Gymnastics, Reality and Management

December 23rd, 2011 — 5:30am

Occasionally I sit with the other parents and watch my daughters’ gymnastics class. The first time I watched, I was taken aback by the uninhibited feedback from the lead coach to the students on the competitive team. The stream of comments from him sounded like this:

“If you’re not ready to go on your turn step aside. We didn’t come here to socialize, let’s work. Good Clara, nice feet. The first one was good, second one was all over the place. Susan, You’re not getting your shoulders over the bar. No, no, Beth. Ok, come down, go to the back of the line. If you’re not ready to do your best, don’t get on the bar. Next please. Legs, watch legs. Not bad, do that five more times. You’re throwing your head back, keep your chin tucked. Stop bending your arms – ladies – all three of you are bending your arms. That would score about a 4 in competition, it’s got to be better.”

I was uncomfortable watching and listening to him coach. I guess I was afraid he’d make a girl cry or they wouldn’t have the self-esteem to handle the feedback about what they were doing wrong.

As I’ve watched this from week to week, I’m starting to see a lot of good in it. The coach acknowledges something done well, but his standards are high. He doesn’t sugar coat the negative feedback, maybe because there’s just not time. Each girl who gets on the bar needs to know quickly and simply what to improve on the next try. Reality is their friend, it’s their only way to improve. He is a constant and immediate mirror of reality to them. I can also see how it strengthens them for the toughness of competition, because they don’t practice in an A-for-effort world. “Failure” is normal and constant.

I contrast this to some companies, where low performing employees might be stalled for years, and nobody has the guts to tell that person exactly why they are not advancing. Where negative feedback is a big scary deal for both manager and employee, because it’s not part of the regular routine.

I believe every employee deserves to know specifically what standards they are expected to meet, and how they are currently performing relative to those standards. I wonder what would happen if we did that gymnastics-coach style.