Alphabet Soup: Coaching with the R-E-R Strategy

Boss Imajerk is reviewing the work of a new employee and finds that he didn’t turn in a report at the end of the day as mandated by policy. He calls the NewKid in to correct him.

Imajerk: “NewKid, you didn’t turn this report in yesterday! I told you to finish this report and turn it in at the end of the day. What were you thinking? Now finish it and turn it in to me! (He thinks: What a snot-nosed brat this kid is and who does he think he is not following his direction? There are such problems when the reports don’t get turned in at the end of the day! This is a waste of my time and I’m going to let you know it!) 

NewKid: “OK.” (He thinks: What a jerk this guy is! Why did I take this job in the first place? I thought he was doing the right thing by holding out the report until I got all the info…Geez, is it that big a deal? This guy must have nothing better to do…maybe I can work somewhere else where I don’t have to deal with him..Ha! He probably thinks he’s really getting to me!”)

Obviously, these two aren’t members of the Mutual Admiration Society. In the future, NewKid may or may not turn in his reports on time. Based on this “coaching opportunity,” we can see there’s no personal connection, no teaching moment, no loyalty building between them. In the land of employee productivity, loyalty, and retention strategies, this interaction scores a big ZERO.

Coaching with R-E-R

So how could this have been a more effective coaching conversation? Using the R-E-R strategy, the potential for both parties to feel good about the interaction at the end is much higher than with the previous approach.

Re-Framing: Before you react, take a moment and tell yourself that there may be something about this situation that you didn’t know – that there’s actually a valid reason that the employee has done whatever he’s done. Once you emotionally set up for that, you can then express it to the employee. Humor and a light touch can work well here, too. Use phrases like:

  • “I’m sure you didn’t mean to do anything against policy.”
  • “I want to be sure we gave you all the necessary instructions for _____”
  • “I can see how you thought doing it this way would be best..”

By starting off with a non-threatening tone and a sense of taking ownership for any miscommunication or misunderstanding, your employee can save face and get ready to listen to what you have to say. There’s not that immediate sense of defensiveness, and the way in which you’ve opened the conversation suggests that you are looking for success strategies, not to embarrass or belittle the employee. Creating this win-win situation helps you both get what you want and probably keeps your blood pressure readings down.

Explaining: This step lays out the foundation of WHY the employee should do what’s been asked of him or her. Here, you explain your reasons, the history behind your request or decision, the purpose of doing something a certain way, or the effect the employee’s actions have on others in the organization. Making sure the employee has all the background information allows him or her to take more ownership of what you’ve asked and helps them understand how to be successful in the future.

    • “It’s important that we all follow the steps in the procedures exactly. The rest of the team can’t continue unless you have done everything you’re supposed to do.”


  • “The finance people need all the boxes completed in order to process our requests. If the forms are not done correctly, they get sent back and our boss gets an earful from their boss. Plus, it slows up the whole process of getting our orders filled.”
  • We’ve been through a lot of changes in the last few months. There are still a lot of things that can be improved, but the management team has agreed that each team will focus only on their assigned task. I understand you meant to be helpful when you __________. But we need to stay on task so we can fulfill our promise to the _______department.”

Re-Training: Re-state what you want or need this employee to do. Refer back to the points you made in the explanation if necessary. Include the consequences of following or not following your directive. Be specific and gain agreement from the employee that he or she will follow policy as directed in the future:

  • So when you do this tomorrow, please remember to complete all the boxes on the form. Your co-workers will appreciate it and I won’t need to have a talk with you about this again.
  • In the future, we need you to ________. When we cut corners, we put others’ safety at risk. Obviously we won’t tolerate that. I’m not interested in writing people up. I’m interested in helping you safely do your job.”
  • I need you to follow my instructions exactly, even when you’re not sure why I’m asking you to do something. There’s always a reason for what I have you do. If you don’t do what I ask, then _____________.”

So let’s go back to Mr. Imajerk and NewKid. Using the R-E-R strategy, their conversation may have been more effective like this:

Mr. Imnotsuchajerk: “Hey NewKid, I’m sure you didn’t mean to throw a monkey wrench into our system yesterday when you kept your report at your desk (smile). But I wanted to let you know that holding out your reports at the end of the day does cause problems for the afternoon shift. They need our numbers in order to do their reports for the day. Even if our reports aren’t quite complete, they can use some of the data from them.”

NewKid: “Oh, I didn’t mean to cause any problems….”

Mr. Imnotsuchajerk: “I’m sure you didn’t. So in the future, I need you to turn in all your reports at the end of the day. That way, everyone has access to the information. The big boss says we have to write people up for violating this policy, so let’s be sure to do it right, OK? So what will you do starting today?

NewKid: “I’ll turn in all my reports at the end of the day. Even if they’re not complete.”

Mr. Imnotsuchajerk: “Great – I appreciate it!”

Your employees are problem solvers, and they’ll appreciate you more for taking the time to treat them with respect, explaining exactly what and why they do what they do, and for spelling out exactly what you want in the future.

by Pam Wyess
(c) 2001 NetWork Training Group. All rights reserved.

Posted by Pam Wyess in Managing and Coaching.

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