Coaching: The Heart of Management

When you hear the word Coaching, what comes to mind? You may see and treat it as a separate task, as a “side dish” on the menu of business responsibilities. You will lose a lot of leverage and influence if you view coaching in the narrow context of correcting deficiencies in performance.

Our view is that coaching is an integral part of management, an indispensable tool and fundamental way of relating to team members. Managers resist the coaching role when they view it as an extra job in the busy day. However, when they see that the skills of coaching can improve their interactions throughout the day, then the enhancement of these skills generates a great deal of interest and excitement. Many leaders find that coaching can improve business results, lead to greater leadership satisfaction, and better time management and greater levels of performance from others.

The Task View of Work

The narrow view of coaching stems from a body of thought that suggests managers should be detached, analytical, and control people’s performance in mechanistic and instrumental ways. From the days of Taylor’s “Scientific Management”, we were taught that performance can be maximized by focusing on the task. As a result, managers developed a love affair with control. Most find it hard to reduce their dependence on control as the tool of choice to maximize task performance.

This view of work asserts that each job can be broken into the smallest constituent parts by experts who can figure out the one best way to do the job. A job is broken down to become a set of independent tasks.

The negative result of this traditional task approach to work are many:

  • Our perception of job focuses on doing these tasks and activities without focusing on results, effectiveness, and the real mission.
  • Managers became busy planning, organizing, controlling, and directing while the workers are stuck with all the doing.
  • People actually doing a task are not too concerned with the relationship between tasks or relationships among the people doing these tasks.
  • Employees are expected to do the tasks and comply with management direction.
  • Employees do not feel ownership for the job – their motivation and contributions are limited.
  • The quality of work and attention to quality, workmanship, and customer satisfaction suffer.
  • Managers end up with the responsibility, knowledge of the tasks, and the burden of motivating employees and directing (controlling) work efforts.

The Process View of Work

Our global competitiveness is related to the way we view work. The “big picture” of work integrates multiple tasks and stress quality processes that lead to results. The broad perspective values the notion that people and relationship do make a difference.

The quality improvement efforts of Deming, Juran, Crosby and others have in common a more advanced view of work. These quality improvement approaches emphasize work as a process. The process orientation expands our view of work to include the interrelationships of task as part of a process to produce something. Continuous improvement is not simply doing more, but improving the way you do it. Coaching and managing these relationships then becomes the core of continuous improvement in the technical and people side of any business. Coaching is the process of continuous improvement in the human element of work.

Eight Skill Areas

From CMOE’s ongoing research and observation over the past thirty years, we find that the following eight coaching skills are needed to manage any business relationship.

Supporting. The core of coaching is to sustain and enhance relationships. Supporting behaviors include inviting and using the suggestions of others, offering encouragement, and accepting some responsibility when things do not go well.

Defining topics and needs. These skills focus our attention on a specific issue, gathering information, giving feedback and clarifying roles of each person.

Having impact on the other person’s perspective. The purpose here is to help the employee, customer, etc. see how their actions are perceived by others (they are more likely to change themselves).

Initiating a plan. These skills involve reaching agreement on what the next action will be. Who will do what, when, and where in a manageable way.

Getting commitment. This is the ability to solidify a personal commitment to the new plans. The purpose is to develop integrity over time by committing to those plans that people believe in and will achieve; this is the “verbal signature.”

Redirecting excuses or resistance: These set of skills include the willingness to listen to the other points of view so that excuses can be confronted and legitimate obstacles can be examined and new alternatives included in a revised plan.

Clarifying the full range of possible consequences. The purpose is to help the employee, supplier, etc., be clear on the possible results of the future actions to which they have committed. Performance is more predictable when people’s expectations match realistic outcomes.

Follow up. The purpose is to consistently monitor the results that people are achieving, recognize successful efforts, and redirect struggling efforts. The coach needs to show his/her own commitment to the relationship and to the plans being undertaken by not giving up.

Examine your job as a manager. Consider the things you do in a “typical” business day. Notice how much of your job involves relationships with customers, suppliers, your management, and your employees. Since only a small part of your job is doing a task independent of your relationship with others, most, if not all, of your job success depends on how well you manage your relationships – how well you employ these primary coaching skills.

Indeed, your effectiveness as a manager is dependent on how well you coach, consistent with these basic principles.

Coaching is the ability to manage a relationship in a way that mutual goals can be achieved. Today, the integration of technical and business aspects with the human element is critical for long-term success. This involves moving beyond the old task view of work toward a process view of work. This expanded view of work stresses the interrelationship between tasks and the people involved in the process. Managing relationships then, becomes the main dish, not just a side dish occasionally used to correct individual performance.

When coaching is viewed as the heart of both the job and the relationship with our people, managing begins to look different. When applied in a broad consistent framework, people will see a powerful and effective pattern in all business discussions.

The primary skills of effective coaching can then be applied to multiple relationships and interactions on the job – relationships with customers and suppliers and with one’s boss and higher management or with your peers, and in relationships with all the people you supervise regardless of their performance level.

Steven J. Stowell and William Stone

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About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.