I recently read a thought-provoking and very practical book entitled The Heart of Coaching: Using Transformational Coaching to Create a High-Performance Coaching Culture by Thomas G. Crane (2012). It was especially interesting for me to read it with both of my professional hats on – as an organizational leader and as a mediator and conflict management specialist.
Over the past few years, I have noticed (and we have encouraged) a growing paradigm shift and adjustment of collective mental models about leadership and business development. Crane also describes several aspects of this shift (the last three points are especially relevant):
- Our competitive environment is increasingly regional and global in nature (vs. primarily local).
- The rate of technological change is constant and relentless (vs. incremental)
- Organizational strategy is increasingly becoming about exceeding customer expectations (vs. simply satisfying our customer’s needs)
- Organizational culture is shifting towards empowerment, collaboration and shared purpose (vs. “command and control”)
- Leaders are expected to be coaches, facilitators, role models and visionaries (vs. bosses, decision makers, supervisors, and arbitrators)
So what? What does all this matter? Crane says this:
The rules have changed. The processes that people previously used to achieve their objectives are no longer valid, and the traditional roles and hierarchical working relationships are not longer effective. High performance is no longer an option; it is a requirement for the survival of both individuals and organizations…Leadership skills are needed now more than ever.
And, now more than ever, businesses (our clients included) are investing heavily in their primary assets – their people. As they should be. Training resources devoted to supporting both organizational culture change and tangible behaviour change (i.e. capacity building and skill development) underscore a relentless emphasis on developing high performance cultures in our workplaces.
Our experience at FS tells us that training alone, however, is not enough to realize the sustainable changes that organizations are working so hard to achieve. Quick injections of new knowledge, regardless of how insightful and engaging, don’t afford the long-term benefits that we expect.
It takes a multipronged approach to support the system (and the individuals therein) to make change. This can include resourcing individuals and work groups through proactive team development sessions, providing tangible supports and structures that encourage people to have difficult conversations when things get tough (and they always do), and coaching resources to assist people with practically integrating their new knowledge and skills. By omitting theses additional supports you are not protecting your investment.
Crane provides a compelling argument based on research. His Figure A below illustrates is what most would consider to be the basic (and reasonable) goal/expectation of organizations when they invest in skills training. That is, that over time new behaviours lead to improved results. Figure B, however, illustrates what actually happens if training is offered without any accompanying supports. That is, that any change is fleeting, old habits and behaviours quickly re-emerge and any tangible results essentially flat line. OUCH.
When we don’t support people’s efforts after providing them with skills training, Crane asserts, we send them mixed messages and essentially set them up to fail:
To the employee’s face, we say:
“We will send you to this training program in which you will learn skills and behaviours to apply on the job. We have selected you because we believe you can do a better job afterward and, of course, we expect to see improved performance after you return. Now, go and learn.”
But the unspoken organizational truth the employees hear and usually experience is more like this:
“We hope you can implement all the changes we expect to see without any help from us, because we are just too busy to coach you or reinforce your new skills after you return. But we know from experience that you probably won’t be able to do it – the effect of training frequently is negligible. That’s why it is the first thing we cut when times get tough. Thanks for going to the workshop!”
Training for change is a critical business investment. This is especially true in an era of increasingly high expectations of performance. Consider carefully how your organization can protect this investment.
Support is the single most effective input you can provide that will both create the sustainable change you seek while building your overall competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Five simple and cost-effective ways to protect your investment in training:
- Build a coaching component directly into the training session itself. Coaching can provide important immediate feedback as people learn, test out and practice new skills.
- Follow up a skills-based workshop with a team session that focuses specifically on practice, feedbackand implementation (i.e. no new content), with coaching support provided to each practice group.
- Offer individual/private coaching follow-up opportunities post-training. This encourages people to further explore, practice, integrate feedback and augment their skills in a safe, confidential environment.
- Ensure that there are structures in place that support people to have difficult conversations with each other. Conflict (i.e. differences plus tension) is often a by-product of change. Capitalize on the opportunity to foster a conflict-positive organizational culture.
- Provide proactive team development sessions whereby intact work groups can discuss, plan and practically implement new knowledge and skills as a team, supporting one another to work towards collective goals.