The most valuable assets of a 20th century company were its production equipment. The most valuable assets of a 21st century organization … will be its knowledge, workers and their productivity. -Peter Drucker
Peter Drucker is a respected author and opinion leader (he invented process of “management by business objectives”) and I’m positive he would agree that one notable way to get best performance from “workers” and maximize their “productivity” is through coaching; an interactive communication process between members of an organization aimed at exerting a positive influence on performance.
Is coaching developing some momentum? At 2003 ASTD Conference, President Tina Sung spoke of coaching skills as being one of four emerging trends for future. Type “coaching skills” into Google and you’ll find about 5 million entries. Graduate Schools of Management and AIM run courses on it. Even my local suburban newspaper advertises coaching franchises. The AITD’s February meeting in Sydney featured Coaching and drew 85 participants. Who knows, we may soon be watching prime time TV and marvel at a cluster of coaches renovating a block of home units. Now that’s what you call acceptance!
Since coaching is something done with people, rather than to people, just how well prepared (both in skills and attitude) are managers to coach? Managers typically have an innate interpersonal technique, and so perhaps management’s perceived value of coaching can be indicated by how readily it’s being absorbed into business culture and put into practice.
Kate Farrelly reported in Sydney Morning Herald (March 2003) that in “a study of 35,000 managers in Australia and New Zealand their leadership style is oriented towards fear of failure and denial of responsibility rather than pursuing company’s goals and developing good staff relations.” The ASTD’s journal (T&D, March 2003) reports Mercer’s “Effective Management Practices Survey” that found “78% of employees surveyed said their managers routinely conduct annual performance reviews, (while only) 26% said managers routinely provide ongoing coaching and constructive performance feedback.” So, managers are either not coaching or people they’re coaching don’t know when they are being coached! But this data indicates that coaching is one of most avoided of all leadership tasks.
So why in some managers is there a disconnect between manager’s ability and/or willingness to coach and their drive to achieve organization’s goals?
Further to this disconnect, we need to make distinction between “coaching skills” and “effective coaching”. Managers coach when they are willing and able to address effective and efficient performance of tasks. If coaching occurs within an obvious context of a shared vision, corporate objectives, organizational values and performance indicators then what’s achieved is effective coaching.
Finding solutions to this disconnect provides trainers with an opportunity to develop a role as a performance consultant - someone who has a primary role of improving productivity, first through analysis of cause of issue and then, designing appropriate behavior change programs. Start by understanding how managers think. What they do and don’t react to and where their focus is aimed when it comes to people. Stop using “training language” and start using “management language” to improve understanding. Find out what business processes and outcomes managers measure in order to determine productivity and profitability. From a selfish perspective, being an advocate for coaching and being able to communicate this business case for coaching places you in a position of higher value within organization. You show yourself as someone who is on a similar wavelength as managers in helping drive business.
Some managers confuse coaching with simply giving advice. As Gore Vidal said, “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” The reality is often that, as Gordon Dickson noted, “some people like my advice so much that they frame it upon wall instead of using it.” So, what is another alternative, a more effective approach?
There is an increasing need to improve involvement and engagement of all employees to achieve business outcomes. Managers are continually asked to improve productivity without additional resources. One option is to enhance behavior and performance through interactive communication and influence, such as coaching. Managers need to invite employees to participate as partners, develop trusting relationships and combine everyone’s best efforts into creating business solutions. Managers also need to use their coaching skills with people within (who don’t necessarily report to them) and outside their organization.
Typical business performance indicators include productivity, employee turnover, profitability and customer satisfaction. The Gallup Organization published a study that examined relationship between employee perceptions and these performance indicators (Curt Coffman and Jim Harter, 1999). The study found that,