Posts Tagged ‘Coaching managers’

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.

So, how do I actually coach?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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The ARROW sequence

The ARROW sequence

There is an abundance of advice on my site and elsewhere that establishes the personal skills necessary to become an effective coaching manager. It might be useful to examine how these interpersonal skills can be applied within a simple and practical framework.

Coaching is typically a one to one activity, and managers usually coach their juniors, although they might also coach whole teams, peer groups and even themselves. Managers are seen as good potential coaches because of their experience and expertise. However, just as in sport, it is not necessary for the coach to have better technical skills than the learner. In fact, it can be a serious disadvantage. What is essential is a range of interpersonal skills including good listening, questioning and feedback skills, and the ability to encourage people to think for themselves. The manager also needs an understanding of different learning and personality styles, the ability to build rapport, and self-awareness.

Many of you will be familiar with the widely used GROW model as a means of channelling these sorts of skills and qualities into an effective coaching session. Although I’m going to outline a slightly amended sequence later, no serious treatment of the subject of coaching can ignore GROW so…

The framework provides a simple four-step structure for a coaching session. During the first step of the session (Goal), coach and coachee agree on a specific topic and objective for the discussion. During the second step (Reality), both coach and coachee invite self-assessment and offer specific examples to illustrate their points. They then move into the third step (Options) where suggestions are offered and choices made. And finally (Will), the coach and coachee commit to action, define a timeframe for their objectives and identify how to overcome possible obstacles.

For my book Coaching at Work (John Wiley & Sons 2006) I replaced GROW with ARROW – with Aims instead of Goals and a Reflection stage after Reality – because I sensed many coaches were using GROW on auto-pilot and I wanted to be sure my readers would think about the model. These days I use both ARROW and GROW depending on what my client prefers. However, either of these models – or any of the many others are simply mnemonics, they are not cure alls, and neither are they the be all and end all of coaching The use of GROW or ARROW without the context of raising awareness, generating responsibility and building trust has little value and coaching in this way may cause more problems than it solves. All coaching frameworks must be used in context. Indeed, in research carried out by the Industrial Society the key components of coaching training programmes were cited as active listening (80%), questioning (75%), providing actionable feedback (72%) and facilitating (63%).

It is also worth stressing that the context in which the coaching takes place is all important too. Management writer Christopher Orpen suggested that coaching managers should:

  • Coach on a regular, not annual basis
  • Recognise how their own management might be affecting the situation
  • Provide alternative examples when coaching
  • Focus on behaviours, not attributes; and
  • Use positive reinforcement wherever possible

Coaching and the Hawthorne Effect

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

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Isn't it nice to be noticed?

Isn't it nice to be noticed?

If you want to see an immediate boost in levels of motivation, fire up your word processor and create a quick questionnaire for each of your team members which asks:

  •  What aspect of your job do you most enjoy?
  • What aspect of your job do you least enjoy?
  • What aspect of your job would you most like to see stay the same?

Type up and issue one questionnaire for each member of your team. You may need to explain that you’re looking at ways to improve motivation and that the starting point is getting a better idea of what makes them tick.

You can get people to put their names on the sheets if you like or you can do it anonymously if you think you’ll get a more honest response.

If you think issuing questionnaires is a bit heavy-handed, pop the questions on a flip chart or white board and have an open team discussion around them. Alternatively if there’s a scheduled performance review or appraisal coming up, factor the questions into your one to one discussions.

In any event you’ll be gathering valuable information about levels and types of motivation in the team which you can use to develop a long-term approach.

However, I promised this tip would improve motivation straight away and it will. Here’s how it works: By asking people questions you’ll be paying them attention and you’ll benefit from the ‘Hawthorne effect’

Perhaps the most famous experiments in motivation were carried our by management researcher Elton Mayo and his team at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant in Chicago. Between 1924 and 1932, five sets of tests were conducted in an attempt to understand what made workers assembling telephone equipment more productive.

To begin with the experiments concentrated on improvements to lighting. Productivity indeed improved, but it also improved when the lights were dimmed. This odd result was repeated in experiments which looked at pay, incentives, rest periods, hours of work, and supervision. Mayo advanced two theories.

He firstly suggested that the very fact of being involved in an experiment encouraged the workers to be more productive. It created interest and involvement in their repetitive work, and their managers began taking an interest in how they felt. Mayo’s second theory was that social interaction had a critical effect on motivation because the experiment meant bringing workers together in teams with a positive relationship with a supervisor. In any event it seemed the workers simply appreciated the change the experiments brought about, felt more valued and generally happier and thus their performance improved. So just by issuing your questionnaire you’re showing that you’re taking an interest in your people and that you value their contribution. You should see results improve even if you did nothing more.

This questioning approach lies at the heart of management by coaching. If you embrace the coaching role you’ll be paying this sort of quality attention to your staff every working day. The improvements that follow can be quite staggering. With coaching as the prevailing style you can ensure a constant level of motivation, not just the quick fillip provided by waving the carrot or the stick.