Advantages of a coaching culture in the corporate environment

In my corporate experience to date I have encountered a number of realities that range from the fun place to work to companies that follow policies based on fear.  To the former group belong companies where people are more than happy to work, often very hard, for the pleasure of sharing their experience with many other talented individuals while being part of interesting projects.  The latter tend to be organizations with high turnover of people and where the only incentives for them to stick around are the financial rewards they are getting and eventually the experience that can be sold to other companies at a later stage.

Control and command management style

The typical management structure based on control and command was first established when, in conjunction with the industrial revolution companies started to grow larger and larger.  The already existing agricultural model never needed to grow big and complicated enough to require articulated management structures: now industrial manufacturing, procurement, sales, stock management and various other functions needed a way to be pulled together.  Armies had at the time the only organizational models available, with multi level management system so similar structures and bureaucracies were implemented.

Control and command vs. coaching

Let’s consider two very different models of managing and getting results out of people:

  • Think first about a sergeant yelling orders to a soldier who answers “sir, yes sir”: this represents a model that has been used for thousands of years in armies around the world and ensures standard performance among all people in a unit.  Soldiers are there to follow orders, without asking questions and without necessarily agreeing on the specific tasks they are carrying out.
  • At the same time let look at a football or basketball coach during training and during a game.  The coach is there to manage his team.  There is no doubt about who is in charge: at the same time she is there to inspire and motivate athletes for them to achieve increasingly better performance.

With over 70% of workers in USA being employed in a so called knowledge work and a similar percentage in the UK I am here considering why and how control and command is still, today, the most used management style.  Often because who is managing doesn’t know an alternative way on inspiring and motivating her reports and ensuring they always perform to their best.  The simplest solution works out to tell others what they would do if they were you.

A coaching approach to management: quiet leadership

The concept of Quiet Leadership introduced by David Rock in his book with the same title, suggests that in an environment where most people are paid to think a coaching approach nurtures this concept and effectively inspire people to do exactly that.  When you are employing a broad range of top graduates, scientists, MBA and PhD you are aware of being surrounded by very clever people: these are people that can easily be inspired to think creatively toward their own solutions to their problems.  So the Quiet Leader is not a person ordering and commanding instructions to his reports but she enters short and powerful coaching conversation where she asks questions and manages to get the other person actively involved in the dialog in order to achieve her own conclusions.  This result is usually a guaranteed success because of the following reasons:

  • If you were encouraged to think through a problem and you achieved your own solution you will own it to the point that you will have a much higher motivation to perform and deliver the result.  To the contrary receiving a suggestion or an order about what to do is somehow easier but you will perform or execute a task as your boss suggested it.
  • The coaching conversation is usually geared around the process rather than the content: that allows the manager to stay out of details and avoid the possible temptations of micromanaging her staff.
  • The process of encouraging you to think through the various possibilities will also foster a more independent thinking mind that will naturally seek solutions rather that simply asking: “what shall I do next?”.

Benefits of coaching approach to management

A statistic available from the International Coaching Federation, reports the following benefits for companies where a coaching model as been adopted:

  • Lower stress levels 57%
  • Self-confidence 52%
  • Setting better goals 62%
  • Increased self-awareness 67%
  • Self-discovery 53%
  • More balanced life 60%

Conclusions

There are a number of jobs and activities that require a structured and sometimes strictly organized management system, e.g. in manufacturing or in building sites: the coaching approach, on the other hand can be (and is) successfully applied to situations where people are primarily paid to think, such as in designing or other creative jobs, finance, general management and it is great to address conflict resolution.

In the medium and long term an established coaching culture will help your company to function better as a whole, improving key people retention, ensuring they are happy and motivated to work hard for the ultimate success of their employer.

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This post was written by massimo on 29 May 2009

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