We’ll start by considering the change in circumstances that would indicate a need to move from the more controlling ‘tell what and how’, to the more empowering (responsibility generating) coaching approach.
When learning from the experience is paramount it’s time to coach. There is very little learning that happens from the tell style apart from perhaps learning how to keep our heads down and learning how to cover up errors. Being told what to do does not engage our brains and so we do not forge new connections and insights; we do not learn. There is also the problem of recall with one study showing that after three months participants could remember only 10% of what they’d been told. Coaching, with its emphasis on awareness, responsibility and trust creates perfect conditions for enduring learning. When there is a need to avoid repeating errors, to find new ways of doing things and to create independence of thought there is a consequent need for learning and therefore coaching.
When motivation appears to be waning, it’s time to coach. This can be a sure sign that the tell approach has done its job. Unless the coachee feels completely lost – in which case they’ll still need a lot of direction – motivation will be higher when we involve people in what they do through coaching; fostering a sense of performance, learning and enjoyment. Look out for people beginning to question your instructions and disagreeing with your suggestions. This does not make them right and you wrong, it’s just an indicator that they’re beginning to think independently. Why not harness this rather than resisting it?
When the quality of output has become crucial, it’s time to coach. There’s an old saying in sports coaching along the lines of ‘you can make me run, but only I can choose to run fast’. There is a natural version of this in coaching at work along the lines of, ‘You can make me work, but only I can choose to work well’. Quality of output has taken on great importance in recent years. Driven by innovations in manufacturing such as ‘just in time’ and ‘lean production’ all sorts of organizations are seeking ways to increase the quality of what they offer in line with their customer’s increasing expectations. Getting a workforce to embrace quality is difficult at the best of times and downright impossible if we command them to improve quality; it doesn’t work like that. In the end, the importance of quality resides in the hearts and minds of employees and thus they need convincing and to feel involved, which once again requires us to move from telling to coaching.
There are certain critical tasks where failure would lead to disaster that managers need to control in every detail, but these are fewer than we care to admit and for the most part coaching will get us further than telling when dealing with a team of people who have the basic skills and knowledge.