Being “Coached Out” of Your Organization – The Frightening Trend

Are you a leader who was coached out of your organization? Maybe it has happened to you, or you’re experiencing it now.

While most people perceive coaching as a good thing for employee growth and performance enhancement. Traditionally, the main reasons that someone would receive coaching is that they are among the top performers with a company, with hard-to-hit performance goals, and the company is trying to make them even better. However, increasingly, coaching has become an alternative to the traditional progressive discipline process, and a veiled procedure for phasing an employee out of the company.

If you’ve been assigned a coach and suspect that the motive may not be entirely in your best interests, this post aims to help you understand what being “coached out” means and how to navigate this difficult and precarious situation.

What Does “Coached Out” Mean?

Being “coached out” refers to a process where a company assigns a coach to an employee with the hidden agenda of eventually letting the employee go. Instead of direct termination, the organization employs coaching as a means to improve the employee’s performance while aiming for an unattainable level, and then document shortcomings as a basis for termination. The idea is that through rigorous and often unyielding coaching, the employee will agree to part ways and voluntarily leave, or the coaching will provide the employer with enough reasons for the employer to initiate a lawful firing.

Being Coached Out – Is it Ethical?

The practice of coaching someone out is morally ambiguous and can be emotionally draining for the employee involved. If this is happening to you, you might spend a great deal of time figuring out how to get to a better place with your career. After all, if the company wanted you out, would they have done something more clear, like put you on a performance improvement plan? Not necessarily. HR managers and other leaders may see this as an effective approach, because it it potentially less contentious than a traditional firing process.

While companies may argue that this approach gives the employee an opportunity to improve, the underlying objective often remains to gather enough evidence to create a paper trail that justifies firing.

You, on the other hand, are likely see this as breaking the ground rules for the employer/employee relationship. It’s supposed to work like this: They give you a job, you do it. But when they are setting you up to fail, it can feel like the significant hazing you’d expect in a frat house. No matter what you do, you aren’t given the tools you need to succeed. In fact, no one could under the circumstances.

Not only does this method raise ethical questions, but it can also tarnish the broader perception of coaching as a tool for genuine development and growth.

4 Signs that Yes, You’re Being Coached Out

1. Unrealistic Expectations: Your coach sets goals that are nearly impossible to achieve in the given timeframe. You may feel you’re being set up to fail.

2. Constant Monitoring: You experience excessive oversight and micromanagement, often leading to stress and decreased performance. This may be the culture of your company already, but if your manager or another staff member is constantly breathing down your neck to make sure you’re on task, you are likely dealing with a situation in which you’re being coached out.

3. Negative Feedback Loop: Despite your best efforts, the feedback remains persistently negative. You may hit your goals, only to have them move the goalpost. Talk about stressful, maddening and demoralizing.

4. Isolation: Oh, did they forget to invite you to the meeting? Big surprise! If you find that you’re not invited to, or even aware of team projects, essential meetings, and company social activities, you should consider that you might be being coached out.

What to Do If You’re on the Coached Out Track

There are many challenges – emotional and logistical – when this happens.

Emotionally, while you recognize that this is plain bad behavior on the part of the company, it feels personal. Most people prefer honesty about the company’s needs, instead of lies and jumping through impossible hoops. Logistically, when you realize you’re likely not going to be able to reach the goals set for you, you may start to panic about losing your job. There’s no right time to lose your job. Whether you have young kids, or you’re close to retirement, being given little prior notification that you’re losing your job can be a blow.

If you think this could be happening to you, here are some of the best ways to handle the situation.

Seek Clarification

Have a conversation with your coach or HR representative. Ask direct questions about the goals, expectations, and the reasoning behind your coaching program. You may find that other team members in your organization have coaches, and that you’re not being coached out at all. It’s possible that other you’re part of a highly motivated team, and the only thing that the coaching is designed to do is to actually improve your performance.

If this is the case, your biggest challenge might be to reset the expectations of your manager.

Last year, I worked with a client where this was happening. After clarifying, it became clear that this was just the culture of his team, and not disciplinary at all. Once this conversation happened, the tone of coaching shifted to a more supportive style.

Consult Your Contract – and Maybe an Attorney

Your employer is unlikely to admit that the goal is to have you leave the organization. However, you may get the message loud and clear that this coaching is all about discipline, making you jump through hoops, and setting impossible performance goals.

If that’s the case, review your employment contract and consult legal advice if needed. Understand your rights and the conditions under which termination can occur. You should also understand things like any non-compete agreements you are subject to. Keep track of  bonuses or extra compensation you might be eligible for, including severance. Making a few phone calls can save or make a lot of money and headache.

Document Everything

Keep a record of all interactions, feedback, and assigned tasks. Any emails or text messages you get from your coach, the HR manager or your boss are useful in such situations. You’ll need them if you want to file a wrongful termination claim.

Evaluate Your Options

If it becomes clear that the organization intends to phase you out, assess your career options. A graceful exit may benefit your career in the long run. It also could be the least painful and humiliating option. Make a decision. Do you want to fight it and work to keep your job? Or is it better to work to create a smooth transition plan for yourself so you can step into another job quickly. Make the decision as quickly as you can. This will give you the most time possible to implement your plan before the company implements theirs.

Don’t Be Soured on Coaching

Career coaches can be extremely useful in helping to develop your career, land a new job and more. If your experience with coaching has been negative, it may feel challenging to give coaching another chance. Work on finding the right coach that can help you take the next step in your career.

Coached Out Recovery

Coaching employees blurs the lines between genuine employee development and tactical termination. If you find yourself in this situation,If you’ve dealt with this complicated and stressful experience, awareness is your first line of defense. Know your rights, keep records, and most importantly, don’t lose confidence in your skills and abilities. Remember, being coached out is more a reflection of the company’s approach to human resources than your professional worth.


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