I love coaching. It is one of the most meaningful parts of this consulting job. Sometimes I am more focused on coaching the junior resources than the client. Probably not a good mindset, but that is the part of the job that I get excited about.
I am not a certified coach. No one pays me to coach them formally. This post was created on a Saturday night with 2 glasses of California Cabernet, not years of training. That said, I coaching as a core part of my job. Building our consulting team.
Coaching is a relationship. Effective coaching starts with trust and a relationship. Personally, I don’t care what you are saying unless 1) I believe you are credible 2) what you are saying can somehow benefit me 3) you care about my welfare. As selfish as this sounds, that is how most people think. . . What’s in it for me? WIIFM?
In the diagram below, I see coaching as creating an environment where the learner does most of the work and makes progress towards the goal (uh, the ugly blue star). You can see all the tools and elements that go into coaching – story-telling, listening, asking good questions, correcting people’s work. It is a slow process. Watering a plant.
Coaching is frustrating. I have reviewed the same presentation 6-7 times this week. It continues to get better, but it is laborious. Like breaking large rocks into medium size rocks, then into yet again smaller rocks, hoping to get to sand. As someone who is 10 years senior than my direct reports, it is easy to have hubris and wonder, “what can’t they get this?” Little do we (old people) remember, that we were much worse at that age. Trust me, much worse at their age.
Coaching takes patience. It is not for everyone. It takes more time in the short-term. It is a back and forth. The apprentice wants to learn, seeks feedback, and responds to coaching. The teacher provides theory, examples, and clues on what a better solution might be. It is not condescending, but a way for the learner to find their own way to the answer. The coach has to explain WHY there is a correction, and also makes it clear what is a major issue vs. nit-pick vs. something purely optional.
Timing is important. Choose your battles. How much you correct depends on depth of the relationship, urgency of the deliverable, and basically, your mood:
- With 1 week before the deliverable, there is enough time to “rev” the document several times, each time, layering on feedback until they take a hint
- Night before a deliverable, you have to be blunt, and get the changes made; take over the work if you have to, make it learning by example
Ways to give feedback. For Powerpoint, my favorite way to give feedback is to use colored text boxes because it is fast, permanent, and easy to see. You can place the note right next to the thing that is driving you crazy. Also, if it is a problem on several pages, you can copy/paste the same note. It allows you to review on a plane, or at your own pace. They can edit, and send back to you. It does not interrupt your flow of work.
Live editing. If the lessons is manually instructive (e.g., “This is how you transpose cells in excel.”), then a Microsoft LYNC call where you share the computer works well. Webex, Webmeeting, It is a visceral way to get your point across, and it has the added benefit of showing the consultants what fast, effective work looks like.
Help out. Remember coaching is showing, not just “preaching”. Once I was trying to describe over the phone what the slide should look like. I felt some hesitation (perhaps resistance), so I said, “Let me take that slide, and show you what I was thinking.” 7 minutes later, the graphics were built, and I sent them over. Perhaps a little bit of show-off, but it worked: 1) it got done 2) it was quick 3) it shows my willingness to pitch-in.
Coaching takes heart. It starts with the heart of a teacher. If you don’t want them to learn, well, you had better hire the right people and expect to pay a lot. If your recruiting is just 30% off, and you don’t train your people – you will go crazy, lose business, or just have to do all the work yourself. None of which are good options.
There is nothing better that seeing consultants grow. Is it a parental thing? Perhaps, but love to see the kids grow up and make me proud.
Coaching makes you a better consultant. A lot of what we do is coach clients. The same skills of listening, influencing, coaching, mentoring, and correcting used on your team, can also be applied to clients. After all, it is better to experiment on your staff and peers than the client. You should be as grateful to them, as they are to you.