Thursday, 30 October 2008

Coaching Staff - Part One

One of the key leadership activities in the workplace, especially for those with direct responsibility for people, is to coach their staff. But how do you do it and how do you find time to do it?

In this series I hope to answer both questions. To do so I will be putting a simple coaching cycle at the heart of the discussion. This breaks down as follows:

1. Instruction
2. Demonstration
3. Practice
4. Observation
5. Feedback

This cycle seems relatively straightforward but the reality is that there are challenges presented at each stage. So let us begin with the first stage of the coaching cycle – instruction.

When a staff member is new to a task or skill area, the first thing they need is to understand what they are meant to be doing, why they are doing it and how it should be done. This is the knowledge they need to gain but simple as it sounds, it has some potential pitfalls. The greatest risk is that the initial explanation might not be fully understood and even if it is, human nature will lead to memory gaps during the learning process. So how does the coach overcome and deal with these issues?

Before providing instruction on a task or skill area, the coach should provide the staff member with a clear context. Why do you need to learn this? How does it fit in with the other tasks you are asked to perform? How does it fit in with the work of other team members? How does it fit in with other teams and/or the wider organisation?

Without context, it is much harder to fully understand the task in hand.

Bite Sized Chunks
The best way to provide instruction is in bite sized chunks, particularly for more complex tasks or skill areas. These chunks should be logically organised into building blocks of knowledge so that each new explanation is a natural progression from the last one.

Common Language
It is imperative that the coach uses language that the staff member understands. You need to be especially careful about the use of jargon or internal language.

Keep it short and simple (or keep it simple, stupid if you prefer). Don’t over complicate an explanation. It should be clear, concise and unambiguous.

Message Delivery
Make the message come alive by using examples, analogies and visual aids.

Check Understanding
At each stage of the knowledge transfer process, the coach needs to check understanding. There are several ways to do this. In some situations it might be appropriate to run a test or a quiz. In others it might be more appropriate to ask the staff member to summarise their understanding. A more subtle way of checking understanding is to have a conversation about how to apply this knowledge that culminates in an action plan – the conversation itself enables the coach to be confident that the understanding is accurate.

Reference Material
Ideally, the staff member will have access to reference material that will serve as a reminder to the knowledge they gained. This can take the form of procedure/user manuals, process maps, notes, intranet/knowledge transfer documentation or even a relevant book.

On the surface, providing instruction on a task or skill area appears straightforward but in practice there are a number of potential pitfalls. The guidelines above will help you avoid or navigate your way through these.

In part two I will be looking at the next stage of the coaching cycle - how to provide staff with an effective demonstration.

Simon Cooper is Chief Executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, author of the exciting new book, Brilliant Leader and architect of the unique and powerful Brilliant Leadership workshops.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Leadership Week - 20-27 October 2008

Simon Cooper reviews the week's best leadership articles.

There was a great article by Herb Kelleher this week, talking about his best lesson in leadership - be genuine. Faked behaviour is transparent from a mile away and people don't buy into it. There are many ways to become a great leader but the overriding factor is to be true to yourself and your values.

Wally Brock continues to produce excellent pieces in his Three Star Leadership blog. This week's gem focuses on the differing attitudes towards training and development between senior executives and HR professionals. Do we train to genuinely develop people or to keep the troops happy?

A useful summary by Miki Saxon of a recent Guy Kawasaki interview for the NY Times, including extracts of GIA (Guy's Index of Absurdity) from his recent book, Reality Check. As Miki says, it's not what Guy says that is so original but rather, the way he says it.

Writing on Leadership Village, Maureen Collins makes the point that the key to effectively managing performance problems is to gain a commitment to improvement, not to bully out a submission - how true.

John Agno continues his narcissist's leaders series with a a review of how to avoid the traps that come with this leadership type - including finding a trusted sidekick and seeking therapy (aka executive coaching)!

With the ELC Leadership Toolbar it is easy to keep up to date with the leadership world - the best articles, books, news, tools and more with just a single click. It's easy to install, 100% free and completely adware/spyware free. Why not improve your browsing experience today, it takes less than a minute to download and install.

Simon Cooper is chief executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, author of Brilliant Leader and architect of the Brilliant Leadership workshops.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Leadership School

I had a fascinating dinner with a recently retired headteacher this weekend. He started off by asking me about the leadership workshop that I ran last week in San Francisco and also about the launch of Brilliant Leader, my new book. What followed though was a real eye opener for me.

He had headed a school (although it was technically branded as a college) that had developed a genuine leadership culture and delivered staggering outcomes as a result of this. An example he used was the cleaners. They were made aware of the school's vision, what they were trying to achieve, how they were trying to achieve it and most importantly, how their role fitted in with this vision. And this was the case with all staff and students throughout the school.

Everyone was encouraged to be part of the team pulling together to deliver the school's strategy. This included regular performance reviews, career/personal development discussions and an open door to ideas throughout the organisation. And when the school succeeded, the team's success was celebrated. Everyone, including the cleaners, were included in the celebration process. Individual success was also recognised through praise and reward mechanisms.

The net result? Everyone wanted to do well and so they did. Exclusions reduced dramatically, results improved likewise and everyone felt they were part of a community that was succeeding. It became one of the country's stand-out success stories and my dinner colleague spent the last couple of years before his retirement briefing headteachers up and down the country about how he went about developing a leadership culture.

It seems to me that lots of organisations and communities around the world would succeed more if they developed a genuine leadership culture. And the thing is, it really isn't that difficult. People respond to effective leadership. People respond to praise and recognition. People respond to being part of a team.

If the classic command and control environment of a school can produce transformational results by developing a leadership culture, then just imagine what can happen to a commercial organisation that follows this example. And with the threat of economic downturn becoming a reality, I would wager that companies who survive and even thrive in this environment are likely to have a strong leadership culture centred on effective communication, teamworking and recognition mechanisms that reward success.

The only note of caution I would add is that it must start from the top - that's where true leadership begins and it doesn't end until it gets to the bottom of the organisation.

Simon Cooper is Chief Executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, author of Brilliant Leader and architect of the Brilliant Leadership workshops that set new standards in how to build, develop and lead high performing teams as well as helping organisations develop a genuine leadership culture.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Conquering The Iceberg

In my latest book, Brilliant Leader, I make the point that a person's capability can be summed up by considering an iceberg. Some of an iceberg is visible but most of it is below the surface. The part that is visible represents the individual's knowledge and skills and this is the part that most managers and indeed, traditional training courses focus on. However, a much larger part of a person's capability lies below the surface in the form of their character traits, values, attitudes and behaviours. True leaders understand this and focus much more on these components.

Initially, the smart leader will focus on recruiting the right people based on the relevant traits, values, attitudes and behaviours - after all, any missing knowledge or skills can easily be coached or trained. Beyond this, there is also the opportunity to develop these qualities which in itself is a much more challenging proposition. So how can a leader develop traits, values, attitudes and behaviour among their people?

1. Lead By Example
If your staff respect you, they will be heavily influenced by your example. You should continuously exhibit the values, attitudes and behaviours that you want in your staff and over time, your example will rub off on them.

2. Coach
The role of the coach is both powerful and influential. Of course, in order to be effective it requires that you are an accomplished coach. Through coaching, you are able to influence people's behaviour by helping them to consider what is working well and why alongside any aspects of their behaviour that could be improved and how. In turn, a change in behaviour - once it is seen to have been effective - influences the person's values and attitudes and in some cases, it will also lead to the long-term development of their character traits.

3. Teamworking
Just as people are influenced by their leader, they are also influenced by their peers. By developing a great teamworking environment and creating a value led culture, leaders are able to influence the development of values, attitudes and in turn, behaviours.

4. Experiential Learning
Some aspects of experiential learning occur on the job - either through exposure to new and challenging work assignments or via coaching. However, well designed and expertly facilitated experiential workshops can also have a dramatic impact on values, attitudes and behaviours and over the time this will also have an effect on character traits. The reason for this is that throughout an experiential workshop people will have a multitude of 'lightbulb moments' when they can be heard to say "ah ha - now I really get it".

And that is really the point. When people really get something, their attitudes and values are often altered forever. As soon as they apply this to their working environments, their behaviour changes. And over time, this will lead to the long-term development of their character traits.

In an ideal world leaders will hire people with the relevant traits, values, attitudes and behaviours. When this isn't possible they can be developed using the four tools discussed in this article - and preferably a good mix of all four. Either way, the iceberg can be conquered. Brilliant Leaders know this and do something about it.

Simon Cooper is Chief Executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, based in the UK but operating worldwide. He is also the author of Brilliant Leader and architect of the unique and powerful experiential workshop, Brilliant Leadership.