Coaching, coaching, coaching, it seems it’s all we hear these days. Why is coaching all the buzz right now? What’s the big deal? To answer this, let’s look at what coaching is and then how our landscape has changed to require more of it.
So, what is coaching? Counter to popular images, coaching is not barking out orders, suggestions, and advice, rather, it’s about helping people to focus on a specific challenge and then find solutions that they own and develop themselves. Good coaches resist the urge to provide immediate answers, and instead, facilitate the discovery of solutions people have within them already.
Imagine a child struggling with their math homework. They’ve been taught how to add and subtract but get stuck when they are confronted with large numbers. What good would it do them for you to just figure it out and give them the answer? None. So you ask them questions. You start with basics. “How do you add 2+2?” Then you help them see that big numbers are really no different than small numbers. “How is this big number any different? How can you take the same thing you did with 2+2 and apply it to this bigger number?” You guide them but they do the deep dig within to “remember” what they know. You guide them to be confident and realize they can do it.
Now, why is coaching so important in workplaces today? It has everything to do with the changing landscape of business and work in our time. We are at a key place in the evolution of management. The old, Industrial Age, command and demand styles of management are simply ineffective today. Controlling management worked when workers were less educated and customer demands for quick and immediate gratification were non-existent. In this era, employees were thought of as replaceable cogs in a machine that managers felt they had to control in order to get productivity. The standard thinking was that employees were producers, they were there to do not think. In addition, as a byproduct, given the slower pace and common belief that only managers were thinkers, customers would wait for answers because it was accepted that only managers had them.
Move to today. Advances in technology have created a demand for a more educated, thinking workforce. Systems are complicated and require everyone to have problem-solving ability. And, as if that’s not enough, the ability to get information at the push of a button has moved customers from patient and considerate to impatient and demanding. They want answers now. Waiting for managers is unacceptable. Thus, in contrast to the man-machine of the past, today’s worker must, at minimum, be competent with ever-evolving systems and empowered to make immediate decisions for customers.
This should make it clear why the controlling management of the past is ineffective. The foundation of this approach is the belief that there are two groups of people, Leaders and Followers. Leaders are the thinkers and Followers are the doers. If you want answers, you have to speak to the leader. But this setup is slow and cumbersome, and today’s environment requires speed with leaders (thinkers) available to step up anytime throughout the organization. In other words, today’s needs require a team of leaders where everyone thinks and does which necessitates a management approach that expands rather than a controlling one that limits.
Our workplaces though have been slow to evolve. Many, many managers are still working with an Industrial Age mindset, a mindset that conflicts with today’s smarter employee who has a desire to contribute not to mention its incongruence with the ever-increasing expectations of today’s customers. If we think about the increasing prevalence of two of today’s biggest business challenges, 1) disengaged employees who feel undervalued and marginalized, and 2) dissatisfied, frustrated customers, and then consider the impact traditional management approaches have had in their creation, it is clear that we need to speed this evolution.
Enter coaching and our definition of it above. Its value as a tool in this team-of-leaders evolution is starkly apparent. Imagine managers asking employees for their ideas for improving problem areas instead of just telling them their way. Imagine managers committing to help their employees implement their ideas and recognizing them for their efforts. How would engagement increase? How much more would employees take interest in the business’s success? How might customers benefit from this more engaged and committed workforce?
Leader-follower mindsets focus on telling others what to do and are limited to one way. This is ineffective and inefficient for today’s needs. Team-of-leaders mindsets focus on asking questions to get insight from experience and fresh ideas. And, as asking is the essence of good coaching, we have our answer to coaching’s extreme relevance to today’s environment.
Want to engage employees and delight customers? Learn to coach; ask instead of tell, engage instead of manage, build a team of leaders.