Posts Tagged ‘Coaching’

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

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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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.

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

The link between coaching and learning

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

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And lunch will be at, er, lunchtime

And lunch will be at, er, lunchtime

Take a look at most of the learning and development activity in any organization and you’ll find a concentration on what I’ll call ‘events’. By this I mean training courses, special meetings, workshops, seminars, or even time set aside for on line or distance learning. All well and good but the problem with this concentration on ‘events’ is that it reinforces the limiting belief that learning and performing are separate and competing activities.

We worry about the ‘transfer’ of learning and we ponder how to take learning ‘back’ into the work situation. Coaching resolves the tension between learning and performing by making them part and parcel of the same thing.

With coaching support our people can learn whilst they perform and perform as they learn. Coaching can also provide a far more enjoyable and cost effective route into learning without the reliance on events.

There is a well known model that suggests that learning – or becoming competent – is a question of passing through four distinct phases. Let’s attempt to see how this applies in a typical work situation.

Meet Ed. Ed is a young man who works in a conference centre. Until very recently Ed’s job has been largely manual; putting the chairs in place, rearranging tables, setting up the IT equipment and sorting out flipcharts. One Friday afternoon Ed’s boss informs him that from the following Monday morning she would like Ed to also run through the domestic arrangements with groups of delegates once they have been escorted from the coffee area to the conference room.

 Unconscious incompetence

That Friday evening Ed becomes a bit worried; he starts to fret about Monday. He has listened to his colleagues make the announcements hundreds of times, but he has never addressed a group before. He thinks it might be very difficult, but doesn’t really know why he thinks that.

Conscious incompetence

On Monday morning Ed takes a deep breath and begins his address. Unfortunately he forgets to mention the fire alarm test and tells the group that they will have lunch in the restaurant when in fact they are going to have a buffet in the conference room. He is so nervous that his mouth becomes dry and this makes him even more uncertain in his speech. However he notices many of the people in the room smiling warmly at him and some even chuckle when he makes a couple of witty remarks.

Conscious competence

Over the next couple of week’s it gets easier, Ed has written the points he must cover on a prompt card and finds the whole notion of addressing a group less threatening. He takes a few deep breaths and has a quiet ‘chat with himself’ before entering the room and this all seems to help.

Unconscious competence

Some weeks later Ed barely thinks about announcing the domestic arrangements. He has other things to worry about and when the time comes, he pops into the conference room reels off the announcements and quickly moves on to other things. To the outsider Ed looks the picture of confidence, but he does have a tendency to forget bits of information and can look a bit distracted at times.

We can similarly apply this cycle to most tasks and activities at work. The main lesson for coaching managers is to recognize that learning can only take place in the conscious – or I might say aware – phases of the cycle. Thus coaching questions move people from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence but also from Unconscious Competence back to Conscious Competence to address any bad habits.

We normally let the cycle run its course, but coaching can dramatically accelerate the speed of our journey around it. We often think that we only go round the cycle once, but what would happen if we chose to repeat the cycle time and time again?