Similar to Drinkcoffee's posting, I am in a similar situation with a DR. I have been working with him on verbal and written communication for a while, and have seen improvements over time. I need to begin using the coaching model with him to help solidify that progress.

My DR's largest problem is written communication. It is infrequent, sloppy, and filled with spelling errors. His e-mail tends to sound robotic, "crew went home early, place in good shape, carrier pick up 8 pallet, will talk tomorrow." That tends to come across in written documentation as well.

This has come up several times in his reviews. In which he has scored very low over the past two years. I want to set up coaching for written and verbal communication. Can I create this in one coaching model, or keep them separate in two coaching sessions? I have asked for more written communication, and haven't received much in return. The spelling and grammar errors are frustrating. He has missing letters in words and phonic spelling at times. How do I work with his written skills without damaging his ego? Is recommendation of returning to school for remedial writing courses acceptable, especially for a thirty year old?

I'm hoping to improve his skills over this year. I have gone back and forth, before Manager-Tools came along, on whether he can actually improve these skills to an acceptable level. I tend to feel embarassed by his work, especially when it travels to the higher levels of management. He shows interest in moving to the next level. But, this deficiency is holding him back from any chance of advancement. Any/all advice is appreciated.

aspiringceo's picture

Hi Quenfis,

I think "Drinkcoffee's" post on coaching communication skills may be helpful and there is another thread that discusses grammar which may also be helpful. The area of concern I have and which you may need to investigate is that maybe the poor written communication is due to dyslexia and certainly some of the traits you mention point to that e.g infrequent, sloppy, filled with spelling errors, e-mail sounds robotic, spelling errors, missing letters.


juliahhavener's picture
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You might try putting it all under the heading of 'communication', even though he needs help in both oral and written communication forms.

If you approach communication holistically, working perhaps on structure of expression (good ol' keyhole essay format comes to mind) first. If you gain skill using that structure orally, translate it to writing. You may never have a first-class grammar student in this employee. Help him use the spell check functions of Outlook. Some people just truly are bad at using the English language (for most of those folks, it's their native tongue), and unless they see a reason to change it, they won't.

I've struggled for years with one friend who is extremely intelligent, speaks well in one-on-one situations, but simply cannot organize his thoughts effectively on paper. His grammar and spelling is atrocious, too. He's aware of the issues and on important items, he will have someone proof for him. I think I've finally convinced him that effective written communications are important to him. He's learning and planning to return to college in the relatively near future.

Just keep in mind that process took eight years...with a dear friend...YMMV.

quenfis's picture

Thanks Edmund and Juliah.

I listen to Grammar Girl all the time. I love her stuff, and didn't even think to pass that along. Shame on me. I'm sure there are other podcasts out there that could aid in this area as well.

Dyslexia is something that I had not thought of. I know Mark says, everything is "fair game." So, I know it is in my role to discuss the possibility with the individual. I'm going to have to psych myself up for that conversation.

I will definitely begin a structure for coaching this individual towards better written and verbal communication. I like the idea of working on structure of expression. I was a great essay writer in college. I think I could point this person in the right direction in regards to that.

Great stuff. Thanks for the feedback.

aspiringceo's picture

[quote="quenfis"] I'm going to have to psych myself up for that conversation.[/quote]
Its not as difficult as you may imagine. We covered somthing similar in a previous thread on hearing loss which might be helpful

quenfis's picture

Thanks. I read the post. Mark is always dead on with his advice. I actually have his Performance Review next week. This is an area that he is scoring very low. Would it be appropriate to discuss this during the review, or make it clear immediately this week, before the review?

aspiringceo's picture

My personal opinion is that reviews / appraisals should never contain surprises therefore you should raise the issue now. How about approaching it by seeing if you and or employer can do anything to make reasonable adjustments to help him with his difficulties with writing


juliahhavener's picture
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One other thing that came to mind today, particularly if it's going to be on his review, what options does the company offer to help? Admittedly, I work for a very large corporation. That company offers a huge variety of training in almost every area. I just moved to a new cable system, and they have even more options available locally.

Any employee can sign up for online courses through the company's training department, these range from programming to leadership to written and oral communications skills. They also offer an education reimbursement program that will reimburse an employee for college classes (requirements for eligibility being 6 months' tenure, approval for the degree path, and a grade of C or better at completion). Locally, they also offer courses at a local trade school that offers a similar variety of courses. These are paid in advance by the company and time off is allotted for the classes in most cases.

I would definitely bring it up now, especially if you haven't before. I would had to have a shock like that on an annual review.

quenfis's picture

Juliah, my company does offer compensation for college courses. He has taken a few courses over the past two years. An Excel course, and some computer classes. Nothing with English that I know of. I will contact HR and see what we also offer for this area of learning. We are an average size company, a leader in our market. But, we are a bit limited on resources in house. All great ideas, and I will talk with him before the review.

quenfis's picture

Quick update on the coaching with my DR on the written communication. Over the past few weeks we have been working on generic documentation, and working out the grammar and spelling errors. There has been great improvement. Although I don't see a lot of proof reading to catch spelling errors that Word or E-mail may not show as the wrong word (Where versus Were, etc.), there is still some good coming from the coaching.

Today, there was a small breakdown. My DR had to put together a larger documentation for a situation during his shift. This was definitely a high profile documentation that would be passed on to executive levels. I had to point out several grammar issues and spelling errors. Not enough detail and unorganized paragraphs. The DR was very defensive and was giving a lot of push back on the areas I was pointing out.

I made my points very clear, and touched several times on the levels that this documentation would go. I kept it clear and on target for the changes that had to be made to feel comfortable sending this on to my boss, and his boss. This has now become a two day process for documentation that should have only taken an hour at the most to complete.

I know I need to move fast on feedback. It's difficult when the feedback I am giving him during the coaching is not sinking in. I sometimes get the feeling that even though the associate likes the coaching model, he does not like to be told that his end product is filled with errors. My gut feeling is that he needs extended education. He currently does not have a college degree, and I do not believe he has taken an English course during his Junior College days. With the first quarter almost under our belt, I am not confident on giving him a good score on communication for the performance review.

But, I am not giving up. Just starting to consider that he may not be material for succession, or promotion. What do you do with someone that you think will not advance? Especially in a role that it is expected to move up, and allow others to fill that role?

sklosky's picture

Just curious -- what resources did your direct identify for improving?

I think a key to the manager tools approach is that your direct has an investment in choosing and adopting the resources for improvement.

From your post, it sounds like you may have done some of this work for your direct and thus insulated him/her from the benefits.

It is also important to avoid being their primary resource. I think this sets up a triangle type working relationship instead of a "line"/ point A to point B type relationship. I am not clear from you post whether or not you are a resource for the improvement.

Good luck,


quenfis's picture

Yes, I am a resource. I understand that the coaching model tries to have training done outside of the person giving the coaching model. I am in a small operation, where I am the main person that could help to train on written skills within this building.

I also listed out references with two books, podcasts and even a local seminar for outside help. None of these resources have been used. When asked about these resources, the response is that he will look into them on the coming weekend. It has been a few weekends, and no resources used. Therefore, I have been the person to work with the associate in this area.

This is my first coaching that I have done. I understand that this is not to perfection. But, it is necessary for this associate to work on written communication. It is his weakest point, and the one thing that is definitely holding him back from any advancement. So, I am taking it upon myself at this time to work with him to improve his skills.

So is it too one sided for the coaching to work? Am I expecting too much from the associate? His lack of effort to seek out the extra resources is frustrating. Am I not pushing him hard enough to get those resources? Or are the resources just not enough?

I do not want to give up on the model. If this means another six weeks of coaching, but in a different manner, then I am up for that. And I am definitely open to any information that people would like to give on how I could help this associate, without "insulating him from the benefits."

juliahhavener's picture
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I think you'll have better results if you're able to step back from the situation a bit because he's utilizing the resources available. Written communication is a skill like any other -- it's learned, it takes time to master, and it requires ongoing attention. It's far too easy to become too emotionally invested (read: frustrated to point of dreaming strangulation) when the responsibility for someone ELSE'S behavior falls on you -- which only happens when we let it.

Have you figured out where he falls in DiSC? Is the feedback you're giving him the most effective feedback possible? Does he truly understand the ramifications of this behavior (poor attention to written communication) to his future/career?

Under the coaching model, identify resources, let him choose one or two of them, and set a plan with time and date deadlines for actionable items: Bob choose to take a business communications course at the local college. Bob will enroll in XX class by YY date - he will bring a copy of his college course schedule in by ZZ. The course should begin between AA and BB dates, there are four classes for him to choose from. Throughout the class, during our weekly O3's, Bob and I will discuss his progress through the class. Etc, etc, or something.

It sounds like changing his behavior is important to YOU, therefore he's decided that you can do it -- step out of the circle and let him set his course with you to guide it along.

(FWIW, one simple thing I do when handling communications that will likely be sent places far and wide is to print it out and manually proof it with a red pen.)

quenfis's picture

Julia, thanks for the post. I am out of the office for this coming week. When I return, I do plan to sit down with him and discuss the behavior in regards to written communication. At that point, I believe I will resubmit the coaching model with resources that are away from me as the main resource.

In the DISC model, I see a lot of D qualities. He is a little guarded on personal issues. He does not ask a lot of questions when given a project to complete. He does not try mix things up, and is usually complacent in his work. So I'm not sure where he would fall in the iSC area. He also does not take constructive criticism well at all.

I could definitely work on the feedback I am giving him. I have the feeling I am giving him feedback that basically tells him he is wrong, versus helping to find the correct way to complete the written format. This is all a learning experience for me. I am a bit determined to really make this work. Perhaps I should take a few more steps back and allow some of these errors to take place.

Let me cut to a worst case scenario. If I give him some literature to read, podcasts and courses to take at his local community college, and he chooses one or two; if he does not complete these resources during the six week coaching, do I try another six week session? The reason I expect the worst is that he is a self proclaimed non-reader (my boss and I have passed along books that have helped us along in our management, and they have come back several weeks later with a "Oh, I read the first chapter, but I never went back to finish the rest."), and his family life seems to be in turmoil at the moment, so I am not sure on him extending his time out to a college course. So podcasts would most likely be a place he would go. Which is great, but they will not lead him to a better written communication over a six week period. Not trying to make any excuses her, just giving the worst case.

Changing his behavior is important to ME, mainly because I do not want to see someone fail under my management. I am not one to just push him out of the building. So if that ends up being the result, I would like to know that I at least tried and did my best to work with the situation over the time I was managing him. As you can see, I like to write a lot. It has always been something I loved to do. So this is probably too close for me, and watching him not perform in the written aspect is tough to swallow.

(on the FWIW, when he turned in the recent high level document, I took a highlighter to the paper. It was very yellow. I gave it back to him and asked for a revision of those areas, and more detail on the discussions he had with employees. It came back with a few changes, and not much more detail than what was already there. I was out of the office the day after, and my boss took it upon himself to rewrite the entire document to send to HR that day. It looked like an entirely different document, or I should say it looked like the document it should have been. It definitely looked more professional. It also got a "documentation looks great" from the HR rep. I am a bit embarrassed to say the least.)

juliahhavener's picture
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Based on the coaching model, the goals should have smaller milestones that are achievable throughout the agreed-upon time frames. Keep in mind that no matter WHAT you do, he won't be a fabulous writer in six weeks. It took years for you and I to learn to write reasonably well, and we still screw it up...sometimes spectacularly.

Six weeks...see some progress...six weeks...see some progress. Coaching is an ongoing process. I would suggest considering within the realm of 'improving professional communications' some smaller goals: effective paragraph structuring, common comma concerns (go go alliteration), business memo construction, email communications, documentation, proposals. Each area can build on the previous learning and practical practices can be built in (have him craft a memo for the department, write an agenda, send an email to his peers about a current situation, etc).

One idea -- I've no idea if it's doable -- check with a court reporting school to see if you can get him into their English series. There are several online schools that are a couple hours a week between one and two evenings. It's not a 'writing' class, but rather a technical writing course -- adjectives, adverbs, clauses, and the minute details of punctuating it all.

itilimp's picture
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[quote="quenfis"]I was out of the office the day after, and my boss took it upon himself to rewrite the entire document to send to HR that day. It looked like an entirely different document, or I should say it looked like the document it should have been. It definitely looked more professional. It also got a "documentation looks great" from the HR rep. I am a bit embarrassed to say the least.)[/quote]

Have you fed this back to him? Not the part about your being embarrassed; but the fact that your boss was not satisfied with the document as it was presented and so spent their own time re-writing it before others had sight of it? I'd guess that hearing the impact on someone other than yourself may be more motivating.

Also, I second Julia's point regarding his career. Does he actually WANT to progress of is it just that you think he should want to? If he does, then presenting this as an obstacle to progression may motivate him to spend some time to overcome it. If he doesn't, then you'll just have to keep reiterating feedback over time and let him improve at his own pace. I don't believe you can force something as fundamental as an improvement in the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Remember, you need to do the best for him to do his job - and that may not necessarily result in making you look good ;)

sklosky's picture


I get a strong sense that your direct report has little desire or motivation to change.

I suggest that you think about how you can create a sense of urgency in this area.

Good luck!


quenfis's picture

Julia, itilimp and Steve, thanks for the feedback. It's helping me to take a better look at this situation. As I mentioned in my response to Julia, it has recently been a lot about what "I" want for him versus what he really wants for himself.

I am going to discuss the documentation, and my boss' involvement, to the associate when I return. I will also talk to him about his want for advancement. In his review for the previous year, he did list some areas that he would like to move into. They seemed like lateral moves. I asked him at that time if he was interested in my position. He only stated that he wasn't ready. Not that he was not interested. I will let him know that his future advancement in the company will hinge on the lack of proper written communication, among other things (like his verbal communication, and follow through for holding people accountable).

I am going to load my iPod with a few key podcasts to help in this area. I have listened to them all. Now it's time to go back and review them so I can really put them to use in my management. In the meantime, I will do as Drucker suggests and key into his strengths. Hopefully I can get some good things done with the skills that he is good at while we work on what is not working.

juliahhavener's picture
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Let us know how it goes!

Mark's picture
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Why do you have to move fast? It took him years of schooling to get where he is, and you're not a trined educator of international repute... it may take months.

If you think it can't, he better know that, and you better start looking at replacing him.


quenfis's picture

Mark, thanks for the post. You are dead right. I'm moving fast, perhaps to make up for lost time. He has been a direct of mine for a year, and with the company for five years. All of his reviews have been poor in the communications area. I now find myself wanting desperately to help him. But, I am impatient and know that I need to slow it down and not expect results overnight.

With O3's, Feedback, Coaching and performance review, I hope to have something solid by year end. I'm trying to be optimistic. You are correct on the statement that if he can't do this, I should start looking to replace him.

The people on these forums have been great at getting me grounded. I appreciate all of their advice, and yours.