Box of Crayons Blog


The Evolution of Coaching

It’s Darwin Day today – hurrah!

When we think of how coaching cultures rise or fall within organizations and how coaching becomes part of the way we do things around here, it’s worth bearing in mind the great man’s words:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
nor the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Is your coaching culture destined to be a Dodo?

Here’s the typical and all-too-depressing evolution of many organizations approach to bring coaching in-house.

A few people in your organization get coached and they think it’s pretty good…

And meantime, someone on the senior leadership team reads a good article about coaching

And the employee engagement survey numbers come in and they’re not looking good…

Which eventually means someone lobs the “create a coaching culture” doozie to the head of HR…

Who’s actually pretty thrilled, because HR has long been a fan of coaching…

So this HR initiative boils down to running “coaching skills” training for managers…

Which sets to concrete those managers prejudices against coaching, but it’s clear this is divorced from the real world where people have to get things done.

Which confirms that everyone should keep on working the way they’ve always been working.

 And everything that coaching could and should contribute to the organization’s success – more focus on what matters, more striving for Great Work, more impact in the work you do, more internal capacity – goes away and dies a quiet death in a corner somewhere.

Three critical factors for coaching to work in your organization

So if the usual path is an evolutionary dead-end, let’s look to see what allow your coaching program to adapt, become resilient and flourish.

Here are three evolutionary boosts

1. Make coaching not an end but a means to an end

Coaching has to serve a business objective at the organizational level, and it has to be useful for both coach and coacheee at a personal level.

The reason I rail against the stated goal of creating a coaching culture is that it puts lots of coaching down as the measure of success.

Coaching, sure. But for the sake of what?

2. Make coaching something for normal people

I don’t know for sure – I’m a coach myself after all – but I suspect many managers look at people who’ve drunk the coaching Kool-Aid and go…

They’re slightly weird.

I don’t want to be like that.

Somehow coaching has become Coaching, a peculiar and slightly unnatural way of behaving. It’s like a fetish. Fine if it’s practiced between two consenting adults in private, but just don’t include me in it.

But Peter Block said it best: “coaching isn’t a profession but a way of being with each other”.

And all managers and leaders know far more about coaching than they’re given credit for (by themsleves and by others).

Help them see how coaching is just another managerial tool to help them have more impact in the work they do, and it becomes something they can step towards rather than back away from.

3. Make your coaching training suck less

You’ve probably experienced it yourself. You go on a coaching skills training program, and whether it was bad, good or outstanding, within two weeks you’re back to behaving in the same old way. Nothing seems to make it out of the training room and into the meeting rooms.

That’s because training is a pretty lousy way of trying to shift ingrained behaviours. Let’s face it – if you’ve behaving in a certain way (let me tell you what to do/let me solve that for you) for the last 5 – 40 years and getting rewarded for it, 6 hours in a classroom is unlikely to have much effect.

But there are ways and means of creating a program that is connected to the strategic priorities of the organization, that acknowledges the reality of most managers’ working lives, that doesn’t begin and end in a workshop, and that allows people to move from a little less advice and to a few more questions.

Find something or create something that allows managers and leaders to strengthen their coaching skills. Typical Coaching Skills for Managers training just isn’t going to hack it.

What’s worked for you?

You’ve seen places where coaching has become a key part of the way stuff is done.

What did you notice that worked? Leave a comment and share your own evolutionary insight.




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8 Responses to The Evolution of Coaching

  • FJR

    Here is what I have seen not work, which suggests what might. I was part of a well functioning team, mutually supporting with great results by any account (well-known even on a national level). A coach was brought in with no experience in our work and a very specific idea of how we should do our jobs differently. Her apparent yardstick for her success was whether she could get us all to drop our different strategies for getting results and standardize her preference. This was done by a certain amount of talking at us, a certain amount of distribution of articles, but ultimately by talking the boss into her program of standardization and reporting to him on non-conformity.
    Within two years the entire prize-winning staff left to take their talents to other places.

    • Rob

      That’s sounds like a very similar set of events I was once witness too when a consultant was incorrectly dressed up as a coach.

      Great coaches don’t advise or tell, they listen and then ask questions and suggest – then ask more questions.

      The client is always expert.

  • Maureen

    Many people don’t really know what coaching is, they have pre-conceived ideas and are sceptical. It’s important then for you to convince them of what coaching can do for them & their team or organisation.

    My top ten list of what works with coaching ‘training’:
    1. Adapt your style to the individual or group – so that you’re connecting with them, rather than alienating them, through the challenges
    2. Make it real – use their ‘live’ issues so they ‘get’ the relevance and the potential for their work.
    3. Make it easy enough to start applying in practice – “next-day-doable” (MBS)
    4. Practise, practise, practise – once they’ve understood a few basic principles, give them opportunities to practise (& realise it’s not as easy as they might think) and to get feedback on how they did.
    4. Role model coaching – coach them.
    5. Create commitment to practise coaching in between sessions with other group participants – You wouldn’t go to the gym for one day and expect to stay fit – exercise their ‘coaching muscles’.
    6. Get clear on what coaching is and isn’t – make coaching fit for (their) purpose.
    7. Ensure the key players or group participants receive great coaching (from you) so they experience how it develops them over time.
    8. Inspire them through great facilitation – so they get lots of personal insights about coaching and being coached. (I’ve seen many who understand the theory perfectly and then fall at nearly every hurdle when practising coaching.)
    9. Build in some reflective practice – so that they articulate (verbally or in writing) what worked, what didn’t and why.
    10. Ensure the right level of accountability – so they showcase their achievements to significant others in the organisation, how coaching has made a difference over a period of time.

    What’s worked for me?
    I get buy-in from the sceptics; I include / coach people within an organisation who don’t really think it will work for them.
    I created a resource for people to progress ‘Towards a Coaching Culture’ enabling them to fit coaching to their organisation, and to keep it alive beyond an initial introductory event / phase. (Interestingly there is a different business purpose on every page of the 60+ pdf downloads.)
    I start practical with every team, or organisation, then, as they get results, create opportunities for further development (evolution) with a strong emotional intelligence focus (developing high levels of self and other awareness) until eventually, when the time is right, I offer Transformational Coaching programmes.
    I trust in the ‘magic’ of coaching. Done well, it is transformational. The evolution of coaching, its survival, is down to coaches coaching exceptionally well.

  • Rob

    Having coached professionally for five years now (and still feel I’ve only just started), what’s worked for me is unquestionably close to point 2: “Make coaching something for normal people.” – Peter Block’s quote nails it on the head.

    The emphasis on coaching is the wrong emphasis. The outcomes or opportunities that coaching can bring is better. Like compassion, it’s a skill that can be improved upon and is personal in the sense that it is entwined with your inner being. This why so many coaches I meet are not only so good at what they do; they are the only people that can ‘coach’ their way.

    In my experience folks have been much more open to coaching when engaged in a conversation that becomes a coaching session, that is, has a greater emphasis on the outcomes they could potentially reach versus a “I’m a coach, let’s have a coaching session because coaching is a good thing and could make things better…” – type approach.

  • Pingback: In Defense of Normal (A Coaching Manifesto) | Leadership WINS

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