Development of people is not simply the acquisition of skills; it’s about behavioural change and having the confidence in one’s ability to know what to do and when to do it in live moments.
Online learning and workshops can’t do that. Add in coaching and you’re getting there. Without it, you’re just dipping sheep: some of the dye might stick. Most of it will wash off.
When we consider the development of people, we traditionally think about the acquisition of skills: we hire an expert to teach a skill so it can be deployed in the workplace. But skills (the doing) are just one part of learning: we also need to focus on behaviour (the demonstrating) and confidence (the experiencing).
For all three areas to be successful, and for the newly-learned skills to become embedded within our people and our organisations, we have to understand two things. Firstly, we need to define what it is we want this person to achieve from their training. But more importantly, we must be absolutely clear about the support we, as leaders, need to offer this person before, during and after a training programme.
And it’s here where coaching and leadership become intertwined – the two can’t, and shouldn’t, be separated. Coaching is not just a profession, or an external person brought in to deliver training, it’s a leadership style. People like me can kick-start the process, but ultimately the responsibility for development lies with you, the leader.
Take the traditional skills workshop, for example. You send your people away for their week-long course on the understanding they’ll come back with the skills they were sent to learn. There’s no doubt they’ll return to the workplace with additional knowledge. But they’ll also forget a large chunk of it, and apply another great chunk incorrectly. They’ll get things wrong. They’ll lose confidence in their own ability.
To maximise the impact of that week-long didactic dump, there needs to be a continuous dialogue. Coaching is about conversations that enable the learning and development of a person, rather than simply providing them with instructions.
The leader doesn’t need the specialist knowledge that the person was sent away to learn – there’s no point in keeping a dog and barking yourself. But a good leader will gain an understanding of what is and isn’t working for that person by ensuring there’s regular contact that continues far beyond presenting the certificate at the end of the course. Coaching is a continuous process that involves discussing the obstacles and enablers that help or hinder the person in their role.
A good leader will encourage people to make their own decisions and have the confidence to accept that it won’t always be the right one. And, when that happens, they’ll work through the process and ask why it happened, how it felt and what other options may have been available. They’ll have confidence in their people and instill confidence within them.
But why do we need this coaching culture? Why should we invest so heavily in training and development? It’s not just to be nice to our people – although that is obviously a major benefit. When it comes to coaching, there’s a commercial imperative that can’t be ignored.
Business processes are becoming increasingly systematised and product quality is no longer a guarantee of success. Unless you’re a huge company with product innovation that gives you six months’ breathing space while your competitors catch up, you are judged on your performance in the here and now. You have a shelf life. Reputation is all, and the focus is on the quality of your people. We’ve all had conversations with retailers or service providers that leave us shaking our heads in despair and wondering how they’re still in business.
To make sure you’re not only surviving, but thriving in the face of fierce competition, you need to differentiate your offering through the quality of your relationships. Your people have to be fully engaged, recognized, acknowledged and valued.
Good coaching isn’t a workshop or a seminar – it’s a culture shift. It’s a chance to reflect, receive feedback and engage. The top line of any leadership role is about the engagement of people, and if people aren’t engaged, the leader should look no further than themselves as the root cause.
Business leaders should ask themselves the question, “Do we want to continue putting our people through a training sheep dip, or do we want to be Coach Leaders and immerse ourselves in the development of our people.”?