Authors and Consultants | GP Strategies Corporation

Individual or Apprentice?

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

As we have previously discussed, a modern and effective coaching culture is best evidenced by three attributes:

  1. Role clarity and transparent conversations regarding expectations
  2. Practiced ability of supervisors to help individuals discover what gets in the way of people achieving success in their roles
  3. A tangible way to measure and report the levels of success of individuals, teams, and organizations in producing the value expected by the organization

Today we would like to dig deeper into the first attribute:

Role Clarity and Transparent Conversations Regarding Expectations

The notion of coaching in organizations has evolved over the last forty years.  Almost by necessity, coaching has become synonymous with various techniques for holding a conversation between the team leader and a team member.  Two of the most prevalent coaching approaches today are GROW (goal, reality, options, will) and CLEAR (contracting, listening, exploring, action, review).  While these methods have their differences, they fundamentally establish the same structured flow to a coaching conversation.

  • Prepare and clarify
  • Listen/share stories
  • Discuss to form potential joint solutions
  • Define forward-looking actions
  • Follow-up and adjust

Both these models are well structured and provide a powerful foundation.  However, when it comes to content, the trend with these models is for team members to first identify the topics they would like to discuss.  Typically, few guidelines are placed on the creation of the topics, and the subjects tend to gravitate toward the individual’s interest.  This interest, however, does not always relate to the individual’s performance within his or her current role. While pursuing this approach may be worthwhile, it doesn’t usually lead to improved performance within the organization.

This lack of ability to impact business performance stems from the fact that the collective set of conversations for a given role or specific area of the business are not aligned to create a common pursuit.  As an example, let’s consider a retail organization and the relationship between the district manager and store manager.  If 100 district managers are each responsible for coaching ten store managers and each store manager is driving his or her personal agenda, the coaching conversation between district managers and store managers will lead in 1,000 disparate directions.   The conversations will do little to drive a standard of excellence across the district, much less across the store network.  In effect 1,000 different standards of excellence will have been established.

In all likelihood, modern-day coaching has its intent, if not its roots, in the apprenticeship model that has been around for decades.  Skilled masters’ goals were to equip their apprentices to produce in specific roles with the speed and quality that approached their own abilities.   Undoubtedly the best masters were good communicators who were as good at structuring conversations as they were at their craft.  The difference between their coaching conversations and the conversations facilitated by today’s models was that the master drove the content of the conversation.  Their conversations centered on standards of excellence they had developed and internalized over time.

Clearly the apprenticeship model, in its pure form, is not scalable in today’s organizations.  The ten store managers in our example are spread over a wide geographic area, greatly limiting the time the district manager can spend with any one manager.  This is where role-based outcomes enter the picture.  Role-based outcomes are used to capture the mental model of expert and top performing store managers.  These outcomes form the standards of excellence for the store manager role and can be used by all 100 district managers to guide their store managers to consistently perform at the quality level required and expected by the organization.

To see noticeable business benefits from coaching, today’s best coaching organizations are clear on the standards of excellence they want to promulgate and how these standards will help specific roles drive business results.

Identifying the standards (or outcomes) is not enough, however.  Today’s leaders must also develop an uncanny ability to help their team members realize what is getting in the way of producing outcomes consistently and to the standards expected by the organization.  We will cover that aspect of coaching in the next post in this series.


Question to ponder:

  • What are the role-specific standards of excellence that your organization considers and encourages leaders to coach to?


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