“I’ll do my best” (and other words) that should make a leader’s spine crawl

We’ve all heard it said after coaching to improve performance – the infamous ‘I’ll do my best’ or even better – ‘I’ll try’.

OK, maybe I am a bit of a Star Wars geek, but I love the scene where Luke is ‘trying’ to use his fledgling knowledge of the ‘force’ to raise his fighter that is sinking into the swamp. He tells Yoda that he is trying and Yoda rejects him outright. Yoda tells him, “There is do, or do not. There is not try”. Well, I am not suggesting that you should dress in a ratty old cloak, grow long ears and carry a light saber. What I am suggesting is that when we allow these expressions to go unchallenged we engage in what I call ‘pretend coaching’. To really coach employees we need to dig a little deeper.

The question is : What do “I’ll do my best” and “I’ll try” really mean?

While there is no single answer to that question, I would like to suggest that these words should make your spine crawl as a leader. That is because what typically follows ‘doing your best’ or ‘I’ll try’ is, well – more of the same. So why do we pretend that our feedback was well received? If you really want to improve performance we need to first understand why these responses are so prevalent when coaching employees for change.

Here are some possible reasons for this type of ‘non response’ from an employee:

  1. They are well intentioned and want to change, however they are unclear about what you expect.
  2. They are well intentioned and want to change, however they are unsure that they can meet your expectations.
  3. They are not well intentioned and don’t want to change, however they do not believe that you will hold them accountable to changing in any kind of meaningful way.

The problem is that when you leave the dialogue with an employee with a somewhat vague commitment to ‘trying’, you also create an inability to hold the employee accountable to changing. After all, as long as they ‘try’ or ‘do their best’ then they have fulfilled their commitment to you.

How do you avoid ‘pretend coaching’ when coaching to improve performance?

So, how you avoid this trap?

First of all, you should start with the assumption that the employee wants to do a good job and change in whatever way is being requested. This is important, because quite often after a few rounds of pretend coaching, the leader starts to doubt the employee’s motivation and commitment. While this may be indeed the case, we have not earned the right to make that assumption.

So instead of assuming the worst, when an employee responds with an “I’ll try” or an “I’ll do my best” – imagine that they are running a big red flag up a flag pole that is screaming “I know you want me to commit to this but I see a problem!” Calmly say something like “I actually think you always try to do your best. Is there a reason why you feel unable to commit to doing what we have discussed?”

Then listen and ask questions. Don’t argue. Don’t listen just long enough to jump in and correct them. Really listen. What you will typically find is that they will tell you what their real concerns are. Then and only then will you be able to coach them on what they feel is the obstacle to doing what you want accomplished.

While this does not assure success, it does assure that you will be engaging in a true coaching dialogue. In order to diagnose further what the challenge blocking performance improvement might be, we offer a free Performance Trouble Shooter that will help you diagnose performance issues and pinpoint what you can do to maximize the likelihood of coaching success with any employee.

To download the Performance Trouble Shooter just click here.

Here’s to your Success!!

If you want to know more about how we can assist you or or your organization in accelerating your progress on your goals, schedule a complimentary coaching session here.

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