I received an interesting email from an Industrial Psychologist in Copenhagen this morning, wanting to get some perspective on coaching. Here are some excerpts from the thread:
Industrial Psychologist (IP): I have produced some difficult questions - which come to my mind all the time. Perhaps you can help me clarify them.
Barry Zweibel (beezee): These are, as you put it, some difficult questions, indeed! The real answer can only be "it depends." (And, in that my responses will be based more on an American culture than a Scandinavian one, "it REALLY depends," might be an even more accurate answer!) But let's look at some of the extremes and see how they inform you:
IP: What is the impact of the coaching strategy on organization, team and individual levels?
beezee: Best Case - full alignment between organizational goals/ priorities and the successful implementation of individual/ team objectives. Worst Case - a sub-optimization of individual/ team objectives irrespective of organizational goals/ priorities.
IP: What is the impact of coaching on results and employee satisfaction?
beezee: Best Case - employees feel respected, understood, valued, and motivated to do their best work. Worst Case - employees get totally discouraged after seeing the potential of coaching but realizing that managers aren't really interested in improving.
IP: How do you experience (and enable) the maintenance of the coach-process?
beezee: The ongoing nature of the coaching conversation - occurring over time at intervals close enough together so that motivation and traction are sustained, but not so close together that they become burdensome and/ or don't allow enough time to accomplish identified Next Steps.
IP: Have you been able to create a coaching culture? And if yes, where do you experience this in the daily practice?
beezee: This question applies more to my clients' organizations more than my own, but I believe they would say that the more 'conscious and purposeful' they become about their work on a minute-by-minute basis - and the more they take responsibility for the impact they have on others - the more the culture changes.
IP: What are your experiences when it comes to the systematic way of coaching in daily practice (e.g. booked coach-sessions between manager and subordinate)?
beezee: Ad hoc coaching has value, but pre-scheduling a set of coaching conversations is far more effective from an accountability standpoint. It also enables better preparation, and recognition of (and appreciation of) the importance of these meetings.
IP: How can coaching be a part of the dialogue from the owner perspective, executive down to business area level?
beezee: I think it's a function of the underlying beliefs that the executives hold with respect to the operative employees - are they capable of great things, or not? What are the organizational constraints affecting employee performance and what can be done about them? Whose responsibility is it to try and bring out the best in each and every employee - the employee only, the boss only, or both? Questions like that.
IP: How do you create a powerful relationship (agreement, clarity about roles, leadership style, values, organizational culture) that supports the coaching between the manager and employee.
beezee: This, frankly, is why an external coach can be so much more effective than a boss-as-coach - especially if a boss doesn't know how (or doesn't want) to deal with the mistakes that a coachee will make along the way. (And make no mistake, coachees WILL make mistakes - that's part of how learning happens.) But you've already answered your own question, in that the way to create a powerful coaching relationship is for coach and coachee to reach agreement on what the relationship will look like, how the roles will work, what conversational style will be used, what values will be mutually honored, how will bumps-in-the-road be handled, etc.) In coaching terms, we call this "designing the alliance" and it's an essential component of setting the stage for an effective coaching engagement.
IP: What happens with the authority when a leader starts coaching his/her employees?
beezee: Best Case: the leader is respected all-the-more for being willing to invest the time and effort. Worst Case: The boss doesn't really coach - he or she just pretends to coach, or coaches poorly. Then respect for the boss drops, as does employee morale engagement.