Two Questions to Ask Your Coach

June 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

The coaching industry has enjoyed explosive growth over the past decade. Even though the recession of 2008 has caused a flattening out of its growth as companies cut “non-essential” services, coaching remains a very popular service for business executives.
Why is coaching needed?
According to a professional Human Resource consulting company 2008 survey of 4,700 executives, two critical organizational capabilities need to be developed:
• The ability to manage talent
• The ability to improve leadership
The shift in our economy from local to global and from industrial age to knowledge age has created pressure on leaders to improve these competencies quickly and coaching is seen as one way to accomplish this.
The purpose of coaching is to create innovative solutions to problems through a specific process of cooperative dialogue between the individual and his/her coach. This relationship is unique and requires a high level of trust along with a specific process and a sense of accountability in order to generate desired results.
But, are we missing something? The aim of this article is to point out two possible opportunities to improve the way we view coaching and therefore improve our ability to increase performance for the entire organization and not just the individuals being coached. There are two questions I recommend we ask our coaches to be sure they will help both the individual being coached as well as the organization within which they work.
I want to ask these two questions because I believe we cannot separate the behaviors of the individual from the context within which they work. The interaction between the individual being coached and their work environment (or the system) is a major influencing factor and cannot be overlooked or ignored during the coaching process.
Ask them their theory: “Please tell me the theory behind your coaching process?”
A coach’s theory will determine their process and therefore determine their advice. Coaching is a process (according to all three of the largest coaching associations) and a process comes from theory, “if you do this action, this result will occur.” According to Gary Hamel our mental models are out dated and need an upgrade. We are now operating in the knowledge economy where we need optimum trust and there is a deficit of trust. Leaders need to know the most effective theory and align their actions with it for them to achieve optimum results.
A shift in thinking provides a whole new universe of ideas and solutions. Without the right theory coaching will be stalled because the ideas created will be stale or outdated.
Two ways to ask this question include: “please explain why your process works? Or…tell me the theory behind your process?” These questions will reveal how the coach thinks about people and problems.
I personally prefer and embrace the Theory of Profound Knowledge created by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Deming helps me to understand the impact of the interactions between the work environment (the system) and the individual. This environment (or context) influences actions and decisions of the individuals being coached.
One of the most important parts of Deming’s theory is “appreciation for a system.” A system is a series of interdependent processes that attempt to achieve the aim of the system. Deming believes that this system has an enormous impact on the individual behaviors. A coach that does not recognize and/or embrace this idea may miss major opportunities for improvement for the individual.
Ask if they know how to study a system: “How do you help individuals who are impacted by the system in which they work?”
If a coach appreciates a system he/she probably knows how to study it. But, you better check. Without this skill the coach will limit his/her advice to actions only the individual can take and it may avoid actions others can take to influence the system.
Sr. leaders have the most influence over the system policies and procedures. If these policies or procedures are ineffective or dysfunctional they will impact the individual being coached and may be some of the most significant barriers preventing that individual from achieving his/her goals. If the coach knows how to study a system he/she will probably be able to influence others in power. The chances for improvement are increased exponentially.
Summary
Coaching that is limited to individual behavior change may not be enough to create significant improvements in behavior or performance. Without appreciation of a system and without the skills to study that system a coach’s effectiveness can be significantly reduced. It’s better to ask them specifically what they know before you put all your trust in their competencies.

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