Why Organizations Must Internalize the Skill of Coaching

For over a decade now, I’ve been passionate about the topic of coaching in the context of an organization. I’ve studied, practiced, and even dipped into a bit of primary researched on the subject. I bewildered as to why more organizations have not tapped into this powerful approach. Not only is it an extremely effective method of developing people, it is absolutely critical to moving your continuous improvement efforts beyond the project and tool-focused stage. That stage may be a natural and beneficial stage, but it is unlikely to sustain efforts for continued improvement. Coaching is the best known method of developing the capacity for continued improvements in all processes within an organization.

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Lean and/or Six Sigma training alone is not sufficient. Neither are workshops, Value-Stream events, or focused improvement projects. Of course these are important and valuable pieces, but they can only take an organization so far. Using a “traditional”, Western, approach many organizations utilize some combination of formal training and then create project team which are led by one of the formally trained individuals. However, we know that 3-5 years after beginning an improvement initiative, the organization’s leaders will rate the initiative as a failure more than 70% of the time (1).

So what is it that has to change? W. Edwards Deming noted that “95% of all troubles in an organization are a result of the system and only 5% are the result of people” (2). In this same light, Mike Rother offers this; “most companies are led, managed, and populated by thoughtful, hardworking people who want their organization, their team, to succeed. The conclusion has become clear: it is not the people, but rather the prevailing management system with which we work that is a culprit.” Finally, John C. Maxwell tells us that “if you really want to be a successful leader, you must develop other leaders around you” (3). In my interpretation, organizations desperately need to get a grasp on the coaching opportunities that exist every day!

lead by example

To take an Appreciate Inquiry view on the last paragraph, one study found that “training increased productivity by 28 percent. The training plus coaching increased productivity by 88 percent. Other studies show that coaching increases the effects of training six-fold” (4). This is because the leader that coaches “helps people throughout the organization develop systemic understandings.” (5) Toyota understands this well; the task of their “managers and leaders does not revolve around improvement per se, but around increasing the improvement capability of people” (6). The evidence is clear; coaching is very effective because it causes the coachee to explore and uncover underlying beliefs, assumptions, and interpretations that exist in their minds; mental models are explored and questioned in order to assist them in discovering realities and, therefore, possibilities.

Not only do organization need to develop this skill, but I also believe that people crave the coaching of a mentor or supervisor. While I was doing some research on leadership development inside one of Canada’s largest independent petroleum distributors, I found that its leaders and managers, without exception, noted that the most influential input into their leadership development was a combination of day-to-day experiences. Sadly, for this group, these experiences were primarily self-administered and self-taught. The few that did receive coaching, as opposed to direction, from their supervisors all showed evidence of becoming a more effective leader themselves. I can only imagine the lost opportunity to coach those leaders and increase the learning and its speed within the organization.

So how does an organization tap into this skill? Very often people think of coaching as the provision of wisdom and/or blind spot and error detection and correction by the coach for the coachee. However, effective coaching does not work like this. In fact, the first assumption by and effective coach is that they themselves do not know the solution to the problem or the best course of action for the coachee. The effective coach is more interested in how the coachee approaches his/her thinking about the topic at hand. The coach helps the coachee to explore the coachee’s own thought processes and develop more effective approaches to solution development. Since beliefs drive actions, this approach will begin to change the coachee’s behaviours in order to achieve their desired results.

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In the context of an organization, the coach will also need to the organization’s vision, strategies, and objectives in order to ask the best probing questions of the coachee. Perhaps the most challenging effort for the coach is that of not jumping to their own conclusions and/or relying on their own experiences. Doing so will risk reverting to the provision of the coach’s own wisdom. Of course, there will be occasions where the coach will need to be directive, but this will depend on the skill and knowledge level that the coachee has in regard to the topic or problem. As you can see, the skill of coaching is not simple; it is one that requires practice and dedication.

Toyota’s Fujio Cho said, simply, “Go see, ask why, show respect” (7). This is a brilliant insight into the mind and heart of an effective coach. Most of us will need a bit more than this in order to begin practicing and improving our own coaching skills. In his book, Masterful Coaching (8), Hargrove defines these six different coaching “caps” that a masterful coach will use:

  • Declaring New Possibilities Cap : Used to brainstorm alternative possibilities
  • Thinking Partner Cap: Asks “What do you think”, then build on best ideas
  • Drawing Others Out Cap: Assumes the answer is within the person. It is the coach’s job to draw it out.
  • Reframing Cap: Used to shift the coachee’s thinking, or frame of reference
  • Teaching and Advising Cap: Used to communicate a teachable point of view
  • Forwarding Action Cap: Used to move people toward their goals without overwhelming them
  • In The Heart of Coaching (9), Crane writes of “learning questions” used to explore beliefs and their implications. He provides us with a handy reference, in the form of A-E-I-O-U, to guide us in our use of these probing questions:A = Awareness (what has been noticed)
    E = Experience (thoughts and feelings)
    I = Intention (purpose and goals)
    O = Ownership (their part in the outcome)
    U = Understanding (their interpretation)

Finally, Rother describes Toyota’s “Coaching Kata” by laying out this basic problem-solving approach (below) in Toyota Kata (6). He then goes on to describe how the coaching process unfold within Toyota. The approach is not new, but Toyota has focused intensely on building the skill within ALL of its managers and leaders. If there is a “secret” to Toyota’s improvement success, it is this! Toyota routinely and vehemently focuses on improving its collecting coaching capabilities which in turn enables continued process improvements in all process at all times. This is how an organization can move beyond the project-focused stage of its overall improvement efforts. If I were to pick one quote from Toyota Kata that best describes how effective coaching can accomplish this, it would be this; “the goal is not necessarily to develop the very best solution today, but to develop the capability of the people in the organization to solve problems” (6).

  • Pick up the Problem: Problem Consciousness
  • Grasp the Situation (Go and See)
  • Investigate Causes
  • Develop and Test Countermeasure
  • Follow Up

While it may seem rather ironic that an organization may have to begin with formal training in the area of coaching when I’ve noted that formal training cannot, by itself continue to improve an organization. However, there is a significant difference between coaching skills continuous improvement tools. An organization can only get so good at applying continuous improvement tools, but the skill of coaching will continue to improve as long as it is being practiced. With continued improvement dependent on the organization’s capability to improve and the organization’s capability to improve dependent on its coaching skills, we can understand why it is important for organizations to master this skill.

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References

  1. Bremmer, Michael and McKibben, Brian. Escape the Improvement Trap: Five Ingredients Missing in Most Improvement Recipes. 2011.
  2. Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. 2000.
  3. Maxwell, John C. Developing the Leaders Around You. 2005.
  4. Driving Organizational Change with Internal Coaching Programs: Part One. Rock, David and Donde, Ruth. s.l. : Industrial and Commercial Training, 2008.
  5. Smith, Mark K. Peter Genge and The Learning Organization. Infed.org. [Online] [Cited: September 8, 2008.] http://www.infed.org/thinkers/senge/htm.
  6. Rother, Mike. Toyota Kata. 2010.
  7. Womack, Jim. Gemba Walks. 2013.
  8. Hargrove, Robert. Masterful Coaching. 2003.
  9. Crane, Thomas G. The Heart of Coaching. 2007.

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