Can you harness the magic of Responsibility?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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 a key coaching principle of responsibility. The principle of awareness will be considered in the next posting in the series in about a fortnight’s time.

responsibilityI once worked in an office where I sat near to the senior manager’s secretary/PA. This awful woman fulfilled every negative stereotype associated with such a role, was difficult and truculent and made most people’s lives a misery. On top of this she could be aptly described as work shy and idle…

except for two weeks in every year.

These were the two weeks when her boss, the senior manager was on holiday. During this period she would be responsible for managing his diary commitments, handling requests from other senior members of staff, signing purchase orders and a host of other tasks that were very, very different from her normal job. At these times she was a pleasure to work alongside and got through a staggering amount of work.

What could explain the difference? It wasn’t just relief that her boss was away, because he was a genuinely nice and capable person for whom we all enjoyed working. It wasn’t because the tasks she now undertook were glamorous and fulfilling because they weren’t. It was because she was responsible and knew it. If a conflicting diary appointment occurred when the boss was there, she made him aware of it and he decided what to do. If someone wanted to raise a purchase order when he was in he decided if the money could be paid away. In his absence, she made these decisions; she was responsible she had choice. There was a chance she could have made mistakes but I cannot recall a time when she did.

This is the magic of responsibility. How many times have you seen the wayward sports team member be transformed by being given the captaincy? The sports manager understands the power of responsibility and giving people choice in order to make them feel empowered. It can turn the poacher into the gamekeeper overnight. The next time you’re thinking about how cynical old Brian from accounts may react to the latest changes to the office procedures, think about what might change if Brian were to be invited to take responsibility for changing the office procedures. Notice I say invited because responsibility must be taken up; it must be accepted; it cannot be imposed.

Coaching is about getting the best ‘out’ of people, which implies that it’s there to begin with, but people will only choose to give of their very best they’ feel capable of doing so, when they’re rewarded for doing so and when they’re willing to try. You can use coaching to make sure these three elements are in place or to uncover any blockages.

The coaching questions in the ARROW model are designed to generate responsibility, e.g. ‘What are YOU going to do?’, ‘When are YOU going to do it? etc. It’s ok for you to put people on the spot a little bit with these sorts of questions, and we need to if we really want to improve performance at work. While we continue to do things for people that they can (and sometimes need) to do for themselves we actually have not helped at all.


Trust: The most vital ingredient in coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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.

This post is all about trust. The next one will look at encouraging coachees to welcome self-responsibility.

trustI believe that increasing and improving levels of trust in organizations would make a massive difference. The absence of trust leads to a host of unnecessary, time consuming, and bureaucratic processes that few people would miss if they disappeared. If we can’t trust people not to fiddle their expenses, do we really want them let loose on our customers and suppliers where they could do far more damage? Rather than tying managers up in ‘back to work’ interviews would it not be better to have them examine a culture so deficient that people would rather lie about their health than come in to work? Call me naive but I believe that there is a better way and that a coaching approach facilitates it. Let’s first examine the components of trust in a coaching relationship.

Dear Manager

I need to trust you, my coaching manager. This requires you to be a trustworthy person doing trustworthy things. I need to know that anything I might reveal in a coaching session will be treated in confidence unless I am up to something illegal, unethical or harmful. I need to know that discussing areas of my work which I find challenging will not automatically disbar me from applying for a promotion or some other advancement. I want to be able to turn to you for coaching help whether to solve a problem or make progress on an already strong area. I want you to make time for me and our coaching conversations, to be taken seriously and for you to accept I have a point of view, even if it differs from your own.

I need to trust the coaching process. I don’t want to be coached if I neither need it nor have requested it. I don’t want to be coached just because it’s my turn or because you’ve got a schedule to stick to. Do it this way if you want (and far too many do) but don’t be surprised if I don’t seem fully engaged. Don’t be surprised if I offer only superficial answers to your coaching questions and seem mistrustful of the whole thing. It’ll be because I sense it is all about you and not me.

Help me to trust myself. To become the best I can be and achieve my potential at work I need someone who believes in me, even when I’ve lost faith in myself. You’re my manager; I respect your position and what you’ve achieved and your backing and support means a lot. With it I can achieve great things which creates a ‘win’ for you, me and our organization alike. Without it we all lose in the end.

Thank you

To be a manager who coaches thus requires a high level of integrity and trustworthiness and quite right too. Managers who coach in a climate of trust find they have advantages when things go wrong and/or pressure builds because their people are more willing to ‘go into bat’ for them when needs be. People who work for managers they cannot trust or who don’t believe they are trusted themselves tend not to do this and in extreme cases will look to sabotage the manager’s efforts


How coaching promotes focus (and why it matters)

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 how we can utilise the power of focus. In around two weeks I’ll post again on the matter of establishing trust.

focusThe ability to achieve a state of focus is surely the greatest asset any employee could have in the chaos that pervades in the world of work these days. When someone is focused they work with a quiet concentration that seems almost eerie. When someone is focused they achieve results with half the effort of their huffing and puffing colleagues and become so conscious of what’s going on that every task becomes a learning experience. Athletes talk of being ‘in the zone’; actors talk of being ‘in flow’ but these are all just alternative expressions for being focused. For many people it is a state they have experienced only rarely and often fleetingly when they do. However, it is a state that can be cultivated and I aim to show how the coaching approach achieves just that, but first we need to ensure we’re clear about exactly what focus is.

Focus distracts us from being distracted. When we’re focused we’re almost oblivious to other things that are going on around us as anyone who has experienced the condition will readily testify. Watch a teenager absorbed in a new computer game and you’ll see exactly what effective focus is like.

Focus follows interest though which means that before we can expect anyone to focus on their work or critical aspects of certain tasks we must take time to ensure that they’ll be interested. Many will be, but with other team members we may need to firstly create interest by explaining the requirements of a given task, underlining its importance and underlining any key connections with other work activity.

Focus needs to be appropriate, which in a work context normally means focusing on what is to be achieved rather than what is to be avoided. At the Aims stage it’s therefore important to set goals in positive language; ‘Achieving quality standards’ is better than ‘Minimise wastage’. ‘Keep spending within budget’ is better than ‘No overspends’

Ideally we should allow people to focus on one thing at a time. However this is virtually impossible in any modern place of work and so we need to try to minimize the numerous different areas of focus that vie for most people’s attention. A member of your team may well have ten things to do, but there’ll do them better in sequence rather than in parallel. This may mean some changes in the way that the work of your team is organised and distributed but it would be well worth the effort.

Imagine you work in a customer relation type role and I say to you ‘What do you most notice about the tone of your customer’s voice?’ To answer my question you’ll need to focus on the customer’s voice, which is of course exactly what I want you to do! But asking you about customer tone rather than instructing you to concentrate upon it raises your awareness, encourages you to take responsibility and demonstrates that I trust you. Thus focus combines these three key coaching principles.