Do your people have the potential to succeed?

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 explore notions of potential. In the next post we’ll return to look again at coaching skills more generally.

potentialDo the people in your team have the potential to perform at the level you need them to or that they would like to?

Can you prove it?

Whatever your answer to the first question, I’ll bet you answered ‘no’ to the second.

Human potential (and indeed human nature) cannot be proven and so we are left to take a view. In other words, we must choose a philosophy of human potential. Some mangers take a rather negative view of people’s potential and suggest that it is deployed at work only in response to threat or reward and then only to the degree necessary to keep out of trouble. Others take a less jaundiced view and opt to see potential as limitless given appropriate support and guidance. I don’t know which view is right or wrong and I have no interest in finding out. I do however know which view offers the most possibilities and so I choose to make the positive philosophical choice and would encourage you to do likewise.

In so far as high quality thinking, and self-prompted action is encouraged when negative, limiting assumptions are removed in the process of coaching, a positive view of potential has to be adopted before anything else can happen. This philosophy has proven time and again to be the best one from which to free the mind to think clearly, creatively and in the best interests of self, team and organization. Ideas and actions flow more dependably from this philosophy than from a more neutral or cynical one.

Most people at work function at levels well below that of their potential. At the leaving celebration for the manager’s PA I wrote about in the article on Responsibility, we found out that she worked as a volunteer for the Samaritans (a charitable support organization offering phone support to depressed and lonely people). This was hard to reconcile to the old grump we saw every day at work, but the potential to behave as a warm and considerate person was clearly always there, it just wasn’t being cultivated in the work situation. Many people are just not given an opportunity to reach their potential and in the face of such interference become accustomed to just doing enough.

Sometimes a crisis draws potential out. A manufacturing business I worked with claimed that their people were already doing all they could to get the product out of the door as fast as they could. They would love to achieve more and process orders faster, but there was just no capacity left. One day a major customer of theirs threatened to take his business elsewhere unless an order could be fulfilled by the end of that week. The entire staff got together and found new ways to speed up production and strip out needless processes. The order was fulfilled and the day was saved. The potential to perform at this level was always there it just needed a crisis to bring it out. Coaching helps us tap into this potential without turning every working day into an emergency.



The part that interference plays 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.

Here we consider the mental obstacles that coaching can help people overcome. Next time we’ll look at how doing so enables them to fulfil their potential

interferenceStop! I am NOT about to recommend that coaches interfere with the learning and performance of their coachees.

Quite the reverse in fact. Good coaches appreciate the value of responsibility and are strong enough to trust the coachee to figure things out themselves with their support rather than their interference. What part then can interference possibly play in the coaching domain?

The successful performance of any task at work depends as much on the degree to which we interfere with our abilities – getting in our own way – as it does on those abilities themselves. Tim Gallwey – for many people the founder of modern coaching – expressed this deceptively simple idea as a formula:


In this equation P stands for performance, in other words the results your efforts achieve. Similarly, p refers to potential, defined as your innate ability – what you might actually be capable of given the right conditions. Finally i means interference – the things that meddle with that potential being converted into results.

Conventional training and development approaches try to improve performance (P) by improving potential. That means imbuing the performer with new knowledge and skills and providing encouragement and opportunities to use them. If we take a coaching approach and seek to reduce interference (i) at the same time as potential (p) is being trained then we can help people operate at a level of performance much closer to their true potential. I believe most people know this intuitively when they say ‘we must use coaching to get the best out of people’. This statement implies that the best is already inside people and what we have to do is remove the impediments (interference) to its expression.

We might usefully categorise interference as being either external or internal.

Typical examples of external interference include:

  •  Policies
  • Procedures
  • Boss’s style
  • Organisation culture
  • etc

These are all very subjective of course, but if the employee feels these things are getting in the way, then they probably are. For most coaching managers though there may be little to be done with these other than acknowledge their existence and sympathise with any frustration caused.

However, we can have a much more profound effect by helping people identify and deal with sources of internal interference:

  •  Self doubt
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Negative memories
  • Unhelpful self-talk
  • etc

Coaching at work recognizes the discomfort these interferences can cause even though we may not even be aware of them at a conscious level. However, as with coaching for sport discomfort is a sign of inefficiency and so we must acknowledge the discomfort first before we can move on.

Coaching does not deny the existence of these interferences or suggest that they are easily removed by incanting affirmations or practicing bizarre visualisation exercises. We’ve seen already that coaching creates focus and focus is the most powerful antidote to interference. The more focused I become of the aspects of my work situation that are conducive to success, the less I’m aware of the nagging doubts, inappropriate procedures or whatever else is getting in my way.

The magic triangle

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 about three crucial factors in motivation. Next time we’ll look at the things that prevent people from working to their potential.

PLEI want to return to a subject dear to the heart of any people manager: motivation. Only this time I want to consider how a knowledge of motivation can become a guiding principle for effective coaches.

In previous posts I’ve set out a range of both external and internal motivators and the various theories that can help us provide a climate in which motivation can flourish. We know that the internal group tends to motivate over the longer term but that organizations spend more time fretting over the external set. This irony is extended when we consider how much more costly the external set are to provide. As coaches we have much more power to work with the internal set as these are felt or experienced by the employee whereas the external set are provided by the organisation and probably beyond our sphere of control.


There are internal motivators like pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, sense of achievement and so on which I like to group together as being matters of performance. There are then internal motivators such as curiosity, acquiring new skills, moving outside of comfort zones and trying new things. These we can group as being matters of learning. Finally we can consider internal motivators such as fun, finding work pleasant and enjoying the company of our colleagues as being matters of enjoyment. Thus the wide variety of internal motivators can be made easier to work with by being summarized as performance, learning and enjoyment (PLE) and I like to show them arranged on a triangle as above.


The real trick here is to use coaching to keep a healthy balance of the three. Any one of the three which is over-stressed at the expense of the others leads to demotivation. Most people experience this when performance becomes all consuming. They have targets and standards and key performance indicators fired at them constantly and any sense of learning and enjoyment disappears. Doing a good job and hitting targets – performing – is highly motivating, but not without learning and enjoyment as well. I see this as all too common and have a theory that people join organizations on the expectation of PLE in balance and leave because learning and enjoyment disappears.


It is also possible to create an over balance by having too much learning. Becoming more skilled, learning new technology and trying new things is great, but not if we never get a chance to put what we learn into practice or if the working atmosphere is so sour that we’re still just a miserable as before. Believe it or not you can also upset internal motivation by having too much enjoyment. Of course it’s great to work in a nice, fun atmosphere, but not if we’re given meaningless tasks and nothing ever changes.


I will always maintain that coaching at work is about performance improvement, but what makes it so more effective than other development approaches is that it is hugely insightful for the person being coached and – when done well – is a highly enjoyable process.


Coaching’s aims and intentions are at the dead centre of the PLE triangle.