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How to coach employees who don’t think they need help


Do you have an employee who’s hard to reach? Someone who’s disengaged or unwilling to accept help or learn something new?

While you might think it’s a lost cause, it could be an opportunity for you.

A lot of time, we think the fault lies with the employee, and it might. But it’s likely there have been several missed opportunities along the way for you to develop a road map for growth for that employee.

3 reasons your employees are stonewalling

Getting to the bottom of why an employee resists change, training or engagement isn’t easy – but it’s worth your time and effort and will help you become an extraordinary leader. Some factors that affect an employees’ inflexibility include:

A lack of motivation – This could be anything from not knowing how their job fits the bigger picture of company goals to receiving negative – or no – feedback. Remember, not everyone is motivated by the same things. 

A lack of knowledge – Employees may not understand what they’re supposed to do. They may lack the skills to do the job and don’t want to admit it. There could be a fear of failure attached to this. In addition, it could be a matter of pride: “I don’t know what to do, but I’m too proud to ask.” 

A lack of trust – Employees could have a history of having the rug pulled out from under them, a lack of support from a supervisor or teammate or a lack of faith in the decisions being made. Maybe your new employee came from a workplace with a horrible company culture or was just laid off.

Overcoming barriers

To overcome these barriers, your employees need to know you care about them. It doesn’t have to be on a personal level, but as a leader.

Can you honestly tell your employees that you are committed to their success?

As a leader, one of your greatest achievements in the organization is to develop your people – so everyone can be successful. But, how do you reach the unreachable? It may sound simple, but it starts with trust.

Lay a foundation of trust

Transparency with your employees is the quickest way to develop trust. While you may not be able to share everything going on at the leadership level, communicating with your team is the cornerstone of establishing a trust relationship.

Remember that leaders aren’t invincible. As a leader, you probably have many of the same concerns and fears as your team. Talk to them about strengths and weaknesses, and how you can help each other work on those.

If it seems to employees that there’s a hidden agenda and you’re not being honest, it’s going to be difficult to coach them.

For example, if your company is going through a tough time, be honest about it. Let’s say you’ve had a rotten year, and you’re coming up on the fourth quarter. You and your team must knock it out of the park, or there may be “consequences” at the first of the year. You don’t have to say that there will be layoffs if your team doesn’t meet its goals. But, you can tell the truth about being behind, that you have a plan for fixing it and how they play a part in turning things around.

That leads us to our next tip…

Share company goals

All of your employees should know what they’re working toward – what are the company’s mission and goals? Teams and individuals within the company also should have their own goals.

Let your employees know how their talents contribute to those goals and why they’re important to the team. Tell them, “I am in this with you; I care about your success.”

For example, you have a medical billing and coding department that isn’t submitting claims in a timely manner. Down the line, this will result in a delay in receiving payments. Telling your employees how their delays result in a financial burden for the company shows them how their work plays into the company’s goals. The conversation might begin like this:

“I don’t know if you all realize how important our role is in the company’s ultimate success. If we don’t do our jobs efficiently, it can result in the company not getting paid by its customers on time.”

Your employees should be able to answer the question, “How does what I do relate to the global perspective of the company?”

Remember: You are only as successful as your team.

Determine motivation

Sit down and have individual conversations with your employees to find out what really motivates them. If it’s not incentives or a higher pay grade – and that’s all you’re offering – then you might be chasing your tail.

People find passion and inspiration in different places. You can’t expect the things that motivate one employee to work for another.

You might have one person who gets energized by seeing an idea come to light, while another finds bliss in the process, and yet another wants to hear words of praise for a job well done.

Let’s say you have an employee who is motivated by positive outcomes. But you take the successes for granted and only talk to that employee when something needs to be addressed – something negative. Eventually, they won’t want to engage with you because they know it’s only going to be a negative conversation.

Some questions that you might ask an unmotivated employee to find out why they’re stuck:

  • Do you need more information about your role?
  • Do you need continuing education or further training?
  • Are there any resources (equipment, tools, etc.) that I need to get for you?
  • Why do you think you’re stalling out?

Take Weight Watchers as an example for how you might motivate an employee. Members meet weekly and check in with their counselor. They stick to a program and return each week, anticipating that they’ve improved. There are counselors to coach them along the way with motivation, incentives and performance indicators.

You can do the same thing in the workplace.

Coach and cultivate the relationship

So, you’ve built trust, you’ve shared the company’s goals and you’ve told them how their jobs play a role in the bigger picture.

Now, it’s time to keep the ball rolling through coaching and continuing to build relationships.

Coaching can sometimes be painful, awkward or scary – especially if employees have a lot of pride. They can feel exposed and vulnerable when you discuss strengths and weaknesses.

So, for these employees who are feeling unsure, it’s important for you to stay close and consistently refer back to their goals and objectives. Goals aren’t something you write down and forget until performance review time in a year.

Those goals are their anthem. It’s important to discuss them regularly – perhaps biweekly or monthly – and determine what’s working and what’s not. And, don’t forget to find a way to acknowledge their accomplishments, according to what motivates them.

If you’ve done your job, employees should never be surprised by the results of an annual review because you should’ve been going over their performance goals all along the way.

In a nutshell

It all boils down to first building a relationship with your employees. You can’t start off by saying, “You need to be coached; I’m here to coach you.”

It’s something that takes time and development – and starts with trust and transparency. Ask questions, understand what motivates them and set clear objectives to get the ball rolling. What they really want to know is: Why is this important for me?

More about coaching employees

If you’re looking for some helpful tips on how to get the most out of your most valuable asset – your employees – check out How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.