“We are all virtual coaches now” said an International Sales Director at a recent conference. Later at the same event a new Performance Management system was introduced that required managers to sit down with their people twice a year and complete an on-line appraisal together. Sales managers complained they hadn’t got time to do it properly. What is the likelihood of this organisation having a culture conducive to coaching? Not very, I hear you mutter, and you’d be right.
Widely applied coaching is first about organisational culture, second about the psychological contract between coach and coachee and thirdly (and lastly) about skills.
The ability of a business to instil a coaching culture cannot exceed its demonstrable capacity as a learning organisation. Put another way, because coaching implies a deep understanding of what works, and because there will be more than one coach, it follows this organisation is able to articulate excellence, not in terms of results (that’s easy and obvious) but in terms of behaviours and activities – the raw materials of effective coaches. And it follows from there that this organisation can point to role-models who demonstrate what they are trying to coach towards. It you are thinking that your own organisation doesn’t have this learning culture; you can forget coaching playing a significant role in developing people or practices.
The Psychological Contract
These are the unwritten behavioural norms that drive any relationship, in this case between two people. Think about giving negative feedback to somebody. There are some people you would feel able to do it, that some people would be impossible. Think of families that have ‘no go’ areas of discussion, CEO’s that you can joke with and CEO’s you wouldn’t dream of saying anything to unless asked. These relationship dynamics are all informed by different psychological contracts. For a coaching relationship to work the psychological contract has to be built on the following foundations:
- It’s OK to give and receive positive and negative feedback, both ways
- The mandate to give feedback and suggestions comes not from seniority or position, but from relevant expertise and insight
- Feedback will often be given on the fly, formal structures or permission are not required
- The coachee seeks out the coach, rather than the other way round
- Mutual trust and respect underpins the relationship
- There is no imposition of process. It is being done the way both parties like it, in ways and at a rhythm that suits them both.
If the first two elements are present and working effectively the skills required become very straightforward, usually built around a simple model.
This isn’t to suggest that anyone can coach, or that training to be a coach isn’t valuable, even to accredited levels. All these things can be valid.
What we are suggesting is that without understanding of, and focus on, the first two elements of this article any coaching skills development will have little impact and can even be damaging because people can view coaching as another management fad rather than the powerful personal and performance development tool it really is.