The Power of Effective Coaching Skills

The most valuable assets of a 20th century company were its production equipment. The most valuable assets of a 21st century organization ? will be its knowledge, workers and their productivity. -Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker is a respected author and opinion leader (he invented the process of "management by business objectives") and I'm positive he would agree that one notable way to get the best performance from "workers" and maximize their "productivity" is through coaching; an interactive communication process between members of an organization aimed at exerting a positive influence on performance.

Is coaching developing some momentum? At the 2003 ASTD Conference, President Tina Sung spoke of coaching skills as being one of the four emerging trends for the future. Type "coaching skills" into Google and you'll find about 5 million entries. Graduate Schools of Management and the AIM run courses on it. Even my local suburban newspaper advertises coaching franchises. The AITD's February meeting in Sydney featured Coaching and drew 85 participants. Who knows, we may soon be watching prime time TV and marvel at a cluster of coaches renovating a block of home units. Now that's what you call acceptance!

Since coaching is something done with people, rather than to people, just how well prepared (both in skills and attitude) are managers to coach? Managers typically have an innate interpersonal technique, and so perhaps management's perceived value of coaching can be indicated by how readily it's being absorbed into business culture and put into practice.

Kate Farrelly reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (March 2003) that in "a study of 35,000 managers in Australia and New Zealand their leadership style is oriented towards fear of failure and denial of responsibility rather than pursuing the company's goals and developing good staff relations." The ASTD's journal (T&D, March 2003) reports Mercer's "Effective Management Practices Survey" that found "78% of employees surveyed said their managers routinely conduct annual performance reviews, (while only) 26% said managers routinely provide ongoing coaching and constructive performance feedback." So, managers are either not coaching or the people they're coaching don't know when they are being coached! But this data indicates that coaching is one of the most avoided of all leadership tasks.

So why in some managers is there a disconnect between the manager's ability and/or willingness to coach and their drive to achieve the organization's goals?

Further to this disconnect, we need to make the distinction between "coaching skills" and "effective coaching". Managers coach when they are willing and able to address the effective and efficient performance of tasks. If coaching occurs within an obvious context of a shared vision, corporate objectives, organizational values and performance indicators then what's achieved is effective coaching.

Finding solutions to this disconnect provides trainers with an opportunity to develop a role as a performance consultant - someone who has a primary role of improving productivity, first through analysis of the cause of the issue and then, designing appropriate behavior change programs. Start by understanding how the managers think. What they do and don't react to and where their focus is aimed when it comes to people. Stop using "training language" and start using "management language" to improve understanding. Find out what business processes and outcomes managers measure in order to determine productivity and profitability. From a selfish perspective, being an advocate for coaching and being able to communicate this business case for coaching places you in a position of higher value within the organization. You show yourself as someone who is on a similar wavelength as the managers in helping drive the business.

Some managers confuse coaching with simply giving advice. As Gore Vidal said, "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise." The reality is often that, as Gordon Dickson noted, "some people like my advice so much that they frame it upon the wall instead of using it." So, what is another alternative, a more effective approach?

There is an increasing need to improve involvement and engagement of all employees to achieve business outcomes. Managers are continually asked to improve productivity without additional resources. One option is to enhance behavior and performance through interactive communication and influence, such as coaching. Managers need to invite employees to participate as partners, develop trusting relationships and combine everyone's best efforts into creating business solutions. Managers also need to use their coaching skills with people within (who don't necessarily report to them) and outside their organization.

Typical business performance indicators include productivity, employee turnover, profitability and customer satisfaction. The Gallup Organization published a study that examined the relationship between employee perceptions and these performance indicators (Curt Coffman and Jim Harter, 1999). The study found that, "within successful business units (with above average performance) employees have clear expectations, close relationships, can see how what they do relates to "something significant," and have an ongoing opportunity to contribute to that "something significant" while learning and growing as individuals."

It found that successful business units were 50% more productive, had a 13% lower employee turnover, were 44% more profitable and had a 50% better level of customer satisfaction compared to those that had below average performance.

Interestingly, coaching skills often is associated with leadership. Warren Bennis (an associate of Peter Drucker) has 4 characteristics of leadership:

  • commitment to a mission
  • communicating a vision
  • self confidence
  • personal integrity

    The first two characteristics involve effective coaching and the last two are personal qualities of a leader. The first two address the performance indicators mentioned by Coffman and Harter above and deal with the question, "what standard or parameters do I coach to?" It's difficult to coach people if you have little grasp of your team's purpose or image of the future that they can attain. A workable vision should include milestones that indicate progression towards realization. Without these two, team members will have little guidance and will be left to their own devices as to what successful growth means. Therefore encouraging coaching fosters leadership as people acquire a mindset, communication skills and values that will help build partnerships and commitment to the organization's goals. Aligning organization business outcomes with employee needs while addressing their performance imperfections, via the activity of coaching, gives leadership meaning and challenge.

    Added to this, most organizations have company value statements that say something like "we value our people". An effective coaching skills strategy that emphasizes collaboration and respect rather than control and faultfinding, adds a tangible aspect to this value. People can see an effort being expended in helping them do a good job and experiencing a sense of achievement.

    Effective coaching skills, therefore, contributes to not only a "push" to achieving business outcomes, but also a "pull" towards effective leadership.

    By using the CMOE eight step coaching skills model, rather than free form coaching, you introduce a systematic approach to improving performance. Typically, people judge themselves on the basis on their intentions and most managers are well intentioned, doing their best. But they also report that sometimes they achieve a performance improvement result and sometimes not, and don't know why. Coaching effectively is not as simple as some models and writers would lead us to believe. There is a critical balance between being supportive and caring and being clear and direct. A systematic approach teamed with a collaborative attitude keeps the coaching process objective and focused on business outcomes. This facilitates giving feedback by reducing personal bias. Together with a shared vision, coaching will produce changes in skills that produce measurable results and not just random activity.

    A systematic coaching approach is very helpful with the more "difficult" people.

    Kate Farrelly notes that most managers try to avoid conflict, almost at all costs. Conflict is usually the natural result of people pursuing different aims with resolution traditionally a contest of power or guile. Some managers avoid or deny the existence of the issue because they feel it may demotivate the person or the team, or maybe they feel they don't have enough skills to coach this individual. The reality is that the aims of those in conflict are rarely clear or agreed. Conflict lessens when the coach and coachee can agree on the kind of future they both want; the way things should be - shared vision and shared expectations, boundaries and guidelines. In fact, if all coaches (within the organization, business unit, etc) use the same systematic approach/ model they talk a common language - it's easy for them to share tips and techniques that work, especially on these more challenging people.

    Managers, employees and established work practices are under pressure to change and achieve results never before asked of them. Effective coaching skills, while not being a resolution, can be a major contributor to the solutions. Effective systematic coaching is an opportunity to build meaningful partnerships between members of an organization who meet these challenges. Without effective coaching skills, progress is just that much harder.

    Mark Twain said it all, "I'm all for progress, it's change that I don't like!"

    Mark Wayland works for The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc.

    If you would like to learn more about CMOE's coaching skills and discover what 100,000 managers have learned around the world, please contact a Regional Manager at (801) 569-3444.

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