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  • Sarah Calfee

Coach - Don't Catch - Your Employees

Updated: May 2, 2019

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

In more than 20 years of working in Human Resources, I have witnessed three common mistakes made by managers. Regardless of experience level, managers tend to make the same errors when trying to get the best performance from their teams:

- Not providing regular feedback to employees

- Providing only positive or only negative feedback

- Trying to catch an employee in the act of something bad

Each one of these errors can lead to unfortunate consequences not only for the employee, but also for the manager, their team, and the company. They can lead to mistrust of management, avoidance behavior, and a failure to grow. Whether your company still uses traditional performance evaluations or has moved to something new, below are some simple tips to avoid these mistakes.


We all know the more often you do something, the more normal it feels. This can be a bad thing if it is something like smoking or some other unhealthy habit. In the case of feedback, normalizing the behavior is a good thing. At first, it can feel awkward to give someone performance feedback. It can feel judgmental or harsh. The employee can be defensive or dismissive of critical feedback. But, once it is done often enough, those issues go away.

This doesn’t mean you point out every mistake someone makes or tell them everything they could do differently. That’s micromanaging at best and bullying at worst. It means making sure your employee is aware of your opinion and expectations when they do something particularly poorly or spectacularly well. It means directing and explaining to them when you want them to do something different going forward – whether because they are doing something wrong or because it is time for something new. It is the pats on the back and the redirections – as needed. A simple “thank you” or “next time, it would be better if you…” is sometimes all it takes to keep your employee aware, on track, and motivated.


Some managers anticipate conflict when providing negative performance feedback. They try to avoid it by focusing on the positive. However, this only tells the employee to keep doing what they are already doing - there is no need to change.

On the other hand, I have also read countless performance appraisals that only focus on what the employee is doing wrong. Tasks performed well are weakly mentioned - if at all - and the evaluations for such are also lowered. The manager does not want the good ratings to cause the employee to walk away feeling everything is okay. But if employees feel the review doesn’t accurately reflect their good performance, they will dismiss the entire review as inaccurate.

By providing more objective and varied feedback, credit is given where due while actually highlighting the poor performance. The employee then has an easier time paying attention to the helpful criticism when they aren't focusing on being judged unfairly.


Employees rarely choose to fail. They are either unaware that they are failing, they don't know what to do to change it, or they think you don't care. Sometimes the gut instinct is to catch them in the act of failure so you have documentation to fire them. Great! – said the strategic manager never.

It is very expensive and time-consuming to hire a new employee. There are costs for recruiting, training, and being short-handed until someone is hired and fully trained. The simplest and least costly method to improve performance is to coach the employee through correcting the issues.

Have you ever wished someone had told you what they were upset about sooner so you could have fixed it right away and avoided all the negative consequences? This is the same thing.


No team reaches full potential without a coach and no coach succeeds without a team. Strive to be that amazing coach someone talks about later in their career when they share who helped them succeed.

Normalize Feedback Tell them how they are doing frequently.

Mix It Up Thank them for a job well done and tell them what to change.

Coach Don’t Catch Do the first two things often enough and you won’t have a need to “catch” them in the act.


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