Internal Interference – A cause of yet more problems

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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Internal Interference – A cause of yet more problemsA typical list of sources of internal interference would likely include the following:

  • Previous negative experience
  • Negative expectations
  • Negative self-talk
  • Fear of failure

Previous negative experience

My first assignment as an independent consultant was a disaster. I was asked to facilitate some sales training for a group of sales managers from a major airline. I misjudged the ability of the group and was ill-prepared to answer their questions. I got my timings all wrong and my sessions overran leaving my co-facilitator some serious remedial work to rescue the project.

Some months later I found myself assigned to a similar project. Reflecting on the first experience I was beginning to worry that the same thing would happen again which, given what I now know about self-fulfilling prophecies, it probably would have done. Luckily my coach at the time was able to help me make rational sense of my first experience, to put it into some perspective and, most importantly, take action in terms of preparation to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Negative expectations

Some people see the glass as half empty and for others it’s half full. Some people expect the best to happen while others assume the worst. Critics of the coaching approach often accuse coaches of insisting every situation be viewed with breathless, naive optimism, but really the point is this: We tend to attract the circumstances we think about the most and so expecting the worst to happen increases the chances that it will. Coaching helps people shine a light on their expectations and check whether they are accurate or based on false assumptions.

Negative self-talk

Many people are in constant conversation with themselves, but the nature of this internal dialogue can have a profound effect on how well they might perform. ‘You’re gonna blow it you fool’, ‘who do you think you are?’, ‘Why on earth would anyone buy from me?’ and ‘I’m so tired’ are just some of the ways in which we get in our own way and make things more difficult than they need be.

Fear of failure

This is a classic but is based on an entirely false premise. Failure is an abstract concept; there is actually no such thing as failure. There is only results. We take action and results ensue. These are either results we want or do not want. They are either expected or unexpected but they have no absolute link with success or failure. This exists only in our own minds. In my experience it’s the consequences of ‘failure’ that people really fear in an organisational setting. They fear that they’ll be told-off or embarrassed or that they’ll miss out on promotion or whatever. There’s a clear link with the blame culture phenomenon we looked at before. How do you want people in your organisation to feel when something has gone wrong? Do you want them to go and hide in a corner or pick themselves up, learn from it and move on?

I stress again that these are only examples and this list is far from exhaustive. They differ from external sources of interference in that they are felt rather than observed. They can have a huge effect on reaching one’s potential but it also follows that coaching can pay huge dividends in dealing with them.

At the core of each of these symptoms runs a central theme which we’ll call Limiting Beliefs. In many ways the factors we’ve discussed serve to militate against my potential only if I believe them to be true.

We’ll examine this in more detail next time.

External Interference and the problems it causes in coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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External Interference and the problems it causes in coachingIn my last post I introduced Tim Gallwey’s simple equation for coaching for performance:

POTENTIAL  = Potential – Interference

Previous posts have dealt with definitions for potential and performance so let’s now turn our sights on interference.

Let’s talk firstly about what I call external interference. By this I mean the things that go on around us at work which may make it difficult for us to work near to our potential. Once again we’ll refer firstly to a typical list of such things produced by the many people I have asked to consider them:

  • Management
  • Restrictive policies and procedures
  • Blame culture
  • Ideas not accepted
  • Lack of opportunity

Let’s deal with each of these in turn.

Management

Now how’s that for irony? We, the very people who are supposed to mobilise the abilities of people at work are seen as actually getting in the way. This seems to be due to the prevalence of Theory X thinking amongst the management ranks. This style of thinking and subsequent behaviour is perpetuated by a lack of alternative role models. I remember once attending a meeting to discuss the possibilities of implementing a coaching programme for a prospective client. After the usual small talk his opening line was ‘Well I’ve brought you here because I used to get them working by shouting at them, but apparently you can’t do that anymore’ Well, shout at people all you want but is this really how we’re going to tap into their discretionary effort?

Restrictive policies and procedures

 Obviously places of work need rules and systems and to establish acceptable practices. Without them there would be anarchy. But in these times when competitive pressures are increasing the need for people to work with their imagination and to think creatively such rules can be overdone. This is not restricted to obviously creative endeavours like marketing or advertising. From the factory floor to the retail sales floor we need people to be able to take action and make things happen particularly if directly involved with customers. So many practices from signing-in sheets to six-page expenses claim forms seem to be there because of a lack of trust in the workforce. Why would any organisation employ people it can’t trust?

Blame culture

 What happens in your organisation when things go wrong? Is judicious risk taking extolled in the business plan and then utterly condemned in practice? Against this background is it any wonder that people keep themselves small, safely tucked up in their comfort zones and keeping their ideas to themselves?

Ideas not accepted

 On a similar note, what happens in your organisation when somebody has a good idea? Is there a means to capture ideas, to nurture them and let them grow, or are they left to wither on the vine choked by and endless stream of position papers, inception reports or suggestion scheme submissions.

This factor is exacerbated the greater the distance on the hierarchy between those who generate ideas and those who can chose to act upon them. It is once again ironic that in most structures it is the former who are closest to the customers and that latter who are many steps removed.

Lack of opportunity

 This can come in many guises. Perhaps you’ve got great potential but because you weren’t hired on a graduate intake stream you are barred from applying for the top jobs. Perhaps your circumstances make it difficult to attend the training programmes you’d need to progress. Perhaps you’re too young or too old, too black or too white, under qualified, overqualified, inexperienced or over experienced, a female in a male dominated set-up or vice versa. Even today there are so many discriminations that still prevail, despite the efforts of many to eliminate them. The simple truth is that it is clearly nonsense for any organisation to deny itself access to talent wherever it may lie.

These are but examples of common sources of external interference and I realise many of you reading this will have limited ability to influence them in your own organisations, Nevertheless, I would encourage you to grasp any opportunity to examine these areas to see whether they encourage or discourage high performance and make changes where you can.

We must accept that some of the issues we’ve spoken about in this section are a necessary part of the fabric of working life. In many ways its people’s reaction to them that is more crucial and that is what we’ll consider next.

What does Coaching for Performance actually mean?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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What does Coaching for Performance actually mean?In my last few posts I’ve suggested our job as coaching managers is to convert as much potential as possible into performance, but of course performance means different things to different people. An actor will have a different view to an athlete and a team leader may have a different view to a team member when it comes to defining performance.

Work based performance

In the world of work it seems that performance usually amounts to being about one of five things:

  • Increasing revenue – sales or other income streams
  • Providing an excellent service
  • Reducing cost
  • Increasing or maintaining quality
  • Reducing time, e.g. in production lines or in bringing a new product to market

Each of these areas of performance can improve as a result of effective coaching, and often coaching is sought because things aren’t going well in some of these areas. But these very broad areas of work performance are really outcomes, i.e. the results and consequences of people’s ability to perform in a host of other areas, increasing personal productivity, increasing team productivity, generating leads and opportunities, making presentations, managing performance, and so the list goes on.

As coaches we need to be sure we have an agreed understanding with our coachees of what performance actually means in their role and how we would know if it had been improved. Also, if we want to establish a strong business case for coaching and measure its success then having a clearly defined and shared interpretation of performance is absolutely vital.

The gap between potential and performance

Living in the real world, one thing is certain: there will always be a gap between potential and performance (life wouldn’t be much fun if there wasn’t) and we need to look at ways of closing the gap so that more potential is converted into performance.

In the same way that we need to think carefully about judging potential and defining performance, we need also to recognise that the gap between the two could exist for a variety of reasons and there could be different ways of closing the gap.

Suppose you have a member of your team whose job it is to produce the monthly sales figures. This they do by using the table function in a word processing programme. Unfortunately, this programme does not have the flexibility to produce the ratios and percentages that you need to really understand whether sales are going well or not.

In terms of performance you need a detailed analysis and in terms of potential we can assume that as your team member can find their way around the word processing package they’d have the potential to use other similar programmes.

The performance gap here is to do with knowledge. If they knew how to use a spreadsheet programme they’d be able to produce a more useful set of monthly sales figures.

Such a performance gap is also straightforward to fill. Find a course or a web-based package that teaches how to use the spreadsheet programme and away you go. Simple.

Now suppose you have team member whose job it is to handle customer complaints. This they do in accordance with your organisation’s policy and procedures but always with a slightly abrasive edge. They have had all the necessary training and up until recently were one of your best performers on complaint handling. Lately though there seems to have been an increase in escalated complaints and other team members are getting tired of having to sweep up.

Here the performance gap is much less obvious and unlikely to be closed by sending your team member on refresher training. In fact, that would just make things worse. The gap here is a subtle one concerning attitude or state of mind and needs a similarly subtle response.

In these situations we need to recognise that the gap between potential and performance doesn’t need filling it needs shrinking. In other words, we need to remove the things that interfere with potential being converted into high performance.

In his Inner Game series, coaching pioneer Tim Gallwey neatly expresses this idea as an equation:

PERFORMANCE = Potential – interference

And we’ll pick up on this next time.