The idea of coaching in the workplace has been around for decades, and though it has enjoyed some periods of popularity and respect, overall, it struggles to gain the traction needed to become embedded in corporate cultures in a meaningful way. In a large part, the concept has suffered at the hands of the term itself. The term coaching tends to have different meanings to different people, largely based on individual experiences. These individual interpretations create an unsettled coaching culture, especially as each subsequent leader brings his or her own definition, which then undermines any previous progress and inevitably hits the reset button on that organization’s practice of coaching.
Of course, we cannot write on the topic of coaching without adding our own definition to the fray. Based on our experience, research, and mission to build systematic approaches to improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals, we offer a comprehensive definition of the term.
The main tenet of our definition is that coaching is not a process. Processes may aid the establishment of coaching within a company, but defining a process cannot produce true coaching. Coaching is instead better defined as a culture, “the way things get done around here.” A coaching culture is best evidenced by
- role clarity and transparent conversations regarding expectations
- the practiced ability of supervisors to help individuals discover what gets in each person’s way of achieving success in his or her role
- a tangible way to measure and report levels of success accomplished by individuals, teams, and organizations to produce the value expected by the organization
We will address each of these factors, in order, as we continue the coaching series. Notably absent from this list is any mention of a lack of time to coach. As you will recall from our introductory blog on this topic, a lack of time is the most explicit and common reason given for why coaching does not occur in organizations today. The essentials listed above can profoundly impact the perceived lack of time. Our discussion will include how each of these cultural norms helps to create more time.
Question to ponder:
- How does your organization currently define coaching?
“Our first-line leaders have way too much on their plates to spend time coaching.” This complaint comes from practically every company we work with.
We get this response when we suggest that a critical element in improving team performance is the first-line leader’s ability to provide meaningful direction and feedback to each team member. Success, however, in this endeavor is complicated by three factors:
- Many first-line leaders are promoted to their positions because they demonstrated a high degree of competence in their primary role. In other words, they are promoted for being a top performer not because they are necessarily ready to lead other performers.
- Most top performers have become “unconsciously competent” at what they do. So though they are proven, consistent performers, they typically are not able to easily describe the essential elements of how they have been able to achieve success.
- When there is clear ability to perform and an equally clear challenge in explaining to others how to exceed, the result is the familiar first-line leader response of, “It’s just easier to do it myself.” Doing it yourself is, of course, a time-consuming approach.
These factors combine to create a dissonance that stands in the way of strong, meaningful coaching conversations between first-line leaders and their teams. This dissonance manifests itself through the fundamental problem statement that, “Our first-line leaders have way too much on their plates to spend time coaching.”
When this problem statement is juxtaposed against another common concern, we frequently hear, “Our teams are not performing the way we need them to, and we think we have a major gap in our first-line leader talent pipeline.” This mindset creates one of the most pressing conundrums in business today. Left unsolved, this issue undermines daily operational performance, execution of new or evolving strategies, and the fundamental talent pipeline critical to growth and expansion.
We will present viable options to this challenge in our outcomes-based coaching series.
Question to ponder:
- How are you or your company currently equipping your front-line leaders to successfully address their responsibility for the overall performance and growth of their teams?
In a recent post, we talked about how an outcomes-based approach enables companies to rearrange roles by simply shifting outcomes between roles. Reassigning outcomes to different people makes it easy to restructure jobs because of changing conditions such as corporate growth. What we didn’t mention, but is equally valuable, is what we’ll call temporary outcomes.
Assume for a minute that a company decides to launch a short-term initiative, perhaps implementing a new technology or introducing a new product. To realize the desired benefits, those types of initiatives usually require additional work on the part of a few key roles.
Using an outcomes-based approach dramatically simplifies assigning, managing, and keeping track of that additional short-term work. Simply define the new work as a set of outcomes, and then assign those outcomes to the impacted roles. The teams and managers are already familiar with an outcomes-based approach where they consider and track the consistent production of key outcomes, so they will treat the new initiative-based outcomes the same way. Breaking the initiative into very specific outcomes significantly improves the odds of success.
Question to ponder:
- Are the people in your key roles clear on how they contribute to the success of short-term or strategic initiatives?