For nearly 40 years, the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) has been teaching coaching skills for managers in order to more effectively run their businesses. During these learning experiences, it is not uncommon for managers to ask the question: “Why should I learn business coaching skills?” It is a valid question, and I think there are a few simple reasons.
It is hard to imagine running a business without being able to talk too clearly and candidly to team members about their performance. Coaching is a lot about problem solving, accountability, and opportunity optimization. Nothing in a business happens unless there is dialogue and healthy interaction. We believe that everything starts with communication.
When you have good communication, good interaction, honest feedback regarding successes, as well as development opportunities, people begin to grow and then the business begins to grow. These conversations need to be honest, frequent, and constructive, but they can also be a little sensitive, too. That sensitivity creates emotions whenever someone’s performance is examined, regardless of whether a success or a letdown has occurred.
It all starts with communication. Good communication leads to understanding—understanding of business expectation, understanding the business of strategy, understanding each other’s roles, responsibilities, and performance targets. If you have good coaching, feedback, and communication skills, you begin to lead your team towards better understanding and better connections.
People begin to understand how they fit and why they matter to the business. And the leaders begin to understand what the individual team member is interested in. What motives them? What needs do they have? If you can merge the company’s needs and expectations with the employees needs and expectations, you are in a position to unlock discretionary performance … performance above and beyond the minimum that is necessary for people to simply hang on to their jobs and show up to work every day.
Leaders and managers need people to contribute. We need people to make a difference and be proactive and innovative. That only happens if there is good coaching, good clarification, anund good understanding. If those two things are done well, we can create respect—mutual respect. People can appreciate their differences. They can have healthy adult conversations. They can have conflict—constructive conflict. But at the end of the day, people respect each other and organizations have to have that ingredient if they are truly going to be leaders in their market or industry.
Once you have good communication and feedback, and you have better understanding and more respect, you begin to get the fourth ingredient: trust. People have to know that you have their back, that you are there to support their interests, and that you have their interest at heart.
If they don’t believe that, all you can do is muddle through. Some companies muddle through without a lot of effective leadership—if they have a hot product, in a hot market, and are the only provider.
In cases like this, business leadership coaching probably doesn’t matter at the moment; effective coaching skills don’t matter because the company is in such a strong, competitive position. But that only lasts a few years before rivals come in, and then organizations need everybody to find efficiencies, best practices, next practices, great ideas, new innovations, new product concepts, new processes and activities. The world of coaching is meant to unlock hidden capabilities and unleash motivation.
For many years, we have been helping senior leadership teams become a more effective; more cohesive. Without question, the number one most common weakness in every leadership team we have ever worked with is the ability of members on a team to give each other useful, constructive, skillful coaching and feedback.
We rarely see an exception to this observation as well: the number one most frequent complaint is the lack of communication, and more specifically, candid, useful feedback, where people courageously share insights and help people improve their skills—not only their behaviors, but also their ability to impact business performance.
To run a business effectively without coaching is nearly impossible. Coaching has to be, not only from the top-down (leader to direct reports), but it needs to be peer-to-peer. It also needs to be from the bottom upward. What we find in high performance companies is a culture of coaching—a coaching culture of candid, sometimes courageous, bold, interactions where people can share their feedback, suggestions, and ideas constructively—where people don’t defensively blame or point fingers at one another; a culture where people seek out input, where they are looking for ideas to become better.
If a company doesn’t want to be better, it risks becoming extinct. It risks becoming irrelevant in the industry. Businesses, as well as individuals, have got to ask themselves: “How can I improve?” “How can I get better?” We all have blind spots, and without feedback, people carry their shortcomings around with them. They don’t know how to leverage their strengths, and ultimately, the business’ bottom line suffers.
We believe there is really no other way. Businesses run on good coaching and feedback. Sometimes a coaching session is informative; sometimes it’s very casual; other times, it’s very formal, very deliberate, very conscious. So our premise is that if you want a robust business, you have got to have an organization (leaders and team members) who are skillful and know how to provide good feedback and coaching, and who are courageous and willing to do it.