and constructive feedback, you not only enhance the capabilities of your team but also contribute to a more dynamic, resilient, and successful organization.

Feel confident in your role as a coach and mentor. The impact of your leadership and guidance can change an individual's career trajectory and shape your entire team's future success. Start implementing these strategies today and witness the transformative power of effective coaching in unlocking every team member's fullest potential.

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett has more than three decades in the Independent Auto Repair industry. Mike has been an ASE Master Technician and is the owner of Mike’s KARS Inc. in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Fully immersed in the industry for his entire professional career as a master technician, shop foreman, general manager, and automotive shop owner, Mike has a unique and broad perspective on the shop owner experience. Mike is able to communicate with real-world experience and a “been there and done that” perspective. As an Alumni shop owner with the Automotive Training Institute, he continues to operate his shop with his wife Shelle. Mike is now a nationally certified executive trainer and he has spent the last 11 years as a full-time business coach with ATI as well as leading two of ATI’s premier shop owner 20 groups as well as the first-in-industry CEO/COO development program.

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