“Coaching” at work is not a four-letter word

Adapted from, Intersections: Four Deliberate Actions That Help You Create Solutions And Achieve Results. Dave Fleming. c. 2017.

Coaching is Your Friend

Golf swings, musical instruments, exercise regimens and hundreds of other activities. It’s no big deal to get coaching for any of them. You’re not a failure if you do, get coaching. You’re seen as smart, maybe even lucky. But when people find themselves in coaching situations at work, well…it changes. Coaching at work often means that something “big must be wrong.” Workplace coaching is frequently positioned as a pretty drastic solution to a significant problem. For example, more times than I can count, here’s how I’ve been introduced to a prospective coaching client: 

 

Hey Beth, I just wanted to let you know that your harsh style with your team has finally reached a boiling point.We’ve hired Dave to help you deal with this problem. If you can’t deal with this problem we aren’t sure you have a future here. Beth, say hi to Dave. Dave, say hi to Beth. 

 

I’ve had leaders and managers approach me (inside an organization) and quietly ask,” do you think I’ll have to meet with you?” It’s quite the ego boost when you realize people are trying to avoid you at all costs. But can you blame them? In many organizations, coaching is equivalent to a trip to the Principal’s office. But it’s worse than that. If the frame of coaching is negative, then you’ll find it difficult, as a leader, to coach the people on your team. Because, well…you become the Principal. 

 

Coaching is more successful when it’s a positive and natural part of work. The most elite athletes in the world have coaches. End of story. It’s just a natural part of improvement and mastery. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise. Elite athletes know that coaching is part of the deal. Why? Elite athletes embrace coaching because it makes them better. That’s the perspective you want on your team.

 

Here are three messages, about coaching, you can work into your team’s psyche and culture. When you do, coaching will become a positive and desirable activity.  

     

Let’s take a closer look at all three messages.

     Message # 1: You are not in trouble

If your communication about coaching is primarily deficit based, it becomes an unwelcomed requirement. Instead, disconnect the concept of “trouble” from the language you use to talk about coaching. This first message is about language. And language matters because it frames perception. And of course, perception becomes…you know the rest.

 

The words you use to describe both the reasons for coaching and the coaching itself, matter. Choose words that are optimistic and realistic. They should reveal a better future and simultaneously expose a gap that needs to be addressed.

 

Delivery matters. The way you point out the need and connect it to coaching can make a person more or less receptive. Consider the example (below), which provides an alternative to the one I shared earlier (about Beth). 

Hey Beth. I wanted you to know that I’ve asked Dave to spend some time with you. Dave is coaching me as part of a continuous improvement program. The coaching has been valuable to my own skill development. You know around here we all embrace coaching as a path to success. So I was glad when it worked in Dave’s schedule to spend time with you. You and I have talked before about improving your style of communication with your team–specifically the more harsh delivery. This coaching can help you adapt your style in those critical moments. I’ve already seen improvement in my own communication. What’s also great is that the organization is paying for this. I believe in you Beth and want to see you succeed. Take advantage of this opportunity. 

You’ll notice the second example is more than twice as long as the first. There may be a way to shorten it up a bit. But the extra words matter because they provide context. They also provide a sense of camaraderie and optimism about a better future. All of which sends a positive message about coaching. When it comes to coaching, choose your words carefully; they matter.

 

Message # 2: We all need to improve

Continuous improvement drives high performance. Ingenious and successful teams know this. They have a religious-like devotion to improvement.  Therefore, as a leader, you should preach the gospel of “better.” When you do–and when people embrace the message–they are more receptive to a variety of “improvement inputs”–including coaching. 

 

The time to begin emphasizing continuous improvement is not when someone is “in trouble.” If you only talk about improvement when someone is struggling you turn improvement into a “remedy.” It’s true, improvement might remedy a problem. But framing it that way makes it less appealing. It turns improvement into something I “have to do” rather than something “I want to do.”

 

As your team drinks the Kool-Aid of “better,” coaching becomes a welcomed friend. You won’t have to push coaching on anyone. People will seek it out. They’ll form informal coaching relationships with colleagues. They may ask you for a coach rather than you convincing them they need one. They will also be more apt to seek out thought-leaders, relevant programs, and pertinent information. When the desire to improve captures a person (and a culture), energy is generated to find coaches, guides, and mentors.

 

     Message # 3: Improvement is not accidental

The third message augments and elaborates the second one. We don’t stumble into mastery. We walk, with intention, toward it. Increasing competency and capacity comes through deliberate action and practice. 

 

Organizational leaders long for better results. They crave “high performers” that solve complex problems and seize promising opportunities. Yet they often want this return (from people) for as little investment as possible. They just want it to magically happen–and then get frustrated, or even mad, when it doesn’t. As if people should arrive in their organizations with all the necessary improvement behind them. But that’s not the way it works. Even seasoned team members still need to “up their game.” And that requires deliberate action and deliberate investment.

 

When coaching is seen as a way to increase the intentionality of improvement, it is far easier to invest and engage in. Coaches, formal or informal, have a way of sharpening the focus of one’s practice. They help us identify and close gaps, digest important knowledge and pace our practice for the best results. This takes time. Ironically though, repairing the breakages of ill-equipped team members takes far more time and is far more frustrating. What you invest in, grows. That goes for people too. If you want people to invest in their own improvement, invest in it as well.

 

Coaching is an improvement input. If you want more spontaneous and/or formal coaching to live inside your organization, you’ll get that by sending and sustaining strategic messages to your team. They get at both the “why” and the “how” of coaching.

     

These messages ready and energize people for coaching. More importantly, though, they challenge people to high performance. Something you want and need.

 

Questions/Thoughts to Ponder

Are the three messages embedded in your culture? If not, what steps can you take to do so?

When you talk about coaching, is it predominately a remedy for trouble or a natural part of improvement?

Are you expecting significant results (return) from people with little investment in them? If so, why do you think this will work?

Continuous improvement does not happen accidentally. Are you deliberate in your approach?

2017-07-11T21:10:32+00:00

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Written by Dave Fleming