Cynicism, coaching and silver bullets
I used to be cynical of coaching. I saw various coaching / mentoring plans launched in a blaze of management babble. And in most cases they were swiftly forgotten (or at best poorly implemented) as the pressures of day-to-day business reared its head.
Before joining Brightec, I worked for a training organisation and was exposed to numerous coaching methodologies and training courses.
All claimed to be the 'silver bullet' needed to instil motivation and transform teams into incredible engines of productivity.
In reality, what I observed was a number of systems that killed people’s motivation, caused mistrust and ultimately became burdensome until they were ditched at the first opportunity.
Coaching shouldn't fulfil a business objective
All these systems had one thing in common - the assumption that coaching should be directly beneficial to a predefined business need.
These experiences turned me into quite a cynic when it came to coaching.
Coaching shouldn’t crush
Personally, my dislike for coaching actually caused a lot of internal wrestling. The reason being? I have a natural passion for developing people.
I'm passionate about recognising and cultivating the potential in others. I take immense pleasure in acknowledging others progress in even the smallest of areas.
Good to great
At Brightec, we instinctively believe something different to those aforementioned coaching systems. But, it wasn’t until I'd read the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins that I knew how to articulate that effectively - the ‘Who’ not the What’.
“I don’t know where we should take this company, but I do know that if I start with the right people, ask them the right questions, and engage them in vigorous debate, we will find a way to make this company great.” James C. Collins
We are fortunate that none of us are so egotistical to think we know exactly where to take the company. We have plans and ideas but we don't believe they are infallible.
Instead, we have an absolute confidence that we have a strong team who are expanding their own skills and knowledge (which will shape our direction).
What this means in practice, is that our coaching focuses on seeing the individual being developed not their work.
Focusing on the individual
Focusing on the individual is the key to our coaching approach.
We don’t have to answer that individual’s questions or have a 10 step plan for them to achieve greatness.
Instead, we have taken the pledge that we will be ready to help facilitate their growth - in whatever form that looks like.
When advice is sought we advise our coaches to talk from experiences, our experiences can never be ‘wrong’ as they are personal to us. Although they may not be the answer someone is looking for, being able to share our personal stories is powerful and it also helps us steer clear of any doctor/patient thinking.
Here at Brightec all of our staff are coached. Everyone, including our MD, has someone else looking out for them and helping to develop them.
We’ve found that it doesn’t hugely matter who is coaching who, for example, we don’t coach across job roles we choose our coaches based on personalities and relationships.
In the same way, that a good production manager can effectively manage designers, developers, testers and many other job roles by connecting with them properly. The same production manager is also capable of coaching those people - if we focus on the individual and not the role.
In for the long haul
We are building a sustainable company and in doing so we recognise that slower meaningful change is better than short-lived and unsustainable solutions.
With that in mind, we recognise that coaching may not immediately produce results (at least not sensational results).
However, during that time, we will have created deeper more meaningful relationships. These connections mean we are better equipped to facilitate people’s growth and/or support individuals through tougher times.
Beer and breakfast
Our coaching sessions are informal and take place away from the office.
They usually involve at least one of the following; coffee, lunch, breakfast or a beer (though, not normally at breakfast time). The company picks up the tab of course.
By deliberately taking ourselves out of the office, we can find the space for a bit of perspective, objectivity and the opportunity to dream.
We advise that these coaching meet-ups should take place monthly. The agenda is left open, although we do give some pointers if needed.
However, we stress that there is no need to hit all of the points, that we can take our time getting through them.
Ideas for coaching sessions
Is this confidential? — Coaching is informal and not private. However, ask that if they do have something they want to be kept confidential that they let you know explicitly and clearly.
Why are they here? — It’s great to just recap on people's time with the company. Why did they join? What have they achieved? Why are they important to the company's future? Often we need a opportunity to remind & recenter ourselves.
How is it going? — If they have been doing something client facing (inception workshop etc) definitely ask about that. Other ideas: projects, courses they are doing, skills they are learning, challenges.
What is your dream? (Remember to share yours) — Give them the opportunity to dream big and think about their future and what they want to achieve. And then talk about them.
What could they do? — Either from the dreams or the general discussion. Try, if you can, to steer them towards their own answers.
What's in the way? — Ask them if there is anything they need now or in the future. If it’s something that needs actioning, either point them in the direction or help them with raising it/doing it.
How do we put this into action? — These don’t have to be big steps. Often small and incremental changes make the biggest difference.
We encourage everyone to keep a running diary of their coaching sessions. This can be really helpful to look back on and to make sure that each session can be picked up where the last one left off.
We also let everyone know that there is no expectation to action anything from their coaching sessions straight away. Instead, they can be worked through over time, the relationship is what counts.
It’s early days for us at Brightec, but if we didn’t allow our staff to dream, explore and develop themselves, we probably wouldn’t have the reputation of being a great employer that we do.
So far we have seen the company explore lots of new areas through individuals with amazing ideas.
The better each of us is, the better we all are.