A little bit more X and Y

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

A little bit more X and YI have written before about Douglas McGregor and his Theory X and Theory Y suppositions about management behaviour. (See My Coaching Philosophy)

According to McGregor, Theory X Managers take the view that people:

  • essentially dislike work and will avoid it all together if possible
  • are motivated only by money or fear
  • need discipline and constant supervision
  • can’t be trusted
  • avoid responsibility
  • lack loyalty and commitment
  • lack creativity – accept in finding ways to avoid work!

Let’s just stop for a moment and consider how a manager would treat people if she held this view. I think it’s likely she would:

  • put tight controls in place to ensure people are working when they should be
  • exercise firm control over all activities and have rigorous reporting procedures in place
  • Define work to a fine level of detail and prescribe precisely how tasks should be carried out
  • remind people often that the organisation pays their wages and how easily they can be replaced

Let’s now think about how people are most likely to react if this is typically how they are treated. I would assume they’ll:

  • do what they need to do to get the job done, but no more
  • resist change
  • refuse to take on extra responsibility without more pay
  • resist at all costs requests to work more flexibly

I can’t imagine that creativity and innovation would flourish in this atmosphere either.

Theory Y managers on the other hand, take the view that people:

  • have psychological as well as economic reasons for working
  • are motivated by achievement, recognition, praise, etc
  • work to their own standards – often higher than the boss’s
  • are totally trustworthy
  • seek responsibility
  • are keen to be loyal and committed
  • are a great source of ideas

How would a manager treat her staff if she believed theory Y to be true? Perhaps she would:

  • Offer praise and encouragement, thanking people publicly for their efforts
  • look for contributions from team members in terms of what needs doing and how it should be done
  • set objectives for the team and then leave them alone to carry them out

Treated this way, I think it’s reasonable to expect that her team would:

  • justify the faith she has shown by getting results
  • put in the extra effort when required
  • take on extra responsibility
  • be loyal in difficult times

Neither of these views is right or wrong and each is clearly quite extreme. Most managers are probably a blend of parts of each and their views will probably change depending on how things are going when you ask them.

The question therefore becomes if neither view is right, wrong or permanent, which view is more useful to us as managers who coach?

Theory Y would seem to offer the greatest scope for achieving improved results because of a concept known as the self-fulfilling prophecy. As we saw above, if we treat people as if Theory X were true they will tend to behave in a way which reinforces that belief. The same is true for Theory Y.

More on this next time.

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

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Tagged: / /

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.