Is it a question of Willingness or Ability?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers



Willingness v Ability

Willingness v Ability

How would you approach coaching these characters?

John is something of an excited puppy. He works with great enthusiasm but often gives clients wrong information because he does not understand how fees are worked out. Several clients have registered complaints which makes John quite upset and you worry that his motivation and enthusiasm may wane

Ringo is a management graduate with a wide knowledge of business processes. However he is reluctant to delegate tasks and when he does he worries over his staff while they do it for him.

Georgina consistently uses inappropriate humour with customers, often coming across as sarcastic and disrespectful. She was scheduled to attend a customer care seminar but did not show up on the day.

Paul is suddenly and surprisingly becoming cynical and negative. He was once the first to embrace any new initiative, and still does, though not with the same enthusiasm. He has completed the required company training and recently passed a college diploma course however he has just told you that he does not feel his actions have any effect on how the department operates.

John is ‘Not able, but willing’. He has the motivation but not the skills. Use coaching to harness his motivation and create an environment where he is more willing to ask questions and seek explanations. You may need to be tolerant of his early mistakes.

Ringo is ‘Able, but not willing’. It is not that he doesn’t know how to delegate; it’s that he doesn’t put it into practice. He does not need more training (which may just frustrate him); he needs coaching through his interferences and to find his performance, learning and enjoyment through delegation.

Georgina is ‘Not able or willing’. If you consider it is worth investing more time in her, I would suggest you start on Willingness. You can use coaching to try to restore motivation, but will also need to monitor her performance quite closely and provide detailed feedback. After that, it’s up to her.

Paul is ‘Able and Willing’, but may not remain so unless we provide opportunities to take responsibility, to do so with our trust and encourage his awareness by seeking feedback and asking for this thoughts and suggestions.

The four combinations can be arranged on a graph as above.

Problems of ability are best solved with a dose of good old fashioned training and development. Problems with willingness are best dealt with through coaching. For far too long we have tried to solve problems of willingness as if they were problems of ability but this approach tends to make matters worse. Sending a highly capable but miserable sales person on some more sales training for example, will not solve the problem.

Spotting that it’s time to coach

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers


Spotting that it's time to coach

Spotting that it’s time to coach

We’ll start by considering the change in circumstances that would indicate a need to move from the more controlling ‘tell what and how’, to the more empowering (responsibility generating) coaching approach.

When learning from the experience is paramount it’s time to coach. There is very little learning that happens from the tell style apart from perhaps learning how to keep our heads down and learning how to cover up errors. Being told what to do does not engage our brains and so we do not forge new connections and insights; we do not learn. There is also the problem of recall with one study showing that after three months participants could remember only 10% of what they’d been told. Coaching, with its emphasis on awareness, responsibility and trust creates perfect conditions for enduring learning. When there is a need to avoid repeating errors, to find new ways of doing things and to create independence of thought there is a consequent need for learning and therefore coaching.

When motivation appears to be waning, it’s time to coach. This can be a sure sign that the tell approach has done its job. Unless the coachee feels completely lost – in which case they’ll still need a lot of direction – motivation will be higher when we involve people in what they do through coaching; fostering a sense of performance, learning and enjoyment. Look out for people beginning to question your instructions and disagreeing with your suggestions. This does not make them right and you wrong, it’s just an indicator that they’re beginning to think independently. Why not harness this rather than resisting it?

When the quality of output has become crucial, it’s time to coach. There’s an old saying in sports coaching along the lines of ‘you can make me run, but only I can choose to run fast’. There is a natural version of this in coaching at work along the lines of, ‘You can make me work, but only I can choose to work well’. Quality of output has taken on great importance in recent years. Driven by innovations in manufacturing such as ‘just in time’ and ‘lean production’ all sorts of organizations are seeking ways to increase the quality of what they offer in line with their customer’s increasing expectations. Getting a workforce to embrace quality is difficult at the best of times and downright impossible if we command them to improve quality; it doesn’t work like that. In the end, the importance of quality resides in the hearts and minds of employees and thus they need convincing and to feel involved, which once again requires us to move from telling to coaching.

There are certain critical tasks where failure would lead to disaster that managers need to control in every detail, but these are fewer than we care to admit and for the most part coaching will get us further than telling when dealing with a team of people who have the basic skills and knowledge.


When should you use coaching?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we consider the times in which the coaching approach is most useful. Check back in a couple of weeks for a follow-on post.

In my office we like to dine out on this little anecdote. A University lecturer we know phoned her HR department and asked “How do I go about getting myself some coaching?” Their reply was, “Why, what’s wrong with you?” This mentality is something we must absolutely avoid if we’re to have any chance of coaching doing its job. Coaching is a fantastic tool to use in all manner of work situations – as we shall see – but only if it’s positioned in a positive way.

So the question remains, when should you use coaching? I suppose the simple answer is, now! Get on with it! Look at all the benefits I’ve illustrated, why wait? But I realise you need a more refined answer than that.

Coaching Skills for Managers

Let’s firstly consider what makes the average manager consider the coaching approach in the first place. After all, the typical work situations we encounter are not new; they’ve been happening for decades, so why do we need a new approach to dealing with them? The answer lies in the ever decreasing effectiveness of the ‘tell and instruct’ approach.

Tell Coach Results Time

Consider the graph above.

When somebody is new to the team, we need obviously to do a certain amount of telling. When people are new, they need information and instructions and it’s arguably a little too soon to be asking for their views on the way forward (although you could really benefit from their objectivity). When time is short, or in crisis situations we need also to tell people what to do, because the needs of the situation require it. There is no time for a debate and the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of doing the wrong thing. The tell style is perfectly appropriate in these situations but then passage of time intervenes and telling becomes first inappropriate and eventually counter productive. People have information and instructions but now want to exercise a little responsibility. Crises eventually pass and things calm down.

Coaching is an investment of time and like all longer term investments, the pay off is not immediate. This can be unacceptable at work and even I would argue that it can sometimes be premature to coach or the timing can be wrong.

So the graph illustrates a cross over point where the effectiveness of telling falls dramatically and coaching comes into its own. Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rules for where this point lies for each individual whom you coach, the real trick is for you to become aware of their changing needs and circumstances and spot when it’s time to switch lines.