Cultivating the learning organisation through coaching. By Suzanne Skiffington and Perry Zeus
How does one organisation achieve sustained success while a seemingly identical competitor is struggling? It is no accident that organisations consistently rated as leaders in their sectors are also some of the best places to work.
A New York institute recently asked employees in a wide variety of industries and vocations: “What is important in your job?” The top-ranking answer was “open communication”.
Coaching is an open-communication skill. The companies that ranked highest in the survey were led by people who communicate like coaches and facilitators rather than managers and bosses.
Our most important Asset
A recent United States study on managerial learning suggests that formal developmental relationships – that is, coaching and mentoring – are the most effective means of encouraging growth and change in managers. Of the respondents with formal coaching programs, 77% cited improved retention and improved overall performance. By creating a coaching culture the best organisations are taking practical steps to implement the rhetoric of “people are our most important asset” and to nurture learning, performance and retention.
To gain the highest return from their capital investment, companies must care about their people and be willing to provide what they need to do their best work. Companies that have an established coaching culture are also able to attract the best and brightest of their industry and, in turn, boost profit.
Coaching is a one-on-one process designed to meet the specific needs of the client, typically focusing on developing personal awareness and specific skills, as well as on strategies for improving work performance and solving problems.
Enhance and remediate
Business coaching comes in two principal forms:
- Enhancement, in which a high-functioning individual participates voluntarily to enhance performance, development and skills levels or set career goals.
- Remediation, in which an individual who is having problems is asked by a superior or business partner to participate.
Because nobody knows everything, it is wise to develop a network of coaches with specialist knowledge and experience that is useful to you.
It is also wise to ask for a trial period of three to six months then re-evaluate whether both parties feel it is a fruitful relationship.
When searching for a coach, look for someone with specialist training, insight and experience in the type of personal development that your training and HR people cannot provide.
What to look for
When it comes to interviewing prospective coaches, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this person really a coach, or just a consultant in disguise? Consultants give you answers. Coaches ask you questions. Coaches do not create dependent relationships and they allow you to discover the questions and answers yourself.
- Does the coach have a strict code of ethics? For the best results, you will need to be completely honest with your coach. Look for one who insists on total confidentiality. Check out the coach’s record in helping others.
- What will this coach actually do for you? To get specific results, be specific about what you need. Say to your prospective coach, “Here’s what I want to do. What do you know about it, and how can you help me?” Establish what exactly will happen when you work together. Will your coach meet others in you organisation?
- Does the proposed program meet your needs? The coach has to be convinced that you are sincere about learning.
- Is the financial picture clear? Make sure you understand exactly what you are paying for.
Attributes of good coaches
- Coaches want to encourage independent clients who can make choices and determine the right course of action.
- Coaches must be courageous and willing to offer good and bad news to help their clients change and grow.
- Coaches have to be supportive and approachable. A good one offers unconditional support.
- Coaches need flexibility and, through discussion, develop goals that clients can get exited about.
- Effective coaches are constantly giving and taking feedback. Coaching is a process, not an event.
- Good coaches are forward looking. The past cannot be changed.
- A winning coach encourages risk taking and establishes a safety net to catch those who falter or fail. Failure is treated as an opportunity to learn.
The new constantly changing business environment makes it hard to sustain the old “command and demand” management style. In business, standing still is stagnation. Coaching is the future.
How not to
Nuggets from the coal-face
An East-German classic clanger, a prime slice of gobbledegook and a selection from our files of management speak
How not to run a press conference
Perhaps the world’s worst attempt at crisis management was perpetrated in 1989 by Gunter Schabowski, then head of the East German Communist Party. According to authors Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw in their book The Commanding Heights, Schabowski was about to do a live television press conference when party secretary Egon Krenz handed him the draft of a new regulation from the Interior Ministry. “This could be a hit,” Krenz said.
A hit it was. The draft proposed new bureaucratic procedures for obtaining visas in order to visit the West. It was not central to what Schabowski was talking about in his rambling press conference. Distracted, he was not clear about what he was reading, and even less clear in his expression. In reply to a question from an Italian journalist he seemed to say that East Germans could go to the West with no restrictions – and immediately. Later, in the understatement of the century, he described this as a small mistake.
It was seven o clock in the evening and most of East Germany was watching the telecast. Thousands, then hundreds of thousands headed to the Wall to see whether what they had heard was true. Whole families joined the march, many in pyjamas, thronging at the wall and chanting “Open the gate!”
The guards had detailed instructions about what to do if individuals tried to breach the wall, but they had no instructions for a mass exit. Should they shoot or open the gates? In their confusion, they decided to do the latter. Hundreds of thousands of East Berliners burst into the West, met on the other side by masses of West Berliners, who plied them with champagne and beer. What West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had said would never happen during his lifetime had happened because of a few ill-chosen words.
The next day, at an emergency meeting of the Communist Party, one speaker glumly summed up the situation: “The Party is basically kaput.” East Germany no longer existed. Schabowski might have considered some media training, but it was too late.
How Not To Write a Memo
This gem is the closing paragraph of a nationally circulated memo from a large communications company: “[Company name] is endeavorily determined to promote constant attention on current procedures of transacting business focusing emphasis on innovative ways to better, if not supersede, the expectations of quality!” (Lucent Technologies.)
How Not To INDULGE IN Management Speak
Recently, a magazine ran a contest. It asked people to submit quotes from their managers, and here is a delectable selection from the submissions:
- As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.
- What I need is a list of specific unknown problems we will encounter.
(Lykes Lines Shipping)
- E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business.
(Electric Boat Company)
- This project is so important, we can’t let things that are more important interfere with it.
(United Parcel Service)
- Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule. No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now, go act busy for a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them.
(Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing)
- My boss spent the entire weekend retyping a 25-page proposal that only needed corrections. She claims the disk I gave her was damaged and she couldn’t edit it. The disk I gave her was write-protected.
- Quote from the boss: “Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.”
- “How about Friday?” My sister passed away and her funeral was scheduled for Monday. When I told my boss, he said she died so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. He then asked if we could change her burial to Friday. He said: “That would be better for me.”
- “We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.”
(AT&T Long Lines Division)