Coaching has become one of those catch-all phrases like strategy, quality or process. Because of its popularity, coaching has sometimes been misused. Those who use coaches sometimes are more excited about the prospect of being coached than about changing. To overcome such generalities and misuses, coaching needs to move from platitudes to greater professionalism.
Making coaching more professional requires clear definition of the desired results of coaching. Coaching is not merely about a process of finding someone with whom to confer, but should have clear results that define the outcome of the engagement. There are two general coaching results: behavior change and strategy realization.
Behavior change means that the executive being coached has behavioral predispositions that get in the way of being an effective executive. When specific behaviors are identified, examined and modified, coaches help executives change.
Strategy realization means that the executive being coached needs guidance in clarifying and focusing the business strategy to help the business achieve financial, customer or organization goals.
Coaching for Behavior Change
Changing behavior is not easy. Research shows that about 50 percent of an individual's values, attitudes and behaviors come from DNA and heritage; the other 50 percent are learned over time.1 An implication of the 50/50 nature/nurture, born/bred debate is that while the past sets conditions on our behavior, our behavior is not preconditioned. Any leader can modify behavior through effective coaching. Below are some of the hints for doing coaching that produces behavioral results.2
Know Why. Until there is a need for change, change will not occur. Once clients understand why they should change they are more likely to accept what they should change.
Collect Data. Often single events or observations from single individuals are episodes, not patterns. Coaching should be about patterns. Generally, people can identify their strengths more than their weaknesses; collecting data from more objective others can help clients better face reality. For instance, leadership 360s provide a marvelous source of data.
Prioritize. Not everything worth changing can or should be changed. In behavior coaching, it is critical to identify the one or two key behaviors that most need to be changed and that will have the most impact.
Be Behavioral. Abstract goals will result in abstract changes; specific behavioral goals will result in specific changes. Sometimes the results of interviews are generic, e.g., "she is not a good people person." In these cases, it is important to go deeper and identify specific behaviors that result in that conclusion. Deeper probes generally focus on situations: "Can you think of a situation where she treated people poorly? What specifically did she do? What could or should she have done differently?"
Focus on the Future More than the Past. Coaching is not therapy. In cognitive or psychoanalytic therapy, the therapist works to identify underlying causes of a behavior. Coaches do not need to be therapists to focus on behavior change. Behavior coaching identifies what behaviors are causing dysfunctions, then focuses on the future and how to promote different behaviors.
Go Public. Commitment goes up when we go public and become personally transparent with our intentions and desires. When an executive has identified an area to improve, it is helpful to share this commitment with others.
Find Support. It is hard to clap with one hand and it is hard to change by oneself. Almost every executive I have seen who has made behavioral change has had enormous support from trusted advisors, including assistants, non-work friends, spouses and children.
Start Small, Keep Going. Most large change starts with small steps. Once executives have picked a behavior that they want to change, I have found four "threes" a helpful way to embed the behavioral change:
- Three hours. In the next three hours, what can you do to exhibit the new behavior?
- Three days. In the next three days, what can you do to demonstrate sustained commitment to the new behavior?
- Three weeks. In the next three weeks, make sure that the new behavior change shows up in activities and relationships.
- Three months. After about three months of working on the new behavior, if you continue with it, it begins to become part of your identity and others treat you accordingly.
Learn. Learning should be less an event and more a natural process. The best learners are inquisitive, self-reflective and adaptive. They are constantly asking what works and what does not, then trying to put those insights into a future context. In time, coaches should be replaced by self-observation.
Follow-up. Finally, behavior coaching needs indicators of progress. Re-administering a 360, re-doing interviews, or debriefing the behavior change process enables an executive to monitor progress. If behavior change did not occur, the coach did not fulfill his or her assignment.
Coaching for behavior change changes behaviors. The end result is that the leader personalizes a new set of behaviors, and as learned behaviors become natural acts, leaders change their identities and reputations.
Coaching for Strategic Results
Strategic results coaching focuses more on helping the executive gain clarity about the results he or she hopes to accomplish and how to make them happen. It is less psychological and more organizational. It also builds on the philosophy of trust, relationship and collaboration, but focuses this philosophy on helping the executive clarify and reach goals.
In my strategy coaching, I have adapted the following steps depending on the situation:
Step 1: Clarify Your Business or Organization Strategy
Coaching in the context of strategy assures that the executive has a clear sense of what he or she is trying to accomplish and sets the criteria for being successful. A strategy is a succinct statement of what the executive hopes to accomplish and how resources will be applied to that purpose.
Step 2: Describe Your Personal Style
Every executive has a style, or way of getting things done. This style is based on dozens of choices about how the executive makes decisions, processes information, treats people and prefers working. Each style may be modified by identifying and changing behaviors that lead to the style.
Questions to address managerial style:
- What is your managerial identity? How are your known by others? How would you like to be known by others? What is your leadership brand?
- What are you managerial strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you generally treat others, make decisions, handle conflict, manage information?
Step 3: Define Stakeholders
Every executive gets work done through, with, and by others, termed stakeholders. These stakeholders may be identified by asking the executive who he or she must interact with to get the job done.
Questions to define stakeholders:
- Who must you interact with to reach your strategy?
- Who is affected by the work that you do?
- Who would you turn to in order to define your managerial style?
Step 4: Specify Goals for Each Stakeholder
Stakeholders have an interest in and impact on an executive's success. To reach a business strategy, each stakeholder must provide something.
Questions to specify stakeholder goals:
- In the next period of time (3, 6, 12, or 24 months), what do you want to accomplish with each stakeholder?
- What does each stakeholder contribute to your reaching your strategy?
Step 5: Prioritize Each Stakeholder and Goal
Executives need to prioritize stakeholders based on how central they are to achieving business strategy. Also, strategies are time-bound and the key stakeholders for the next three months may be different than the stakeholders for the succeeding, or preceding, three months.
Questions to prioritize stakeholders and goals:
- How important is each stakeholder for reaching your goal?
- Rate each stakeholder 0 to 10 for the next period of time
- Divide 100 points across the stakeholders to prioritize their impact on your strategies.
- Rank the stakeholders (from high to low) in terms of impact on your strategies
Step 6: Allocate Time
Where executives spend time communicates what matters most and sends signals to others about what they should do. Coaches can help leaders spend time wisely by focusing on what executives can and should do with each stakeholder.
Questions to help leaders allocate time:
- How much time in days do you think you should spend with each stakeholder given the priorities you have set?
- What specific behaviors and actions can you take with each stakeholder to accomplish your goals?
- How would these actions show up in your calendar? Remember that your calendar should probably be 30-40 percent unscheduled as events arise that merit attention, but the other 60-70 percent can be structured to ensure that you accomplish what matters most.
- How will you track your return on time invested?
Step 7: Determine Success
The desire to succeed turns into success once it is measured. Coaches help determine measures of success that executives can then track on their own.
Questions to help determine successful measures:
- How will you know you have succeeded in your overall strategy and in your goals with each stakeholder?
- How will you monitor your progress?
Coaching for results can focus on either behavior or strategy. Knowing one's own approach enables the coach to better align with the client to make sure that coaching works. As a result of good coaching, leaders develop personal brands that distinguish them for all stakeholders-employees, customers, investors and communities.
1 A review of this work was presented at 21st Annual SIOP (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology), Dallas, Texas, April 2006, in a paper by Richard D. Arvey, Maria Rotundo, Wendy Johnson, Zhen Zhang, & Matt McGue entitled "Genetic and Environmental Components of Leadership Role Occupancy." The nature/nurture debate is also dealt with in:
Bouchard, Thomas J. Jr., David T. Lykken, Matthew McGue, Nancy L. Segal, & Auke Tellegen. 1990. "Sources of Human Psychological Differences: The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart." Science, Oct 12: 223-228.
Harris, Judith Rich. 1998. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: The Free Press.
Harris, Judith Rich. 1995. "Where Is the Child's Environment? A Group Socialization Theory of Development." Psychological Review. 102 (3), July: 458-489.
McGue, M., T., J. Bouchard, Jr., W. G. Iacono, & D. T. Lykken.1993. "Behavioral Genetics of Cognitive Ability: A Life-span Perspective." In Nature, Nurture, and Psychology, edited by R. Plomin & G. E. McClearn. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association: 59-76.
2 The list of behavior coaching tips come from observing, listening to, and learning from great colleagues who have been my mentors and advisors, including Wayne Brockbank, Ralph Christensen, Bob Eichinger, Marshall Goldsmith, Francis Hesselbein, Steve Kerr, Dale Lake, Paul McKinnon, Bonner Ritchie, Norm Smallwood, Paul Thompson, Warren Wilhelm, and Jack Zenger. It is difficult to attribute any one idea to any one person, but I am indebted to each of these colleagues for these ideas.