In my previous coaching blog, I introduced the concept of a “balance sheet” as applied to coaching. You may ask the questions, “Why balance sheets?” or “What advantages do balance sheets have over the more traditional methods of providing feedback on performance?” In this blog, I will explain several advantages in support of the balance sheet approach to coaching.
Companies have a long history of basing performance feedback to their executives on failure to perform, weaknesses, or negative attributes. This “norm” is based on the belief that if people could eliminate their negative attributes and behaviors, their performance would improve. While there is logic to this approach, it has had negative consequences. Let me offer an example.
Most executives dislike conducting performance reviews. When asked why, a leading reason given is their discomfort in communicating negative information. This reluctance in giving negative feedback may be due to avoidance of conflict or apprehension of disagreement with the recipient in response to negative feedback. By avoiding frank, candid feedback or by dressing feedback up to be less negative, the opportunity of improved performance is diminished.
From the perspective of the executive under review, is it okay to be open with weaknesses? I believe most executives hide their weaknesses out of fear that the company will see them as weak or withhold opportunities for advancement if their weaknesses are revealed. This is one reason I chose the balance sheet as a method of sharing candid information. By avoiding language about strengths and weaknesses, which are value judgments, feedback becomes less defensive and more positive. It is much easier to accept the concept of a balance sheet of assets and liabilities than strengths and weaknesses. This allows executives to view their effectiveness much like a financial balance sheet and not a personal critique of their value to the company.
Executives seem to like the metaphor of a balance sheet for another reason. Rather than dealing with negative thinking, they prefer to think in terms of increasing their net asset value, thereby putting themselves in a better position to succeed. They also prefer using a common business term to understand what is working for them and what may be holding them back or inhibiting their success. This language offers more flexibility in creating change, as we will see when we address the principle of leveraging assets to overcome liabilities.
To summarize, the concept of a balance sheet of assets and liabilities has several advantages over traditional feedback methods. It opens the door for a more candid, less defensive and flexible way of creating positive change in behavior. The balance sheet concept offers coaches a powerful tool to help coachees improve their performance.