The Five Golden Rules of Coaching Uncooperative Employees

Law, News & Commentary, Opinion

Uncooperative employees are hard to deal with at the best of times, but what about when you are actively coaching them? It is not hard to understand why many managers resile from such a task. However, coaching is an integral part of a manager’s role and uncooperative employees are always going to exist.

I have compiled my five golden rules of coaching uncooperative employees, along with explaining the key reasons that you must coach these individuals and detail what you can do if an employee simply refused to participate in coaching.

The five golden rules of coaching an uncooperative employee

  1. Don’t stoop to their level- Often uncooperative employees will whinge and whine about not wanting to undertake a required tasks. Whatever you do, don’t start telling them that you would prefer to be doing something else more worthwhile with your time than spending it with them. Rise above them and get on with the process in an engaged manner.
  2. Don’t become negative- So often by the time a manager is coaching someone they have a negative view about them and their performance. This translates very quickly into negative body language, tone, words and actions. Be careful to remain upbeat and positive when coaching an employee, no matter their initial attitude. You do need to give them a real chance to perform and who knows they might surprise you with a huge turn around when they properly understand what is expected.
  3. Don’t skimp on the important parts- If you have gotten to the coaching stage, well done! So many managers avoid this altogether. Now whatever you do don’t miss the important parts. You will need to reiterate the consequences to the employee if their performance or behaviour does not improve. This needs to be clearly said and it can be a good idea to have the employee repeat this to you to confirm it.Tell them if their performance does not improve to the required level their employment may be terminated.
  4. Don’t become reactionary- Sometimes the best reaction to disproportionate behaviour is no reaction at all. If an employee is getting angry or lashing out at you while you are trying to coach them, then best thing to do is to very calmly end the session and give them another chance to resume it later when they have calmed down. Do not yell back at them or think that being firm in response will help.
  5. Don’t stop following a coaching plan (unless you have good reason)- So many coaching or performance improvement plans start with the best of intentions. I have seen pre-organised weekly meetings decay very quickly into nothing. This will usually be followed by the underperforming employee claiming they have not been supported. Be realistic when setting a plan and stick to it.


One of the first questions I ask a client that comes to me with an unfair dismissal claim relating to poor performance is: ‘what support did you provide to the employee before dismissing them?’ Many people are confused by this question. There is tendency to think that simply by telling someone they need to improve that this is enough. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

53228217_sPerformance issues can often require some proactive coaching from a manager, especially if the employee in question has been with the organisation for a long time. A good way to carry out coaching is via a performance improvement plan with set goals, time frames and predetermined meetings. The support required for an individual throughout this process will depend very much on what the performance issue is and what resources the company has available to it. Usually I would recommend setting a reasonable period of time to monitor the employee’s performance and scheduling at least 1-2 coaching meetings to discuss performance, provide advice and get feedback. In addition, but not as a substitute, you could also ask the employee to report back to you weekly via email so you can keep a broader tab on their performance.

Unfortunately, it is quite often the uncooperative employees that do not turn their performance around. You therefore may well find yourself in a situation, after implementing coaching with them, of having to terminate the individual. It is important that if you get to that point you have explored performance improvement with them. If you are unable to show an appropriate level of support, including coaching, it might be held by the Fair Work Commission that you did not provide a real opportunity for the employee to improve their performance and that their dismissal was therefore unfair. This could result in compensation or reinstatement to their position.

Enough is Enough

So you have followed the golden rules, you have implemented a coaching plan and stuck to it. What next? Well, if the employee has been warned of the potential termination consequences and they have remained uncooperative and their performance has not improved, you can, and should, dismiss them.

Some employees will out right refuse to undertake coaching or a performance improvement plan. If this occurs then you should at least try to have one session to see if you can change their mind, but if you cannot you can move to firing them. In such circumstances I would suggest given the individual a written ultimatum about either cooperating or being immediately dismissed before moving to the final step.

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid of getting coaching wrong. Being paralysed by fear into doing nothing will not sort out performance issues. Trying something is always better than avoiding a bad situation.

What coaching advice do you have? Have you ever found yourself in a situation with an employee refusing to participate in coaching? 


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One thought on “The Five Golden Rules of Coaching Uncooperative Employees

  • Great post. Really looking at another side of coaching employees – where it becomes more of a necessity than a choice. Like that you didn’t gloss over the difficult situations and just pretend that everyone can be fixed / improved by coaching. The employee needs to be mentally ready to receive coaching. If they aren’t then results will be tough even for the more experienced coaches. Nice work.

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