How to Take Your Coach­ing Skills Up a Notch

Rotman Management Magazine - - NEWS - by Daniel Markovitz

Are there any coaches or teach­ers in your back­ground that you cher­ish and think of of­ten? If so, I’d be will­ing to bet that they are from your youth—and not su­per­vi­sors or man­agers from your work life. Even in com­pa­nies that pride them­selves on mak­ing coach­ing an es­sen­tial part of each man­ager’s job, the qual­ity and im­pact of cor­po­rate coach­ing sel­dom com­pares to our for­ma­tive coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Great coaches—the ones who shape lives—share some com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tics.

They pro­vide con­tin­u­ous, on-site ob­ser­va­tion.

Great coaches go and see first-hand how an ath­lete per­forms at prac­tice and in games, so they have up-to-date knowl­edge of each in­di­vid­ual’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. They use these direct ob­ser­va­tions to pro­vide con­tin­u­ous feed­back and to ad­dress spe­cific short­com­ings.

They have a struc­tured, long-range plan for each in­di­vid­ual.

It’s not just about win­ning the next game or race. Great coaches aim for the long-term, teach­ing their ath­letes pro­gres­sively more com­plex skills—or, in the case of en­durance sports, grad­u­ally build­ing up the ath­lete’s strength, en­durance and speed.

They con­nect the in­di­vid­ual to a greater pur­pose.

Usu­ally, this greater pur­pose is the ac­com­plish­ment of the larger team goal. The ath­lete rec­og­nizes that she isn’t only train­ing for in­di­vid­ual glory; in fact, in­di­vid­ual suc­cess is sec­ondary, and of­ten sub­sumed, to at­tain­ment of the over­all team goal.

In con­trast, the typ­i­cal man­ager/coach tends to op­er­ate as fol­lows:

In­fre­quent ob­ser­va­tion.

Most man­agers don’t see and there­fore can’t ob­serve their direct re­ports ev­ery day. Un­for­tu­nately, re­search shows that spo­radic coach­ing—even if the in­ter­ac­tions are lengthy—is far less ef­fec­tive than shorter, fre­quent ses­sions.

Ad hoc coach­ing.

High-po­ten­tial em­ploy­ees of­ten have lon­grange de­vel­op­ment plans to lead them to the ex­ec­u­tive suite. But what about the rank and file—peo­ple who aren’t con­sid­ered su­per­stars? These em­ploy­ees are typ­i­cally coached only when there is a need for cor­rec­tive ac­tion.

It’s all about the in­di­vid­ual.

The fact is, a com­pany—or any or­ga­ni­za­tion, for that mat­ter—is no less a team than an NHL hockey team. And yet, coach­ing in a busi­ness set­ting al­most ex­clu­sively fo­cuses on the ben­e­fits that ac­crue to the in­di­vid­ual learner, rather than to the or­ga­ni­za­tion as a whole.

There is one point of com­mon­al­ity be­tween ath­letic and work­place coaches: Both rely heav­ily upon di­rec­tive coach­ing rather than de­vel­op­men­tal coach­ing. In di­rec­tive coach­ing, the coach ad­vo­cates for a cer­tain course of ac­tion: ‘Run the play this way, not that way’; ‘For­mat your spread­sheet like this, not like that’. Ba­si­cally, the coach is do­ing the think­ing. Di­rec­tive coach­ing is most use­ful when you want rapid ac­tion (for in­stance, in the mid­dle of a game) and when the prob­lem be­ing ad­dressed is sim­ple.

By con­trast, de­vel­op­men­tal coach­ing is more So­cratic. The de­vel­op­men­tal coach asks ques­tions that lead the in­di­vid­ual to greater aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing. In this dy­namic, the learner is prompted to do most of the think­ing. De­velop-

men­tal coach­ing is more ef­fec­tive when you’re try­ing to cre­ate long-term be­havioural change or solve com­plex prob­lems.

Un­for­tu­nately, most work­place coach­ing to­day is di­rec­tive: ‘Jane, I think you should ad­dress it in this man­ner’; ‘Jose, what if you tried do­ing it this way?’ This is a shame, be­cause di­rec­tive coach­ing fails to take ad­van­tage of the greater cog­ni­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties of adult learn­ers.

So, how can you be­come a coach and men­tor that peo­ple will re­mem­ber through­out their ca­reers?

1. Fol­low the ath­letic coach’s lead and make time to pro­vide con­sis­tent ob­ser­va­tion.

The best work­place coaches ob­serve peo­ple in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, so they can see for them­selves what the per­son is do­ing well—and not as well.

2. Take a long-range view of em­ployee de­vel­op­ment.

Rather than coach­ing for cor­rec­tion, adopt a proac­tive ap­proach. Treat each per­son as a life­time em­ployee, and con­sider the skills that will be needed over an en­tire ca­reer.

3. Cre­ate a long-term learn­ing plan that strate­gi­cally builds skills and ex­pe­ri­ences.

Even if the em­ployee doesn’t stay un­til re­tire­ment (and to­day, it’s un­likely that he/she will), you will reap the ben­e­fits of a more mo­ti­vated, and ca­pa­ble, worker.

4. Con­nect the em­ployee’s de­vel­op­ment to the wel­fare of your or­ga­ni­za­tion as a whole.

In the case of a team sport, the ‘why’ is ob­vi­ous to play­ers, but it’s not al­ways ob­vi­ous to em­ploy­ees in an or­ga­ni­za­tion. If the in­di­vid­ual’s de­vel­op­ment can be con­nected to the wel­fare of the or­ga­ni­za­tion as a whole, the be­havioural changes will be more likely to stick.

5. Know that the great­est gift a coach can pro­vide is the abil­ity to adapt and learn.

Since we can’t know what skills will be needed in the fu­ture, a gen­eral ap­proach to prob­lem solv­ing is the key­stone skill to achiev­ing chal­leng­ing goals through­out our lives.

The ath­letic coaches of our youth and our favourite teach­ers will live for­ever in our hearts. By adopt­ing some of the core fea­tures of those re­la­tion­ships and em­pha­siz­ing the de­vel­op­men­tal coach­ing mind­set, you can take steps to el­e­vate the typ­i­cally unin­spir­ing work­place coach­ing func­tion.

Lean ex­pert Daniel Markovitz is the founder of Markovitz Con­sult­ing and au­thor of Build­ing the Fit Or­ga­ni­za­tion: Six Core Prin­ci­ples for Mak­ing Your Com­pany Stronger, Faster, and More Com­pet­i­tive (Mcgraw Hill Ed­u­ca­tion, 2015). His clients in­clude Pfizer, Mi­crosoft, New York Pres­by­te­rian Hospi­tal and In­tel. He blogs at markovitz­con­sult­

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