Getting Unstuck

People get off-track; your job as a manager or coach is to get them back on course. Helping people navigate through a difficult point in their career is one example. Although these conversations aren't always easy, they do build trust and respect when they are carefully navigated.

How do you build trust while getting someone back on track? There are two paths that will get you there. The first path is when the person you're developing brings up the challenge they are facing and asks for help. The good thing about this path is that the employee already trusts you and feels safe confiding in you. When this happens, ask questions, such as:

Looking forward, what could be the best possible outcome from facing this challenge? Identify at least three possibilities.

After reflecting on the answers to the previous question, then ask: What is the best outcome you could create from this situation?

What do you really want to accomplish?

What actions could you take to move forward?

What will you need to focus on for this to happen?

Are the current obstacles clear? How will you address or overcome them to get there? What is your first step to deal with them?

Who could help you with this?

These questions encourage new thinking and enable your team member to entertain some new ideas aimed at finding a way past whatever is holding them back. After giving them time to think about the questions, then you might provide specific guidance and insights about their actions, behaviors and the next steps you think they need to take to get back on track and unstuck. 

The second, more challenging path, is when you need to raise the issue with the person you are managing. How do you raise the issue to someone who is oblivious to it, without triggering fear and anger? This is the path less traveled by new managers and inexperienced coaches. 

Where to begin? Build trust and demonstrate your motivation is to support their long-term success. Then you'll need to connect them to the bigger goals and motivators. If you know what motivates your troubled team member, you can find a way to encourage her to connect the dots to solve problems in new ways. 

There will be times that those you are developing don't realize they have swerved off track and they are clueless about what adjustments they need to make to reach their goals. In this case, they need specific feedback and guidance -directives, actually -to recalibrate their actions. They need a clear picture of what the next steps are in order to get back in the game. An example for someone who is overwhelmed and frazzled, missing deadlines, and unaware that she is burning bridges with colleagues would be a directive such as "Keep a time log in 15 -minute increments starting immediately following our meeting, track how you use your time during the next five days. At the end of each day identify how well you did in staying focused on your top priorities. Then let's review your time log together and discuss what you realize from this activity." 

There are four reasons people get off track and don't do what you expected them to do. Linda Bishop, the Senior Vice President for specialty markets at Milestone Bank shared these with me:

They do not know what you want them to do.

They do not know how to do it.

They do not want to do it.

They are incapable of doing it.

Once you determine the reason, then identify the steps needed to correct the problem and work out a plan--with your employee-to get back on track. You'll find specifics on what to do in each of these four situations in chapter 7 of my book Conversations for Creating Star Performers.