What percentage of people’s potential do you see at work?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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What percentage of people's potential do you see at work?I have asked this question dozens of times at seminars and training courses and have yet to get an answer of 100% or even close.  Most responses come in the 30% – 60% range suggesting that there’s a lot of ability out there that remains untapped. That’s a pretty strong business case for having effective coaching at work I would suggest. After all, you pay for 100% potential, but how much do you actually get?

But how do people even form a view? On what do we base our estimates? Asked to justify their answer people will point to a variety of explanations. I remember one lady telling me about a member of her team who was difficult and unpopular at work yet who achieved great results as a youth volunteer in his spare time. On another occasion somebody highlighted the many working mums tucked out of sight in mundane roles despite being able to run a household, raise children and run the family finances at the same time. What if work was organised in such a way as to give people a chance to let these hidden talents shine through?

Often the answer is ‘I’ve absolutely no idea what percentage of people’s potential we see at work!‘. We can fairly easily see the results or outcomes of using potential by way of the amount or quality of a person’s work; their performance in other words. But judging how much of their potential was used to bring this about is difficult, time consuming and arguably unnecessary. Unless we want performance and results to improve of course, in which case it’s vital to understand how much capacity for improvement there might be.

I believe there is a compelling case for organisations to spend more time considering potential. Businesses obsess over performance and results and rightly so as this is how we determine how well we’re doing, but in terms of making changes and improving things we need to start thinking in terms of potential; what we could do, just as much as what we have done.

Unfortunately the world of work is not organised this way. It is hard to make a case for retaining an employee who is under performing but whom we sense could go on to great things. Employers understandably hedge their bets and seek to buy proven potential directly from the labour market. Top jobs are to be filled only by those on the graduate development programme. External candidates must have the ‘right’ MBA and so on. But just as with the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future results. What people have done is not necessarily linked to what they could do. Nevertheless, we can’t employ people based on a leap of faith or retain poor performers on the basis of benefit of the doubt, but we do need to manage them in such a way as to give them every chance to let their potential come out.

Potential is by definition latent – i.e. hidden or under-developed – and so we cannot ask prospective employees to bring a sort of ‘certificate of potential’ with them to the recruitment or promotion interview. We have, instead, to take a view on how much potential a person may have and this view is likely to be informed by our own beliefs and values and by our own experience at work.

More on this next time.

Coaching is an idea whose time has come

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Coaching is an idea whose time has comeThe challenges have never been greater for anyone who must achieve results through people. Ferocious change, flatter structures and new technologies have all conspired to render old style leadership by command totally irrelevant. If we continue to attempt to solve 21st Century problems with 19th century solutions, the chances of failure are high.

Organisations are finding that the tired old rhetoric of ‘people are our greatest asset’ really is true. Install a new piece of equipment or IT system and your rivals can have the same in place by the following month. Secure some capital and you’ll likely find that the competition had their money secured several weeks earlier. In the age of the knowledge worker competitive advantage surely lays in the capacity to have employees happily performing at their best over the long term.

Furthermore, it is no longer possible to develop people only by passing on other’s wisdom. This is the orthodox approach to training and development but it is flawed. It assumes that the reason for less than peak performance must be due to a lack of certain knowledge or skills. However, it ignores the crucial role that attitude or state of mind plays in performing any task. Most of us can call to mind several examples of people with seemingly all the knowledge and skills they could ever need but who for some reason seem unable or unwilling to translate this into high performance.

What is needed then is a method for realising potential, for enabling people to perform at their very best. As traditional structures have disappeared, people now want and need to be empowered to find their own way and to access their creativity and flair. These are crucial qualities but they cannot be taught. They have to be nurtured.

I believe that coaching is fast becoming the key to business success in the 21st Century, and will be a vital leadership skill for decades.

When leaders understand and apply coaching, astonishing things can happen

People relish change and move things forward at pace. Apathy disappears and is replaced by energy and enthusiasm People consistently perform at their peak and achieve amazing results and their organisations waste fewer resources and generate more income.

Whilst many of my posts deal with the specifics of the coaching approach, I make no apologies for returning to writing about core coaching principles from time to time. Without an understanding of these principles all the coaching techniques in the world are useless.

How I discovered the joy of coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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How I discovered the joy of coachinI am obsessed with work.

I realise in making this claim that I risk alienating those followers who have worked long and hard to bring a little balance into their own working lives and those of their colleagues, so let me qualify the statement.

I am not obsessed with working. I believe that for the most part people spend too many of their waking hours in factories, shops and offices and that many of these hours are not really productive. There is a difference between business and busyness. Throughout Europe and perhaps the UK in particular, this is further exacerbated by appending the start and end of each working day with as much as two hours travel in either direction. The promise of home working has also yet to deliver in my experience.

No, my obsession is with work itself. The way that places of work are organised and structured, the way that business is run and won, the increasing importance of work in people’s lives and most crucially the business of deploying and developing staff.

This preoccupation started early for me. I left school at aged 16 with the four ‘O’ Levels I needed to secure my job with a high street bank. Almost from the first day I was more interested in what was happening on the office side of the business than anything the customers might be getting up to. I was particularly puzzled by the way tone group of people apparently called management, would talk to another group of people apparently called staff. These interactions were usually terse, unfriendly affairs consisting of managers more or less ordering staff to do certain tasks which the staff then carried out to whatever minimum standard was necessary to get by. Looking back it all seemed quite adversarial with little sense of mutual success.

In my naivety I thought that people were people and that if you expected people to work hard and achieve results then you ought to treat them well; ‘Do unto others….’ and all that. This being the early 1980s however, high street banking was characterised by complacency and laziness, knowing that customers would continue to come and profits continue to flow however the business was run, and however its people were treated.

The de-regulation of the industry and the consequent increased competition in the 1990s changed all this. Now there was a need for staff to provide superior service lest the customers take their business elsewhere. People working in banks needed to become sales people and actively promote the bank’s products and services. Jobs which had been thought of as secure for a lifetime were now the subject of continual uncertainty.

The whole backdrop to the business changed irreversibly, but the management style did not. Those who struggled to make the change from bank clerk to sales person were told to shape up and get with the times. They were sent on sales training courses and if that didn’t work they were sent on them again. The pressure was on to perform; crude targets and incentives were introduced. Managers were hauled before directors and told to try harder, Staff were hauled before managers and told to try harder, or else.

Yours truly watched all this unfold with a sort of morbid fascination.

Of course banking as an industry was not alone in experiencing change of this kind or on this scale. Globalisation, the march of technology, downsizing and so on were all transforming the whole landscape of work and organisational life.

By now I was working in Personnel and had been introduced to the world of training and development. I’d had some exposure to management and team leader type roles and was seen to have an ability to get people on side and achieving results. As a management trainer I was similarly able to press the right buttons and to help people access their ability. I guess I was coaching them although I had no idea at the time that there even was such a thing, certainly not in the world of work.

In 1995 I was given the opportunity to attend a Performance Coaching course run by Sir John Whitmore and his firm Performance Consultants. As I learnt about coaching principles and practices I came to realise that coaching was simply a way of describing an approach to people at work that I had always believed in but had never been able to articulate. It offered an explanation as to why certain of my managers had been able to get the best from me and why others had left me exhausted and scanning the job advertisements. Coaching described a management style that I could see was essential for the turbulent times that were coming.

From that point forward coaching became the lynchpin of all my training and development work. I left banking and established my own consultancy practice where I found myself extolling the virtues of coaching and high performance even when I’d essentially been hired to teach Time Management or Presentation Skills.

Eventually I decided to grasp the nettle and focus my practice on teaching managers how to coach and this has been my focus and passion to this day. All of my work in this area has informed the ideas in these blog posts.

I hope you find ideas here that will help you take your coaching approach forward in your own unique way so that you can positively impact the working lives of those around you.