Strategic 360s

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Archive for the ‘Empowerment’ Category

What is a coach? (Redux)

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In an earlier post (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/what-is-a-manager-what-is-a-coach/) I asked the question, “what is a coach?” in the context of the role of manager as coach. A few publications crossed my virtual desk recently that continue to make me think that this question is being addressed from very different angles, neither acknowledging the other.  Let me see if I can bring some focus to this dilemma stemming from the different mental models we have of what “coach” really means.

I think it’s a safe guess that the first vision most of us have when the word “coach” appears is that of the sports coach. From Wikipedia we find this partial definition:

“In sports, a coach is an individual that teaches and supervises, which involves giving directions, instruction and training of the on-field operations of an athletic team or of individual athletes.”  For the purposes of this discussion, I will call this the “Instructor” coach.

Contrast to this definition of coaching/coach (that I have cobbled together from various sources):

Coaching‘ is working together to identify a person’s skills and capabilities and helping that person use their skills and capabilities to the best of their ability.  A “Coach” is the individual who provides coaching.”   I will call this the “Guide” coach.

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive views of what a manager-coach should be. There are situations when each is appropriate.  My sense, though, is that the “Instructor” version is the default definition, i.e., the traditional version of coach and one that most managers find easiest and encouraged by organization. It is the “Guide” version of coaching that is more difficult to master but (I and others would argue) is more effective. More on that later.

So back to the publications I mentioned. The first is an article recently published in Personnel Psychology, “Development and Validation of The Performance Management Behavior Questionnaire” (Kinicki, Jacobson, Peterson and Prussia, 2013).  To cut to the quick, the PMBQ instrument has multiple items/scales that describe manager behaviors associated with performance management, and one of the scales is called “Coaching.”  Its items are these:

15. Shows others how to complete difficult assignments and tasks

16. Provides the resources needed to get the job done

17. Helps identify solutions to overcome performance roadblocks

18. Helps people to develop their skills

19. Provides direction when it is needed

So which type of coach does that sound like to you, Instructor or Guide?  (That’s not a trick question.) As a hint, there is nothing in there that I see that suggests a dialogue with the coachee (employee).

Two points about this research. First, the Subject Matter Experts were largely existing managers who have probably been formed by history, reinforcement and some level of success to define coaching this way.  Second, I was really disappointed to see that they use a frequency scale which I have noted before is seriously flawed both statistically and conceptually.

Compare those items with these sampled from the Perceived Quality of the Employee Coaching Relationship (PQECR) (Gregory and Levy, 2010) that I have integrated into The ManagerCoach© feedback instrument:

My supervisor and I have mutual respect for one another.
My supervisor is easy to talk to.
My supervisor spends more time listening than talking when he/she is coaching me.
I am content to talk about my concerns or troubles with my supervisor.
I feel safe being open and honest with my supervisor.
My supervisor helps me to identify and build upon my strengths.
My supervisor engages in activities that help me unlock my potential.

 

Hopefully those sound more like the “Guide” coach where the relationship comes to the forefront.

It seems like every time I read something about effective managers, the topic of empowering and involving subordinates surfaces.  Such is the case with the most recent issue of People & Strategy Journal (from HRPS) that focuses on the topic of performance management (and also includes an article by Allan Church and myself, but that’s another blog topic to come).  In one piece alone, we find these statements from Gyan Nagpal:

  • …many 21st century employees are rejecting conversations that are one-way…
  • Greater employee autonomy and empowerment also changes the meaning of management.
  • We have gone from a “supervisor of task and outcomes” to an “enabler of performance, innovative thinking and collective success.”

With a related theme, there is the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review with an article titled, “Connect, Then Lead” (Cuddy, Kohut, & Neffinger, 2013) with this observation:

A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.

But, instead of quoting others, let me make my own case for differentiating the Instructor and Guide versions of coaching using the ALAMO model that I have introduced before (most recently, https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/aligning-to-alignment/) where I propose that:

Performance = Alignment x (Ability x Motivation x Opportunity)

The ALAMO view on two types of “coaching” might sound like this as we listen in on the conversation with employees:

Type of Coach

Alignment

Ability

Motivation

Opportunity

Instructor “I know what is best. Go do it.” “Here’s how to do it. It has worked for me.” “Success or failure will affect your PA rating.” “Here’s your time frame and budget.”
Guide “What do you think is the best way to achieve this goal?” “Yes, that approach is a good match for your skills.” “It seems like you are most excited by this approach.” “Are there any barriers that might hinder your progress?”

(Let me note here that there are times when the manager needs to be the “Instructor”, and one of those is in the area of organizational values. Organizational values exist to define and guide appropriate behavior, which is a process of Alignment.  But with Values, the question is not one of Ability but more a matter of choice, i.e., the choice by the employee as to whether (or not) he/she is going to behave that way.  This is where 360’s can be a valuable tool by providing the manager (and organization) reliable data on how these behaviors are observed by others (coworkers and, if applicable, customers).)

It is disappointing when I see organizations define coaching using Instructor language. I believe that most of us see that we have moved toward a more humanistic, involving and empowering model of supervision, reinforced by work configurations (e.g., global, remote, matrix) that demand nontraditional leadership styles.  As importantly, the Guide model of coaching is more sustainable AND more developmental.

©2013 David W. Bracken

Just Shut Up and Listen

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I still get the Sunday New York Times in “hard copy” on Sundays (in addition to the electronic version the other days), partly because my wife and I are addicted to the crosswords.  Let me add that I am one of those people who mourn the fadeout of the newspaper, and often find that browsing the physical newspaper often exposes me to pieces of information that I would otherwise miss in the electronic version (whatever form your “browsing” takes, if at all).  (I believe, for what it’s worth, that a similar phenomenon is happening in the music world with the ease of downloading single songs and probably less “browsing” of albums where some other gems are often lurking.)

Back on topic, the Sunday NYT also has a feature in the Business section called “Corner Office” where a business leader is interviewed.  This week it was Francesca Zambello, general and artistic director of the Glimmerglass Festival and artistic director of the Washington National Opera. When asked about leadership lessons she has learned, she says:

When you’re in your 20s and have that leadership gene, the bad thing is that you don’t know when to shut up. You think you know all the answers, but you don’t. What you learn later is when to just listen to everybody else. I’m finding that all those adages about being humble and listening are truer and truer as I get older. Creativity cannot explode if you do not have the ability to step back, take in what everybody else says and then fuse it with your own ideas.

In the parallel universe of my personal life, my daughter Ali sent along an edition of the ABA Journal that references a study of the happiest and unhappiest workers in the US (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/why_a_career_website_deems_associate_attorney_the_unhappiest_job_in_america/) that cites associate attorney as the unhappiest profession (which by coincidence is her husband’s job).  If you don’t want to go to the link, the five unhappiest jobs are:

1) Associate attorney

2) Customer service associate

3) Clerk

4) Registered nurse

5) Teacher

The five happiest are:

1) Real estate agent

2) Senior quality assurance engineer

3) Senior sales representative

4) Construction superintendent

5) Senior applications designer

Looking at the unhappiest list and possible themes/commonalities among these jobs, one is lack of empowerment and probably similar lack of influence in their work and work environment. (The job of teacher may less so, and its inclusion on this list is certainly troubling and complicated I am sure).  But I suspect that these first four jobs have a common denominator in the way they are managed that ties back to Ms. Zambello’s reflections on her early management style, i.e., having all the answers and not taking advantage of the knowledge and creativity of the staff.  It also causes me to remember the anecdote of the GM retiree who mused, “They paid me for my body. They could have had my mind for free.”

This is certainly not an epiphany for most of us, but more serendipity that two publications this week once again tangentially converged on this topic. I will once again recommend Marshall Goldsmith’s book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” that is a compendium of mistakes that leaders make in their careers, including behaviors that might have served them well when starting their career but lose their effectiveness as they move up the organization. The classic case being the subject matter expert who gets promoted and assumes that being the “expert” is always the road to success. In Marshall’s book there are 20 of these ineffective, limiting behaviors (some might call them “derailers”), and when we think of the prototypical leader who wants to be the “expert” and doesn’t listen, it potentially touches on multiple behaviors in the list of 20, including:

2. Adding too much value

6. Telling the world how smart we are

10. Failing to give proper recognition

11. Claiming credit we don’t deserve

13. Clinging to the past

16. Not listening

Considering this list as possible motivators for the umbrella behavior of “not listening,” we can see how it might be very challenging to change this behavior if the leader believes (consciously or unconsciously) that one or more of these factors are important to maintain, or (as Marshall also notes) are “just the way I am” and not changeable.

We behaviorists believe that any behavior is changeable, whether a person wants to change or not. What is required is first awareness, i.e., that there is a gap between their behavior and the desired/required behavior, followed by motivation to change that may come internal to the person, but more often requires external motivation that usually comes from accountability. Awareness and accountability are critical features of a valid 360 feedback process if designed to create sustainable behavior change.

Let me add that the “shut up and listen” mantra is a core behavior for coaches as well. This consultant believes that the challenge that most organizations have in morphing managers into effective coaches is also rooted in this core belief that the role of coach is to solve problems for their subordinates, versus listening to fully understand the issue and then help the subordinate “discover” the solution that best works for them and the situation.

This is a serious problem that has two major downsides. For one, it, at least in some major way, is likely a root cause of creating the “unhappy” job incumbents that in turn leads to multiple negative outcomes for the organization. The other major downside is a version of our GM retiree’s lament, that is, the organization is losing out capitalizing on a significant resource in the form of the individual and collective contributions of its workforce.

There may be no time in our history where involving our young workers is more critical, which includes listening to their input and empowering them to act. Consider the many reasons that this might be so:

  • The pace of change, internally and externally, requires that we have processes that allow us to recognize and react in ways that most likely will diverge from past practices
  • Younger workers bring perspectives on the environment, technology and knowledge that are often hidden from the older generations (that are, by the way, retiring)
  • As the baby boomers do retire en masse, we need to be developing the next generation of leaders.  Another aside, this means allowing them to fail, which is another leadership lesson that Ms. Zambello mentions (remember her?).

Listening is actually a very complex behavior to change, but it begins with increasing awareness of ineffectiveness, and the creating motivation to change by educating leaders on its negative consequences and lost opportunities.

©2013 David W. Bracken