What’s Coaching when it’s at Work

What’s Coaching when it’s at Work

Training leaders to use the coach approach is the next step for organizations embracing this concept.

If coaching in the workplace didn’t exist, we’d need to invent it. Think about that. Over the last decade, the way people interact with their work and their employers has altered greatly. Empowerment, continuous change, greater emphasis on leadership and teamwork, and the need for flexibility have all created a workplace where coaching is not only the smart way to manage people — it’s perhaps the only way that works.

It no longer makes sense to command and control people when they themselves are responsible for their results. Nor can job-specific training and rigid procedures help people cope with shifting career requirements. A coach approach to managing in the workplace prepares people to make the most of their skills and aptitudes, to recognize the opportunities that best suit their talents, and moves them from motivation to action.
Coaching is sometimes confused with consulting. A consultant provides skills and/or resources to help the client do what they do more effectively. Conversely, manager-coaches help their direct reports acquire these assets themselves so they become better equipped, more resilient, more “employ-able.” In a consulting relationship, the consultant does the work and takes responsibility for the result: in coaching, the coachee is responsible for their own outcomes.
International coach training company, Corporate Coach U, defines coaching as the process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge and opportunities they need to achieve effectiveness in their commitment to themselves, the organization and their work. As such, coaching fits perfectly into the modern manager’s toolkit.
The manager as coach
A prevailing myth is that workplace coaching requires a horde of external coaches or coach-consultants working alongside management. There may be situations in which this is necessary — rapid, tumultuous change, for example — but for most organizations, getting managers to incorporate coaching into their skill set is what works best. Coaching builds on traditional management skills, adding components that encourage personal growth and development, leading to breakthrough performance. It’s become a core management competency in the modern organization.
How do managers acquire these skills? They can learn directly from a coach-mentor or they can take a coach training workshop. Coaching is a comprehensive approach to managing people and it requires a complete re-think of workplace relationships. A hands-on clinic is usually the best way to learn and practice coaching skills.
A word of caution, while many managers think they engage in coaching already, their understanding often comes from the sports world. Although there are many concepts in common, it’s the differences that create confusion and form the distinction between the sports field and the workplace. For example, the sports coach is seen as the expert who likely played the game once and knows the ins and outs of how to play. Whereas the leader-coach is likely not an expert in every job position, rather knows what outcomes are needed from each player. Coaching in the workplace is not about knowing the answers, but about knowing what questions to ask to support team members to create their own game plans.
Over the years I have worked with leaders in many different countries who believed that coaching is really telling others what to do, how to do it and then sending them on their way with a pat on the back and a you-can-do-it positive attitude. This point of view quickly changes once we start to explore the foundational principles coaching is based on. The first principle I put forward is “coaching is based on the belief that people hold their own answers within.”
Embracing this principle then allows managers to make the paradigm shift needed to fully engage in coaching, vs. simply telling, or being the source of all solutions. Once we get to that place, then the work begins on the skills needed to be an effective organizational coach. Before fully embracing this principle, someone always asks the obvious question: “What if “they”[coachee] really don’t know?” Good question. How would you reply?
Think of coaching along a continuum where the focus shifts from you (the coach) to me (the coachee). In between the coach wears many hats, from manager, mentor, consultant, teacher or trainer. But always returns to the coachee for the commitment or action steps. For example, a manager may teach a direct report how to initiate a procedure or take responsibility for a project. And then return to a coaching question to support the individual to be successful in taking on the new responsibility.
Remembering the first principle of coaching allows the leader to change the nature of the conversation to one that promotes self discovery, solutions and commitments. An effective leader-coach needs to build a repertoire of powerful, open, discovery questions. When you let go of being the source of all solutions, it frees up the conversation to be exploratory and developmental. You could even call coaching the true meaning of empowerment in the workplace.
Marilyn Duggan, director of human resources for Methanex Corporation, has been encouraging managers to develop coaching skills for years. “I think coaching is the key to getting the best from people,” she says. “Coaching helps overcome the disconnect that often happens between people.”
One of the benefits of the coach approach is that managers are better equipped to delegate. Delegation through coaching is about “getting things done through people,” says Duggan. “Not telling, but helping them discover. They feel better, and you can delegate confidently—confident that they’ll come back to seek support.”
Denny Lowes is human resources manager for Mainland Engineering Corporation, a road construction company. He has spent the past year using his coaching skills wherever possible, and encouraging Mainland managers to adopt a coaching approach, reflecting a company-wide commitment to help all staff build coaching skills.
“It’s been a very good experience for moving people forward, rather than giving them the answers,” he says. “Before, it was just a problem that I had to solve. Now I say keep the problem and I’ll give you the power to handle it. In the past it was more about me; I was happy that I’d solved their problem. Now the reward comes later, but it’s more gratifying that the person found their own solution.”
The City of Richmond’s vision is to be the most appealing, liveable and well-managed community in the country. They have introduced coaching as part of a strategy to develop leadership skills with their management team.
According to Human Resources Manager Rae Williamson, so far Richmond has trained more than 140 managers including the Fire Chief and his deputies, senior executives, managers and front line supervisors.
“We’ve seen a different culture emerging,” says Williamson, “one that is more collaborative, where employees step forward with ideas and contributions. Our people believe they are being heard.”
Libby Rush is with the B.C. Ministry of Finance’s human resource services branch. “My role involves working with managers to improve their performance,” says Rush. “I consider coaching to be a critical management skill. Coaching is helping managers move to a new level of competency.”
And why is this change necessary? “Roles are changing because we’re becoming more people focused, more team oriented,” says Rush. “Coaching supports collaboration — you and I working together to help you come up with the right answer. Managers are starting to realise the value of coaching.” Rush expects that over time, through adopting a simple step-by-step process, coaching will become automatic and become an unconscious competency.
“Coaching is such common sense,” says Rush. “I just think it’s about time”
Principles of Coaching
1. coaching is based on the belief that people hold their own answers within
2. coaching is a collaborative partnership – it is not something you ‘do’ to someone
3. coaching is a positive conversation – it is not used as a punishment
4. coaching is about moving forward, creating action – it is not focused on the past
5. coaching is transformational vs. transactional – it’s an ongoing developmental conversation
6. the coachee does ‘the work’, the coach creates the environment, asks powerful discovery questions, and provides support
7. the coaching conversation is roughly 80:20 with the coachee talking most
Getting Started:
Cheryl’s Theory of Knock Knock Coaching
The easiest way to begin to use the skill of coaching is to seize ‘coachable moments’. For example, when the knock comes to your door from a team member who asks “what do you want me to do about this?” try taming your auto-problem-solver muscle and try using your coaching muscle. Imagine you have a beach ball in your hand, and you immediately toss it to the coachee with a question: “What would you recommend?” “What have you thought of so far?” “What would you like to see happen?”  This gets into coaching mode immediately. Try and see if you don’t discover what others have found: it works and it’s easy (even easier than doing all the work yourself.)

Training leaders to use the coach approach is the next step for organizations embracing this concept.

If coaching in the workplace didn’t exist, we’d need to invent it. Think about that. Over the last decade, the way people interact with their work and their employers has altered greatly. Empowerment, continuous change, greater emphasis on leadership and teamwork, and the need for flexibility have all created a workplace where coaching is not only the smart way to manage people — it’s perhaps the only way that works.

It no longer makes sense to command and control people when they themselves are responsible for their results. Nor can job-specific training and rigid procedures help people cope with shifting career requirements. A coach approach to managing in the workplace prepares people to make the most of their skills and aptitudes, to recognize the opportunities that best suit their talents, and moves them from motivation to action.

Coaching is sometimes confused with consulting. A consultant provides skills and/or resources to help the client do what they do more effectively. Conversely, manager-coaches help their direct reports acquire these assets themselves so they become better equipped, more resilient, more “employ-able.” In a consulting relationship, the consultant does the work and takes responsibility for the result: in coaching, the coachee is responsible for their own outcomes.

International coach training company, Corporate Coach U, defines coaching as the process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge and opportunities they need to achieve effectiveness in their commitment to themselves, the organization and their work. As such, coaching fits perfectly into the modern manager’s toolkit.

The manager as coach

A prevailing myth is that workplace coaching requires a horde of external coaches or coach-consultants working alongside management. There may be situations in which this is necessary — rapid, tumultuous change, for example — but for most organizations, getting managers to incorporate coaching into their skill set is what works best. Coaching builds on traditional management skills, adding components that encourage personal growth and development, leading to breakthrough performance. It’s become a core management competency in the modern organization.

How do managers acquire these skills? They can learn directly from a coach-mentor or they can take a coach training workshop. Coaching is a comprehensive approach to managing people and it requires a complete re-think of workplace relationships. A hands-on clinic is usually the best way to learn and practice coaching skills.

A word of caution, while many managers think they engage in coaching already, their understanding often comes from the sports world. Although there are many concepts in common, it’s the differences that create confusion and form the distinction between the sports field and the workplace. For example, the sports coach is seen as the expert who likely played the game once and knows the ins and outs of how to play. Whereas the leader-coach is likely not an expert in every job position, rather knows what outcomes are needed from each player. Coaching in the workplace is not about knowing the answers, but about knowing what questions to ask to support team members to create their own game plans.

Over the years I have worked with leaders in many different countries who believed that coaching is really telling others what to do, how to do it and then sending them on their way with a pat on the back and a you-can-do-it positive attitude. This point of view quickly changes once we start to explore the foundational principles coaching is based on. The first principle I put forward is “coaching is based on the belief that people hold their own answers within.”

Embracing this principle then allows managers to make the paradigm shift needed to fully engage in coaching, vs. simply telling, or being the source of all solutions. Once we get to that place, then the work begins on the skills needed to be an effective organizational coach. Before fully embracing this principle, someone always asks the obvious question: “What if “they”[coachee] really don’t know?” Good question. How would you reply?

Think of coaching along a continuum where the focus shifts from you (the coach) to me (the coachee). In between the coach wears many hats, from manager, mentor, consultant, teacher or trainer. But always returns to the coachee for the commitment or action steps. For example, a manager may teach a direct report how to initiate a procedure or take responsibility for a project. And then return to a coaching question to support the individual to be successful in taking on the new responsibility.

Remembering the first principle of coaching allows the leader to change the nature of the conversation to one that promotes self discovery, solutions and commitments. An effective leader-coach needs to build a repertoire of powerful, open, discovery questions. When you let go of being the source of all solutions, it frees up the conversation to be exploratory and developmental. You could even call coaching the true meaning of empowerment in the workplace.

Marilyn Duggan, director of human resources for Methanex Corporation, has been encouraging managers to develop coaching skills for years. “I think coaching is the key to getting the best from people,” she says. “Coaching helps overcome the disconnect that often happens between people.”

One of the benefits of the coach approach is that managers are better equipped to delegate. Delegation through coaching is about “getting things done through people,” says Duggan. “Not telling, but helping them discover. They feel better, and you can delegate confidently—confident that they’ll come back to seek support.”

Denny Lowes is human resources manager for Mainland Engineering Corporation, a road construction company. He has spent the past year using his coaching skills wherever possible, and encouraging Mainland managers to adopt a coaching approach, reflecting a company-wide commitment to help all staff build coaching skills.

“It’s been a very good experience for moving people forward, rather than giving them the answers,” he says. “Before, it was just a problem that I had to solve. Now I say keep the problem and I’ll give you the power to handle it. In the past it was more about me; I was happy that I’d solved their problem. Now the reward comes later, but it’s more gratifying that the person found their own solution.”

The City of Richmond’s vision is to be the most appealing, liveable and well-managed community in the country. They have introduced coaching as part of a strategy to develop leadership skills with their management team.

According to Human Resources Manager Rae Williamson, so far Richmond has trained more than 140 managers including the Fire Chief and his deputies, senior executives, managers and front line supervisors.

“We’ve seen a different culture emerging,” says Williamson, “one that is more collaborative, where employees step forward with ideas and contributions. Our people believe they are being heard.”

Libby Rush is with the B.C. Ministry of Finance’s human resource services branch. “My role involves working with managers to improve their performance,” says Rush. “I consider coaching to be a critical management skill. Coaching is helping managers move to a new level of competency.”

And why is this change necessary? “Roles are changing because we’re becoming more people focused, more team oriented,” says Rush. “Coaching supports collaboration — you and I working together to help you come up with the right answer. Managers are starting to realise the value of coaching.” Rush expects that over time, through adopting a simple step-by-step process, coaching will become automatic and become an unconscious competency.

“Coaching is such common sense,” says Rush. “I just think it’s about time”

Principles of Coaching

1. coaching is based on the belief that people hold their own answers within

2. coaching is a collaborative partnership – it is not something you ‘do’ to someone

3. coaching is a positive conversation – it is not used as a punishment

4. coaching is about moving forward, creating action – it is not focused on the past

5. coaching is transformational vs. transactional – it’s an ongoing developmental conversation

6. the coachee does ‘the work’, the coach creates the environment, asks powerful discovery questions, and provides support

7. the coaching conversation is roughly 80:20 with the coachee talking most

Getting Started:

Cheryl’s Theory of Knock Knock Coaching

The easiest way to begin to use the skill of coaching is to seize ‘coachable moments’. For example, when the knock comes to your door from a team member who asks “what do you want me to do about this?” try taming your auto-problem-solver muscle and try using your coaching muscle. Imagine you have a beach ball in your hand, and you immediately toss it to the coachee with a question: “What would you recommend?” “What have you thought of so far?” “What would you like to see happen?”  This gets into coaching mode immediately. Try and see if you don’t discover what others have found: it works and it’s easy (even easier than doing all the work yourself.)

Cheryl Smith, MA, MCC, is known as “The Coaches’ Coach”, she is an executive coach and founder of OurCoach, an international coaching and training organization; she has worked with and trained thousands of coaches and leaders on five continents, she’s the former Vice-President of the leading global coach training company, Corporate Coach U; an associate faculty member at Royal Roads University’s masters in leadership program; a co-founder of the Executive Coaching Certificate Program at Royal Roads; and a Master Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation. She is co author of the popular training program “Navigational Coaching: Strategic coaching skills for corporate leaders”. Contact: cheryl@ourcoach.com

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