Three Quick Steps to get More Leaders Coaching More Often

by Alan Fine

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In the last three decades my fascination with what drives performance improvement has put me face-to-face with people from many walks of life, all trying to find their best selves. I’ve found that oftentimes, when people want to close the gap between current performance and desired performance they intuitively turn to a coach. One thing I know for sure is that coaching—done well—is instrumental in changing lives and getting peak performance. It’s a performance improvement practice that has proven itself at the individual, team, and organizational level to have immediate and sustainable impact.

However, time and time again I observe organizations getting stuck when it comes to creating a culture of coaching, and making coaching count where it matters most. So why are so many organizations getting stuck and what can be done about it?

Here’s the Situation: More than ever, organizations are embracing workplace coaching as a performance management solution. It’s not just my opinion; here are some of the facts:

  • Recently, Bersin and Associates identified coaching as the #1 talent management best practice.
  • Another study showed that training alone increased productivity by 22.4%, while training plus coaching increased productivity by 88%.
  • Direct reports of effective coaches outperform direct reports of ineffective coaches by 25% and are 40% less likely to leave.

The research clearly shows that coaching has a tremendous impact in the work environment. But even with the research as evidence and organizations embracing the power of workplace coaching, many internal coaching programs lack momentum and adoption, and therefore organizations are not reaping the full benefits of more leaders, coaching often, for more business impact. Why? Because leaders:

  • Don’t have an easy process to coach to,
  • Can’t easily identify coaching opportunities, and
  • Aren’t recognized, held accountable, and rewarded for coaching.

Getting More Leaders, Coaching More Often, For More Impact
If the research shows, and anecdotal evidence reinforces, the value of workplace coaching, why aren’t more leaders coaching? The answer is simple—changing cultural behaviors is always a challenge. In building a coaching culture, there are three critical elements that cause coaching programs to stick.

Three Quick Steps to Get More Leaders Coaching More Often

1. Provide a simple coaching process for leaders
The complexity of human interactions can make coaching conversations difficult to have, especially when high emotions are involved. With a simple coaching process (in other words a conversation map) to follow, coaching can simplify the world of a leader and accelerate the performance of individual contributors and the entire team. To get more leaders coaching more often, a coaching process must be simple enough to use often, and when under pressure. It should also enable people to use or organize knowledge and skills they already have. To gain leader buy-in and organizational adoption, any coaching process must be easy to use, highly transferable, and make a noticeable impact.

When I am working with clients to evaluate coaching solutions for their organization, I am frequently asked:

  • Will people use this?
  • Will results change?
  • Will this go beyond another “flavor of the month?”

These are great questions. The answer to which is yes, provided:

  • The process is simple
  • The process get results quickly and easily
  • The process works in any situation both professional and personal

When an organization has a coaching program that fulfills these criteria, they are set up for leader and organizational adoption.

2. Spot the everyday opportunities.
In its simplest form, coaching is an ongoing dialogue or conversation that helps people get from where they are to where they want to go. These conversations accelerate the speed and accuracy of decisions, or Decision VelocityTM, which lead to actions that generate the desired results. Opportunities to improve Decision Velocity are all around us. Some decisions show up large enough to be recognized easily as coaching opportunities, like devising a 3-year strategy for a department. But, many others are small enough and subtle enough that we don’t see them as decision points.

Some examples of these small decision points might include: how to organize a report or article, how to frame a conversation with a co-worker or even how to respond to an email. Each of these decision points represents an opportunity for coaching. Every day, leaders are presented with big, and small, opportunities to have coaching dialogue — mostly on an informal basis. By recognizing coaching moments more readily, managers and leaders can more consistently tap into the power of coaching and use their coaching skills. Every change in organizational results starts with an individual or group decision. And every decision point is an opportunity to apply coaching to increase the decision velocity—to make the decision faster and more accurate.

So, how can we help leaders in our organizations to spot coaching opportunities? I’ve found that these questions can help uncover potential for having a productive coaching conversation:

  1. Is there a gap between the present state and the desired state?
  2. Is there a problem or issue that needs to be solved?
  3. Does the person (“coachee”) seem stuck or paralyzed by the gap, problem or issue?

Helping leaders uncover coaching opportunities is the second step to getting more leaders coaching more often—and an essential for building an organizational coaching culture.

3. Make Coaching Visible
Given how big an impact coaching can make, it becomes critical to do the same with coaching that we do with anything critical to the performance of an organization. We need to track, measure, reward and reinforce the coaching behaviors. Human beings have a tendency to lose awareness because of our attention to stray. Being able to look in the mirror and see our coaching behaviors is very important in helping us stay focused.

At minimum, asking managers to answer the following four questions will cause them to keep their attention on what’s important:

  1. How much are you coaching? These conversations accelerate the speed and accuracy of decisions, or Decision Velocity™, which lead to actions that generate the desired results.
  2. What are you coaching on (is it what’s most important)?
  3. Is it having an impact?
  4.  What are your insights and learning as you have coached?

Asking managers to regularly (every 2-3 weeks) report on these questions provides the fodder for both bottom-up engagement, as well as top-down reinforcement. Managers expect that they will be asked about their coaching activity and therefore act accordingly. Their bosses, having access to that information, can support, troubleshoot, and respond.
Coaching can be an essential tool to help people do more of the right things, less of the wrong things, and just do things differently. So in our efforts to get more leaders, coaching more often, for more impact, it only makes sense to create visibility into what’s happening so we can coach to their coaching behavior.

Some Final Thoughts
Research and anecdotal experience tells us that coaching can have a meaningful impact on individuals and organizations alike. Developing a coaching culture can be challenging, but the benefits are clear. To start building a coaching culture, following these three steps has proven to be simple and effective.

  1. Provide an easy coaching process for leaders
  2. Spot the everyday opportunities
  3. Make coaching visible It’s no longer a question of whether coaching works or not.

The question now has to be: If you are not getting the results you want from your coaching program, what might be missing in your implementation? Being able to look in the mirror and see our coaching behaviors is very important in helping us stay focused.

Hear more from Alan in his exclusive interview with C-Suite Network Radio — Click here to listen.


Alan Fine, co-creator of the widely recognized GROW® Model, is the founder and president of InsideOut Development. Alan is considered a pioneer of the modern coaching movement, and many of the world’s most respected organizations have adopted his inside-out approach to performance improvement, including IBM, NASA, Honeywell, Gap, and Coca-Cola.
Facebook: Alan Fine | Twitter: @Alan_Fine