Organizational coaching not only enhances leadership and communication skills, it also provides a valuable outside perspective for executives, managers and supervisors. An experienced coach guides an organization’s leaders through a process that helps them clarify and establish goals and objectives, and work toward outcomes that improve organizational performance. In fact, the ripple effect of leaders and managers who are coached can foster positive, systemic transformation of an organization’s culture.
To learn more about the practices, processes, and outcomes of organizational coaching, we present the following interview with Bruce Winner, trainer and coach for the Government Training Academy, Los Rios Community College District. Bruce is also a highly experienced program designer/developer who has created a series of programs that leverage evidence-based findings from the behavioral sciences to improve workplace performance. His specialties include measuring the value of training, developing training based on contemporary applied science, and implementing training that results in quantifiable organizational impact. He has worked closely with dozens of California state agencies over the last 20 years using training, consulting, coaching and ROI evaluation to improve organizational performance.
Q: When did the Government Training Academy (GTA) first offer organizational coaching services?
Bruce Winner: In 2009 we noticed a significant upsurge in interest in coaching. Luckily, I’ve had a long-term relationship with a trainer and coach named Nick LeForce who was immersed in the subject. Nick offered to put together a 13-day coaching training program for our team, which enabled those who were motivated to establish their coaching practices. Within the GTA, we used it as a value-add service for our clients who have taken our supervisory and managerial programs over the past several years. Coaching is a natural follow-up to those training programs, especially for those individuals who are motivated to further develop their professional skills, overcome barriers, and want to grow on a personal level.
Q: How do you define the coaching services you offer? What outcomes do you seek to achieve?
Winner: Our services have evolved into what I call organizational coaching. What typically happens is a government agency or organization contacts us about coaching for a small- to medium-size group of executives. We often find that the organization also wants to develop leaders who are more coach-like. They don’t feel they need an organization of certified coaches, but they want their leaders to act more like coaches or ask more questions instead of micro-managing, listen more acutely, and be flexible to the needs of those who report to them.
Q: What level of staff within an organization are the coaching services intended for?
Winner: Supervisors, managers, and executives.
Q: What is the difference between organizational coaching and business consulting or mentoring?
Winner: A business consultant gives advice to people about what needs to be done and then implements the recommendations for the client. For example, an organizational development consultant will analyze an issue, work jointly with the organization to come up with a solution, decide what that solution should do for the company, and then implement the solution through training or some other program. An organizational coach works closely with management asking questions that lead to the discovery, by the manager, of key issues that need to be addressed. Additionally, the coach holds managers and executives accountable, with permission from the leader, but does not offer or implement the solution. I would describe the process as one that involves a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires a person to maximize their personal and professional potential. The areas we often work with our clients on include leadership skills, solving a behavior problem, transitioning into new roles, managing change or managing a team of people.
That said, sometimes the roles are interchangeable. If someone is really struggling and frustrated, they might say, “What I really need is some advice.” In this situation, as a coach, we’ll just say, “OK, I’m going to take off my coaching hat and put on my consultant hat. In your situation, this is what I have done in similar situations. What do you think?”
What makes our organizational coaches exceptional is they are all organizational development professionals and trainers with many years of experience. So, in dealing with someone who is frustrated and wanting advice, our coaches can seamlessly transition to a consulting role and give sound advice.
A mentor is usually someone inside the organization who is willing to give a coworker assistance. The mentor may use coaching techniques or simply provide advice. In general, the mentor’s role is informal.
Q: What is the process that takes place once a client engages with you for coaching?
Winner: Our process is client-driven. Often, we have clients who are confident in the perceptions of their leaders to identify what they need, the barriers in their way, or what they want to accomplish. Sometimes we have a client who wants to start by doing a 360 assessment, a process that provides employees the opportunity to receive performance feedback from multiple sources, often including his or her supervisor or manager, reporting staff members and coworkers.
During some engagements we’ve delivered two or three introductory training programs based on areas that the client wanted to focus on. Recently, as an example, a client wanted to focus on team building, communication and change management, with a technical focus on supervising people who work remotely, because that’s the problem of the day.
After we completed those three training programs, we asked the individuals who were going to receive coaching to identify two or three goals and objectives they wanted to focus on, or which goals would result in the most positive personal and organizational results. In this case, we did not conduct any type of formal assessment. So, our process is directed by the client’s needs. The important issue is that each person who is to be coached decides what issues most resonate with them. That is what coaching is really about.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”
—Shunryu Suzuki, Founder, San Francisco Zen Center
Q: Is the process different when working with higher-level executives?
Winner: The people we coach, whether they are supervisors, managers or executives, are experts at something. Typically, their expertise is in a proprietary skill, engineering, science, accounting, or a similar professional skill. People who have attained those types of expertise have often not learned managerial or leadership skills. Sometimes it is their expertise that gets in the way. Therefore, we start many of our coaching engagements with an orientation that is designed to overcome their resistance to being coached, because, after all, they are the experts. We might say to the group, “We recognize that you’re all experts in your fields. You have leveraged your knowledge and expertise to arrive at your current position. That’s obviously a good thing. But sometimes that expertise can get in the way and act as a barrier. To participate in the coaching process and have it be beneficial to you and your organization, we ask that you put your expertise aside for the moment. During these orientations, I often like to use a quote from Shunryu Suzuki, a Buddhist teacher and author of “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” He says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”
Q: Can coaching help an organization clarify its vision and thus how that vision is communicated by management to teams they supervise?
Winner: That’s the idea with executive organizational coaching. Because the further up in an organization the coaching takes place, the more likely it will have an impact down the line. The organizational coaching we conduct mostly focuses on helping groups of executives, managers and supervisors become good coaches themselves, which allows them to bring out the best in the people who work for them. This can happen when a manager shifts from micromanaging his people to asking questions that lead them to finding their own solution. In this way the manager brings out the intrinsic motivation of those who work for her. And when people are motivated by the solutions that they themselves arrive at, they become engaged, productive and committed to excellent outcomes.
Q: It sounds like those who receive coaching go through a lot of self-reflection.
Winner: Yes. We see that when we conduct open discussions with the group being coached. We hear people say things like, “I always thought that I was really listening to my group. But I realized that I don’t ask my people questions like my coach asks me.” Or we hear a manager say, “I think about how I need to refrain from always giving advice and instead ask someone to tell me what they might do in this situation.”
A true coaching culture is a place where even if someone is on the wrong track, they are told, “There’s nothing wrong with that” and “I really admire the fact that you’re so proactive and you thought this through. Here’s what I might do. What do you think about that as a solution?” So, in a positive coaching culture, there are no wrong answers.
Q: What are some other characteristics of a coaching culture?
Winner: A culture of coaching is not about having 50 certified coaches in an organization, but about people adopting a few coaching behaviors, asking questions, being curious, always asking questions before giving advice, and having a few ways to positively steer a difficult conversation.
For example, if a manager typically starts a weekly meeting by stating, “These are my top five priorities. Let’s go around the table and have each of you tell me your top five priorities.” Well, guess what you are going to hear. Everybody’s top five priorities are probably going to be the same as their manager’s. Imagine if that manager started the weekly meetings by asking, “What’s on everybody’s minds?” That could totally change the dynamic of the meeting. That is one example of a behavior that can change the dynamics of an individual’s team and the organization.
Coaching techniques are about how to open up a conversation, how to ask the question correctly and how to get more information. There was something that Nick mentioned to us that stuck with me during the 13-day coaching training that he gave to our team. He said there’s a magic phrase he uses to get someone to elaborate on what they are saying: “Tell me more.” At first, I thought that was absurd until I started to put it into practice. Stating “tell me more” asks that person to go deeper in their thinking. Once you start using that magic phrase, you learn that there is usually always something deeper in that person’s mind. Another well-known coach uses a question, “And what else?”. Whether a statement of a question, I have been amazed how this opens up the coaching conversation.
Q: It sounds like enhanced communication is a key component of organizational coaching. How does accountability fit in?
Winner: Organizational coaching is equal parts communication and accountability. Our coaches establish a process of accountability by asking a manager or supervisor how they would like to be held accountable. The coach might ask, “Would you like to hold yourself accountable and then self-report? Would you like me to hold you accountable? Would you like to do some combination of those?” That’s always a part of the conversation. Coaching is about working with clients to establish goals and objectives, working toward those outcomes, and being accountable for performance improvements.
About the author
Jon Wollenhaupt is a marketing consultant who writes articles for clients in higher education on topics including employee training and assessment, corporate learning, and workforce development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Government Training Academy at Los Rios Community College District
The Los Rios Government Training Academy (GTA) is the largest provider of customized training to public agencies in Greater Sacramento. The Government Training Academy is a proven partner with government, leading the way in meeting the unique needs and workforce challenges of state, county, and city government.
The GTA’s response is cost-effective and flexible, and it includes proven methods for assuring that the training or intervention has a positive impact and that the value of the training can be measured.
For more information about the training and organizational coaching services provided by the Government Training Academy, please contact:
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