A conversation to address workplace challenges

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Questions


A conversation to address workplace challenges

For sake of ease, we’ll return to the example of Ed, whom we met in the last post, Navigating the Competency Cycle, and imagine that his boss, Sue, knew a thing or two about coaching and decided to have a chat with Ed about undertaking the domestic announcements.

Sue So I’m going to ask what might seem like a strange question, ‘How will you know if you’ve been successful?
Ed Err, that is a strange question. I guess if the group looks happy and if I feel happy too.
Sue ‘Happy’s’ a bit woolly Ed, what exactly will you look for?
Ed Well, I’d expect to see the group smiling and looking relaxed and I won’t feel nervous.
Sue How will you feel then?
Ed I suppose confident and relaxed

Sue’s questions have helped Ed define an aim in terms of what success will feel like. Her questions are raising Ed’s awareness of those feelings such that he’s likely to focus on them rather than his nervousness.

Sue How do you feel about it at the moment though Ed?
Ed Well, I’m a bit uptight to be honest. I’m not used to this and I know Brian does it like falling off a log, but I’m not used to speaking to groups
Sue Have you ever done anything similar?
Ed Actually, when I was at school I often used to have to take parents around on open evenings. We’d go from class to class and I’d have to explain the different things that went on
Sue What did you notice when you did that?
Ed What did I notice? That’s another strange question. I was confident enough I suppose it’s just that I couldn’t remember what I had to say.

In exploring the reality Sue has encouraged Ed to become better aware of what exactly he experiences in these situations.

Sue So, how big is the difference between what you felt then and how you want to feel on Monday?
Ed You know, it’s not that big actually, it’s just remembering what to say.

Sue’s reflection questions are quite subtle, but the reflecting is happening nonetheless.

Sue What could you do about that then Ed?
Ed Well it’s just spending time memorizing the routine I suppose. I’ll do some homework over the weekend
Sue What else could you try?
Ed I don’t know. Nothing I can think of.
Sue What if you had to give the announcement right now?
Ed I’d have to write it down, perhaps on some note cards. That’s a good idea anyway actually.

With just a little work Sue has encouraged Ed to think beyond the obvious option.

Sue So?
Ed Yeah, you’re right Sue. If I jot a few prompts on an index card I’ll not worry about forgetting things and that’ll make me feel a lot better. Thanks for the suggestion.

Sue decides not to tell Ed that actually this was a way forward he decided for himself; that he is responsible. She feels encouraged enough that she has his trust.

We can also see that although is clearly using the ARROW structure, she is using questions in her own style and in a much more conversational way.

Navigating the Competency cycle

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Questions


Navigating the Competency cycle

Navigating the Competency cycle

There is a well known model that suggests that learning – or becoming competent – is a question of passing through four distinct phases. Let’s attempt to see how this applies in a typical work situation.

Meet Ed. Ed is a young man who works at a conference centre. Until very recently Ed’s job has been largely manual; putting the chairs in place, rearranging tables, setting up the IT equipment and sorting out flipcharts. One Friday afternoon Ed’s boss informs him that from the following Monday morning she would also like Ed to run through the domestic arrangements with groups of delegates once they have been escorted from the coffee area to the conference room.

Unconscious incompetence

That Friday evening Ed becomes a bit worried; he starts to fret about Monday. He has listened to his colleagues make the announcements hundreds of times, but he has never addressed a group before. He thinks it might be very difficult, but doesn’t really know why he thinks that.

Conscious incompetence

On Monday morning Ed takes a deep breath and begins his address. Unfortunately he forgets to mention the fire alarm test and tells the group that they will have lunch in the restaurant when in fact they are going to have a buffet in the conference room. He is so nervous that his mouth becomes dry and this makes him even more uncertain in his speech. However he notices many of the people in the room smiling warmly at him and some even chuckle when he makes a couple of witty remarks

Conscious competence

Over the next couple of week’s it gets easier, Ed has written the points he must cover on a prompt card and finds the whole notion of addressing a group less threatening. He takes a few deep breaths and has a quiet ‘chat with himself’ before entering the room and this all seems to help.

Unconscious competence

Some weeks later Ed barely thinks about announcing the domestic arrangements. He has other things to worry about and when the time comes, he pops into the conference room reels off the announcements and quickly moves on to other things. To the outsider Ed looks the picture of confidence, but he does have a tendency to forget bits of information and can look a bit distracted at times.

Coaching Conscious Competence

We can similarly apply this cycle to most tasks and activities at work. The main lesson for coaching managers is to recognize that learning can only take place in the conscious – or dare I say, aware – phases of the cycle. Thus coaching questions move people from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence but also from Unconscious Competence back to Conscious Competence to address any bad habits.

We normally let the cycle run its course, but coaching can dramatically accelerate the speed of our journey around it. We often think that we only go round the cycle once, but what would happen if we chose to repeat the cycle time and time again?


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.