Coaching the Un-coachable

In our final “Scary HR Issues” October blog series, I want to share with you some guidelines to help you deal with, in my opinion, is one of the most frustrating HR issues leaders at any level face; the un-coachable employee. Now admittedly, this scenario might not fit our October “scary story” theme. In fact, It would probably better align with a “suspense thriller”. You know, the kind where tension builds and builds to a crescendo until you’re so tense you just want it to be over? In my opinion, it’s the same horror genre overall, and since I’m writing this blog, I get to choose. There! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s dig in.


Imagine if you will, an employee who reports to you is exhibiting ongoing behavior issues, performance issues, or both. You’ve already laid the groundwork to allow your employee to succeed. You’ve set crystal clear expectations.  You conduct structured and predictable one to one meetings. You’ve provided ongoing feedback and have allowed them a safe space to provide feedback to you. You’ve supported this employee, and most importantly, treated them with respect, but the behavior hasn’t changed. You’re at your wits end. So how can you make them change the behavior? The answer is, you can’t.


Before you stop reading, let me clarify. Your job is to give the employee every chance to succeed. It’s their responsibility to make the necessary modifications to do so. When you get to the point where the tension is rising, stop. When you’re frustrated because you’ve provided the employee feedback about the needed changes multiple times, yet the change never occurs, stop.  It’s time for you to stop and remind the employee that they have control. Yep, that’s right; give them the power. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. In reality, it’s never been about you controlling the outcome. It’s always been about the employee. You are the conduit for their success, but the decision to be successful ALWAYS lies with them. Before you react, take a second to absorb the concept. This is about setting your employee up for success and letting them decide what they want to do. Here are a few guidelines to work from:


  • Focus on the behavior, not the employee.

    • When the employee tries to make it personal, redirect them by reminding them it’s not about them, it’s about the behavior.

  • Eliminate Emotion.

    • Rather than showing your frustration, remind the employee that although you’ve had many discussions regarding the gap in expectation, you haven’t seen any improvement. Let them know you are not sure where to go from here, and ask them to tell you how they plan to make the correction. Remind them that this is about their choice.

  • Know when to stop.

    • When you find yourself spending more time on an employee’s ongoing behavior or performance issues than you are with your high performers, it’s time help the employee move on.


By utilizing these guidelines, you can feel comfortable knowing that you gave the employee every chance to succeed in their role. You can also rest easy knowing you empowered them to decide if the organization and/or role were a good fit for them. Parting ways will ultimately be the best decision for your team, and likely the employee.


Empowering employees to success and helping them move on when they cannot or will not make the needed change go a long way to show your high performers support by allowing you to focus on them. For guidance and training to help your leaders minimize ongoing employee issues, reach out to us via our contact page, by phone, or through any of our social media platforms which can be found on our website. We love to create unique, customized leadership training to support your organization and keep the best employees.


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