Following Up: The Forgotten Part of Coaching

A common frustration we hear from managers is that their people don’t change after coaching conversations.  They may talk to an employee about his or her behavior during meetings, meeting deadlines, or being more proactive about completing assignments; but, the managers don’t see the desired improvement in behavior.  Additionally, their frustration rises when the employee slips back into old habits:  Often we hear managers say, “We have already had this conversation (maybe three times).  He just won’t change!”  We find that lasting change only happens after concerted follow-up and reinforcement. Managers play a crucial role with both.

Effective follow up has several effects in supporting sustained change.  It:

  1. Emphasizes the importance of the change. Following up communicates the change is important to you, and that you are interested in seeing different behavior.
  2. Provides support for change. Keeping an open dialog as someone tries to make a behavior change allows you to identify ways you can support and help their efforts.
  3. Reinforces improved behavior.  As you see improvement, you can give feedback and encouragement, guiding the employee to continue moving in the right direction.
  4. Limits regression to old ways.  Patterns that have been built up over months or years are susceptible to retreat to old behaviors.  Identifying and curbing regression early on helps get the person back on track more quickly.

Unfortunately, many managers fail to follow up because they either don’t think about it, or are afraid of being seen as a micromanager.  Below are some tips on how to follow up effectively without becoming overbearing:

  1. End the coaching conversation by setting a specific time for a check in. Depending on the behavior you would like to see change, you may want to follow up in a week, two weeks, a month, or longer. In any case, agree on a time that would make sense to follow up.
  2. Put the follow up on your calendar and remind yourself what you and he or she discussed, and what the two of you agreed should happen during the interim.
  3. Express appreciation for positive changes you notice, and connect the difference you see to improved outcomes.
  4. Engage in a coaching conversation if the behavior has resurfaced or has not changed at all. You may need to probe more deeply into other barriers to change to address the pattern.