3Jan/130

Benchmarks Are Dangerous

Posted by WABC

By Howard Morgan and Cathy Swody

As leaders and coaches, we recognize how important it is for people to understand how they are performing. To increase understanding, we encourage the use of assessments and 360-degree feedback as tools for providing insights into leadership. Progressive clients even use employee surveys to inform leaders how well they are engaging their teams. We hope that these tools will provide a better understanding of the current situation in an organization and form the foundation for positive personal/organizational change.

Regardless of the type of assessment or feedback process, leaders frequently want to know how their scores compare to everyone else's scores. "Is this a good score?" "How do other people typically rate here?" These questions come as no surprise to any of us. People want to compare their results to a known standard or benchmark. Basically, we are all competitive and like any other competition, we want to perform at the highest level.  As companies, or individuals in companies, we want to know how good we are doing compared to the competition. But do we really want to know? If we do, relying on benchmarks from other companies to interpret a person's results can be problematic. In our own experience, we have seen the following three pitfalls in making these dangerous comparisons:

1. Benchmarks are ambiguous.

Uncertainty about what benchmark numbers truly represent limits their value. Benchmarks, in many ways, are a "black box." What goes in the box? The selection of companies represented in the benchmark is often biased. Benchmarks are not necessarily the best companies.  Rather, benchmarks typically reflect a sample of convenience-the best clients of a particular consulting firm, for instance. Even if details such as the industry, geographical location, and organizational size are supplied, the benchmark may not be a useful referent point. Such factors as the type of instrument and the commonality of the questions can also be challenges in uniquely different companies. Many times, it is unclear when the benchmark information was collected. For example, leaders are comparing their current performance to how other companies performed years ago. When it is unclear who exactly is in the benchmark andwhen the information was collected, making fair comparisons is nearly impossible.

2. Benchmarks are in the eye of the beholder.

When leaders score better than the benchmark, we have found that the benchmark serves as a "pat on the back" rather than a catalyst for better performance. Scoring lower than the benchmark is not a recipe for motivation either, as leaders often then criticize the validity of the benchmark. This draws away from the important question: How am I doing against my fullest potential?

3. Benchmarks distract people from real work.

Leaders do not improve by virtue of knowing how others leaders are doing. A focus on how everyone else is performing takes attention away from pursuing real results. Benchmarks add noise and are not actionable by themselves. Benchmarks don't offer solutions. They don't explain how to improve performance. At best, benchmarks encourage people to catch up with competitors, but not surpass them; benchmarks encourage mediocrity, but not superiority. This is similar to "teaching to the test" rather than fostering real learning.

Moving Beyond Benchmarks

If leaders and their coaches avoid the trap of benchmarks, what can be used instead to help leaders understand their results and motivate improvements? Our advice is to simply focus on information that provides real value. Within an organization, the best comparison numbers are inspirational. How does the person compare to the best leaders in the organization? What do scores look like in the parts of the organization with the best business results? Comparisons like these can provide leaders with context and help them understand their relative performance.

More importantly, it's time to remind ourselves why leaders ask for feedback from the people they work with. People ask for feedback as a way to hold a mirror up and see themselves as others see them. Let's forget about how leaders at unnamed companies were rated years ago. It doesn't matter. Instead, let's focus on the behaviors we see in the mirror and make the changes necessary to be successful.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 2). Copyright © 2013 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

Howard Morgan and Cathy Swody are with the Leadership Research Institute. They specialize in helping leaders see the connection between their behavior, their efforts, and business performance metrics. Contact Howard and Cathy.

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29Nov/120

Everyone Has a Passion

By Dr. Annette Fillery-Travis

When we last met I was walking off into a rather damp and grey Norfolk sunset with my soapbox tucked neatly under my arm. Well, it wasn't long before I was packing my bag and taking the train to Heathrow Airport. What adventure could possibly persuade me to board an airplane and face my flying phobia for 11 solid hours? Well, kind reader, you will not be surprised to learn it was to work with nearly 30 coaching practitioners eager to engage in practitioner research for the good of their community! How could I refuse!

It all started with a call from Sunny Stout Rostron from South Africa who had volunteered to host the 2010 Global Coaching Convention, which they have designed under the title the Rainbow Convention. A central core of the convention program will be the outputs of groups (or pods) of coaches coming together to actively research a shared passion or concern. They had a year to do it and wanted support in setting up their activities.

The trip showed just what can happen when a community works together. Annual leave granted from my company, the Professional Development Foundation, flights paid for by donated air miles, kind hospitality at homes instead of hotels, and people giving their time and energy pro bono allowed three two-day workshops to be run in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town for the smallest fee to the participants.

I had designed the workshop to enable the coaches to "work" their research from initial idea straight through to proposal. We shared a lot of hard work, laughter (and chocolate) and I was truly impressed at the innovation that was brought into the room. I would like to take this space to share my reflections upon those fabulous days spent in such excellent company.

Everyone has a passion: All of us have a question that current books and journals can't answer but is important to us. We research because we care. We care about getting the very best for our clients; we care about our colleagues and our profession. We are blessed to be at the beginning of the profession with such opportunities for enquiry and discovery.

Everyone has a unique perspective: This perspective is akin to a spotlight that reveals a dark corner that no one else has seen. An area of coaching I thought reasonably well described would suddenly come alive as a research topic when coaches revealed just what was still missing for them and their clients.

Everyone is researching already: When we shared our experience, every person in the room was undertaking research in some form during their normal work. Coaches read, reflect, and experiment with new approaches and tools. They share best practice with each other and are constantly on the hunt for better understanding of the coaching intervention.

Everyone knew what they wanted and needed to produce: One of the real discriminators of practitioner research is the focus on an output that has a direct benefit to real practice. These outputs ranged from new models and workshops to toolkits and evaluation criteria.

Everyone wanted to share their knowledge: Researchers and coaches share many similarities and one of the most important is the joy in sharing their discoveries and seeking feedback from their peers. We all need to protect our intellectual property, but there are ways of sharing that that reduce the risk of theft.

Everyone can contribute to research: All of the practitioners are full-time working professionals, but their passion and their research are part of the day job. They are bringing them real market edge and also providing their clients answers to the questions they have today. Whether their contribution is as a leader of a pod or as a critical friend, their work will impact the final output.

The range of research people are doing is really breathtaking. We discussed coaching within townships to achieve sustainable change and how work with other vulnerable groups in Europe and America could inform this type of coaching and how to research it.

We looked at the dominant coaching agendas in the public sector and I realized how much coaches I know in Local Authorities in the UK shared similar concerns. Coaching in education was a hot topic, as it is in the UK, and dialogue with others globally will add value here. Although the issues are larger in South Africa, the commitment of the people and their vocation are shared. We looked at evaluation in the private sector and this research will really add to our global conversation of how context impacts delivery.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

  Dr. Annette Fillery-Travis is a senior researcher and education coach with the Professional Development Foundation. The author of more than 60 research articles and studies, her recent book The Case for Coaching, presenting a literature review with research case studies and interviews from over 20 organizations on coaching efficacy, was published in 2006 by CIPD, UK. ContactAnnette.

 

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.
22Nov/120

Global Gifts to Coaching Practitioners

By Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron

I have recently experienced some of the gifts offered to coaches worldwide to enable them to develop their discipline. These include practitioner research, international conferences, and research grants. This article discusses the importance of these gifts and how we can make good use of them.

Practitioner Research and Reflective Practice

What do we really know about how coaching works, exactly how well it works, and when it works best? In essence, not much. Our "knowledge" is based mainly on what coaches say they do, or on what they think makes sense-rather than on observation of what they really do, or on research into coaching outcomes experienced by individuals, teams, and organizations. As a coaching practitioner, it is essential to continually research your own practice, ultimately developing your own professional competence through reflective practice.

David Peterson (2009) suggests simple ways to do this. For example, try different techniques in your coaching, i.e., with alternate clients do a background interview that is only one third of your normal interview; see what happens and take notes on what you observe. Secondly, you can generate a list of experimental ideas for your coaching from reading about new techniques, new types of questions, or new processes. Try one new thing every coaching session and record your findings. Thirdly, you can ask your coaching participants what was the most effective thing you (as coach) did in the session, and why was it helpful.

Also ask what was the least effective thing, and why was it not helpful? Record your feedback, looking for patterns, and substitute new processes for the least effective things. Think about participating in coaching research studies, or finding clients from your own practice to participate in such studies. Most importantly, think critically about and read current coaching research, trying to incorporate findings into your own practice.The general characteristics of practitioner research are that (Fillery-Travis, 2009):

  • The research questions, aims, and outcomes are determined by the practitioners themselves;
  • The research is usually designed to have an immediate and direct benefit or impact;
  • The focus is on the practitioner's own practice and/or that of their immediate peers;
  • The research or enquiry is small scale and short term;
  • The process may be evaluative, descriptive, developmental, or analytical.

Coaching Conferences

Coaching in Medicine and Leadership

In late September 2009, I attended and spoke at the second International Harvard Coaching Conference on Coaching in Medicine and Leadership. Coaching has emerged as a competency dedicated to helping individuals grow, develop, and meet personal and professional goals while at the same time building personal and professional capacity and resilience. Although every year coaches are servicing a US$1.5 billion market, the most developed market segment is leadership coaching in organizations-less than 20 percent of professional coaches are from the mental health or medical fields. The Harvard conference was therefore a groundbreaking event, with lectures and workshops by world leaders in coaching and coaching research. There were three tracks: Overcoming the Immunity to Change; Coaching in Leadership-Theory and Practice; and Coaching in Health Care-Research and Application.

ICRF2 London: Measuring Results

In November I participated in the second International Coaching Research Forum (ICRF2) held in London, sponsored by the IES (UK Institute for Employment Studies) and the International Coaching Research Forum (ICRF). ICRF2: Measure for Measure looked specifically at how to design coaching measures and instruments, with the ultimate aim of discovering what makes coaching effective. Researchers from around the world met to discuss three major topic groups: process measures, outcome measures for executive/leadership coaching, and outcome measures for health, wellness, and life coaching. The format for each discussion was:

  1. Discussion of what inputs should be measured;
  2. Identification of aspects of the coaching process to be measured
  3. Identification of outcomes to measure, based on coaching purpose;
  4. Specific suggestions on how best to measure areas of greatest interest.

Critical issues in measurement and methodology were discussed, the biggest concerns relating to:

  1. How do we evaluate instruments and measures? What are the important considerations, such as reliability, validity (quantitative research), and trustworthiness (qualitative research)?
  2. How can we incorporate measures into our research? What are the issues and considerations in research design and methodology for incorporating measures and interpreting results?
  3. What qualitative research issues have arisen in recent coaching research?
  4. What are some of the most compelling coaching topics and challenges and how can they be measured?

A final report will be made available on the websites of both the International Coaching Research Forum and COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa) early next year. All of the group forums were recorded, and key points from each discussion will be included in the final report.

GCC Rainbow Convention-Cape Town 2010

These recent conferences have implications for all coaches worldwide, and particularly for the work being carried out by the Global Coaching Community (GCC), an international dialogue aimed at furthering the development of coaching. The GCC's last convention took place in Ireland in July 2008 and produced the momentous Dublin Declaration on Coaching. The declaration was supported by recommendations from the GCC's ten working groups, and has been endorsed by organizations and individuals representing over 15,000 coaches around the world.

It is now South Africa's turn to host this pivotal event and help take the dialogue forward, and so the GCC Rainbow Convention will be held in Cape Town during 10-16 October 2010. The convention will showcase the results of pioneering practitioner research being undertaken by "pods" of coaches around South Africa. It will also continue the development work undertaken by the GCC's ten working groups, as well as host specialist workshops on aspects of coaching practice.

Grants from the Institute of Coaching

Another boost to the professional development of coaching practitioners is an endowment of US$2,000,000 from the Harnisch Foundation to the Institute of Coaching based at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital. The Institute is able to translate this generous endowment into grants totaling US$100,000 per year to fund rigorous research into coaching, thereby helping develop the scientific foundation and professional knowledge base of the field.The Institute offers four types of grant, with deadlines for applications on the first day of February, May, August, and November each year:

  1. Graduate student fellowships of up to US$10,000 for high-quality research projects. To qualify, applicants must be Masters or Doctoral candidates looking for financial support for dissertation research on coaching.
  2. Research project grants of up to US$40,000 annually for individuals who would like to conduct empirical research in coaching.
  3. Research publication grants of up to US$5,000 to assist with the writing, editing, and publication of coaching research in  peer-reviewed journals.
  4. Travel awards to cover travel expenses related to presenting coaching research at the annual Harvard Coaching Conference.

Please visit http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/ to learn more about the Institute's various grants, membership programs, current research, and publications  and for information on the recent Harvard Conference. As a Founding Fellow of the Institute of Coaching and a member of its Research Advisory Board, I am keen that all practitioner researchers in coaching are aware of these research grants. It is crucial that we begin to build the body of knowledge on what is working and what still needs work within the discipline of business coaching worldwide.

How Can You Play a Part in the Development of the Field?

Our goal in developing reflective research and enquiry is to make a substantial contribution to the emerging practice of coaching worldwide (Stout Rostron, 2009). Your gift to our emerging discipline is to play a practical part. For example, you can:

  • Participate in WABC activities to develop the field;
  • Offer to participate in coaching research studies (see box below);
  • Continue to develop your own reflective practice;
  • Write up your own cases studies for coaching journals;
  • Apply for a research grant for one of your studies through the Institute of Coaching;
  • Attend conferences and stay abreast of current research practice.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

References

Fillery-Travis, A. (2009). Practitioner Research Workshop, GCC Rainbow Convention, notes.Peterson, D. (In press). "Executive Coaching: A Critical Review and Recommendation for Advancing the Practice." In Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, edited by S. Zedeck. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources. Available from http://www.kr.co.za/.Wilkins, N. (2009). "Countdown to the GCC Rainbow Convention!"COMENSAnews, November. Available from http://www.comensa.org.za/.


1Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (2007) Supervision in the Helping Professions.United Kingdom: Open University Press.

 Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA is an executive coach and consultant with a wide range of experience in leadership and management development, business strategy and executive coaching. The author of six books, including Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching(2009), Sunny is Director of the Manthano Institute of Learning (Pty) Ltd and founding president of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa). More about Sunny in the WABC Coach Directory. Contact Sunny.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.
27Sep/120

Working with Coaching Models: The U-Process

Coaching Models for Business Success

By Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron

The U-process is sometimes known as the process of transition, and in the field of coaching this U-process is typically represented in Scharmer's model of change. In the process of transition, the client can move from anxiety, through happiness, fear, threat, guilt, denial, disillusionment, depression, gradual acceptance, and hostility to moving forward.

The U-process is considered a mid-range change theory with a sense of an emerging future. Scharmer's process moves the client through different levels of perception and change, with differing levels of action that follow. The three main elements are sensingpresencing, and realizing. These represent the three basic aspects of the U (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Scharmer's U-Process Model

Figure 1

This process helps the client to work at different levels of perception and change, and allows different levels of action to follow. All three levels are extensions of the learning process. As the coach and client move into the U, sensing is about observing and becoming one with the world; moving to the bottom of the U,presencing is about retreating and reflecting and allowing an inner knowing to emerge; moving out of the U, realizing is about acting swiftly and with a natural flow from the knowledge and understanding that have emerged.

The U-model suggests co-creation between the individual and the collective, i.e., the larger world. It is about the interconnection or integration of the self with the world. At the bottom of the U is the "inner gate" where we drop the baggage of our journey, going through a threshold. The metaphor used here is that of "death of the old self" and "rebirth of the new self"; the client emerges with a different sense of self. On the Web is a lovely dialogue between Wilber and Scharmer where they discuss the seven states and the three movements in this one process (Scharmer, 2003).

Superficial learning and change processes are shorter versions of the U-movement. In using this as a coaching process, the client moves downwards into the base of the U, moving from acting, to thinking, to feeling, to willing. This is to help the client to download with the coach, to let go and discover who they really are, to see from the deepest part of themselves, developing an awareness that is expanded with a shift in intention.

Otto Scharmer (2007), in an executive summary of his new book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges, describes the U-process as five movements: co-initiating, co-sensing, presencing, co-creating, and co-evolving. Scharmer describes this as moving "first into intimate connection with the world and to a place of inner knowing that can emerge from within, followed by bringing forth the new, which entails discovering the future by doing." The following case study demonstrates the five-step process.

Figure 2: U-Process Case Study

Figure 2

Case Study: The Global Convention on Coaching (GCC)

From July 2007 until July 2008, I played a role as Chair of the GCC Working Group, Research Agenda for Development of the Field, and Carol Kauffman took the part of Facilitator. The GCC was originally established to create a collaborative dialogue for all stakeholders in coaching worldwide, with the ultimate aim of professionalizing the industry. Nine initial working groups were formed by the GCC's Steering Committee to discuss critical issues related to the professionalization of coaching, producing "white papers" on the current realities and possible future scenarios of these issues. These white papers were presented at the GCC's Dublin convention in July 2008. Using the U-process model, this case study summarizes the working group process of the research agenda, which comprised a 12-month online dialogue, with the addition of monthly telephone conversations.

1. Co-initiation

Co-initiating is about building common intent, stopping and listening to others and to what life calls you to do. In the Working Group for the Research Agenda, the group built common intent by first setting up the group, defining its purpose, and beginning to discuss the dialogue process. It was agreed that the chair and facilitator would invite specific individuals to join the working group, and those members would suggest other individuals who might have a key interest in the research agenda for the field (i.e., the emerging coaching profession). The group began their online dialogue, once all had accepted the invitation and received instructions on how to use the online GCC web forum. It was agreed that there would be three communities working together: the Working Group, the Consultative Body for the Research Agenda, and the Steering Committee, which was responsible for the leadership and management of the other groups.

2. Co-sensing

Observe, Observe, Observe. Go to the places of most potential and listen with your mind and heart wide open. The chair and the facilitator of the working group had to learn to co-facilitate, observing each other's skill and competence. They had to be willing to listen to each other, noting each other's style in facilitating an online dialogue. They needed to create the group, and to facilitate the way forward with the group, learning to take constructive criticism and appreciation from each other, guiding the group forward without being prescriptive. Both chair and facilitator agreed to co-chair the process, remaining mentally and emotionally open to each other's divergent opinions, ways of being, and styles of interpersonal communication, whether working with the group online or by phone.

3. Presencing

Connect to the source of inspiration and will. Go to the place of silence and allow the inner knowing to emerge. Each individual in the process reflected and regularly added their thoughts and feelings to the online forum. Debate, conflict, and agreement emerged—with chair and facilitator taking responsibility to keep the group on track without being prescriptive. The chair and facilitator each had to connect to their own individual source of inspiration and come together as one voice to guide the group.

4. Co-creating

Prototype the new with living examples to explore the future by doing. This entailed harnessing the energy of the working group to draft a current reality document of its online and tele-conference dialogues; this document was revised four times. The group brought in a facilitator for a second consultative body who entered that dialogue at stage 1 (co-initiating), but who, at the same time, entered the working group dialogue at stage 3 (presencing). Trying to move forward with their own working group process, yet move the consultative body from stage 1 to stage 2 (co-initiation to co-sensing), was a complex, parallel process. The chair and facilitator enlisted the help of an editor, Nick Wilkins, to manage the writing process of the white paper during the working group's co-creation (stage 4).

5. Co-evolving

Embody the new in ecosystems that facilitate seeing and acting from the whole. The final stage of the process was the physical gathering at the Dublin convention. This took place in three stages: pre-convention, convention, and post-convention (post-convention work has just begun). Several months prior to the convention, all nine working groups began to work together online and by telephone to share their own varied stages in the U-process; they learned from each other as they gathered momentum moving toward Dublin, which was to be the culmination of their year-long project. Some groups had lost participants during the 12 months through disagreement; others managed to harness the energy to move through each of the stages together. The three stages were:

  • Pre-convention: Preparation for the presentation of a white paper by nine committees; this was for their committee's current global reality and future possible scenarios for their topic, with the addition of a tenth committee four months prior to Dublin.
  • Convention: Physical presence, dialogue, and debate in Dublin with each of the working groups. This was paralleled with virtual online feedback on a daily basis from those not able to attend the convention (however, there were difficulties with this process which frustrated some who could not access the virtual dialogue during that week).
  • Post-convention: Continuation of the process with a new format. The work was to take place in diverse groups regionally and nation-wide to proceed to the next step: building the emerging profession of coaching. Post-convention, a Transitional Steering Group (TSG) has begun work to harness the energy of those wishing to continue. The new GCC sees its role as an organic one, continuing to facilitate a global dialogue, rather than forming another coaching organization. The TSG, with representatives from the USA, UK, Australia Argentina, Singapore, and South Africa, has designed a web-based networking platform for the 17,000 GCC members who have signed up to the Dublin Declaration on Coaching (GCC, 2008). Those wishing to take part in this ongoing worldwide dialogue can access it via the web at gccweb.ning.com. Preparations began for a convention in London, 9-10 July 2009.

This U-process is applicable to large innovation projects where the unfolding takes place over a long time (a year in this instance). The team composition in such projects  will change and adapt to some degree after each movement; in the GCC process, the Working Group for the Research Agenda  lost and added new members, whereas the Consultative Body was a looser entity with only certain members playing a strong role. This was a process of discovery, exploring the future by doing, thinking, and reflecting. As Scharmer explains, it facilitates an opening via "the tuning of three instruments: the open mind, the open heart, and the open will" (Scharmer, 2007).

At any one time there were three U-process journeys taking place for the research agenda: within the working group, the working group interacting with the consultative body, and the working group interacting with the steering committee.

In Conclusion

Models offer a great sense of structure yet flexibility for the coach practitioner, but remember that simplicity is a prerequisite. In this series, I explore models from an experiential learning premise, as the client always brings his or her experience into the coaching conversation. The client's experience is underpinned by a range of factors, including gender, race, culture, education, life experience, and personality. In my next article, we will begin to explore the use of four quadrant models.

Note
This article is adapted from the author's Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009, Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources). Her book Business Coaching International will be published September 2009 by Karnac, London.

References

Global Convention on Coaching (GCC). (2008). Dublin Declaration on Coaching Including Appendices. Global Convention on Coaching. Dublin, 22 August.www.gsaec.org/pdf/Dublin_Declaration_Coaching_Appendices.pdf.

Scharmer, C.O. (2003). Mapping the Integral U: A Conversation between Ken Wilber and Otto Scharmer, Denver, CO, 17 September. Dialog on Leadership.  www.dialogonleadership.org/interviews/Wilber.shtml.

Scharmer, C.O. (2007). Addressing the Blind Spot of Our Time: An Executive Summary of the New Book by Otto Scharmer: Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emergeshttp://www.presencing.com/presencing-theoryu/theoryu.shtml.

Senge, P., Scharmer, C.O., Jaworski, J., and Flowers, B.S. (2005). Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society. London: Nicholas Brealey.

Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 2). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.