Posts Tagged ‘Management’

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.

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.

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?