Three years of difficulty, uncertainty, and for many perceived unfairness can blind us to opportunity. Our brains are wired to pay far more attention to risk than reward and almost no matter what incentives we put in place, uncertainty and fear neutralise them. Volatile currency markets, uncertain economic outlook, scarce and expensive credit, increasing regulation and “austerity thinking” all contribute to create a pervasive climate of quiet fear in many organisations, yet the reality is that any time of significant change brings about real opportunity. Demand does not go away, but meeting it does need new approaches if we are to overcome the caution that market conditions have generated.
In this first short article, I have limited myself to highlighting two of the key areas that coaching helps organisations address; engagement and leadership. These can often be quickly enhanced in small and medium sized businesses to yield impressive results.
It seems paradoxical that at the same time as many have achieved high, even “six sigma” levels of efficiency, with advanced communications systems and many ways of interacting with our colleagues, we find employee engagement is at record lows. Authoritative surveys, including the excellent overarching McLeod report demonstrate that engagement levels in the UK (having employees who identity with, have pride in and are committed to the business) average less than 25%, and that active disengagement levels exceed 25%. We can only assume that for the remaining 50%, the jury is out. The report lists compelling evidence of the difference in performance resulting from good levels of engagement.
The debate on the cause is extensive, but inadequate leadership, poor communication and a breakdown of trust are leading contenders. The implications are enormous, and serious. No matter what we do with technology, business of any sort eventually boils down to a person to person interaction – and disengagement is communicated at immediate and visceral levels; we only have to consider our own experiences of retail, call centre, or other service based conversations.
At its simplest the key differences between us being engaged and disengaged are how we feel we are seen and respected, whether we feel we have a degree of importance, and whether we consider we are listened to. Very simple, but it can be difficult to ensure when we are under pressure ourselves.
Leadership is moving rapidly from being a role, to an attitude. At its heart, leadership is the ability to move others to see what you see and give their support to your efforts. It can occupy a spectrum from persuasion to getting outright commitment, the difference being the speed and quality of the journey.
The reality is that we are all leaders now. Anybody whose job involves aligning others along with their point of view, whether that is colleagues, customers, suppliers, or officials, is a leader. The fluidity of the way we now work via phone, web, or person to person means we all have opportunities to lead, whether it’s in our job description or not. We can make leadership as complex or a simple as we wish. Certainly, the challenges get greater the more responsibility we take on, but it’s not something that starts with a promotion, it’s an attitude whose components lie in the belief we have in what we are doing, and how we convey that to others. Coaching is an effective way to enable and encourage it.
The Challenge we face
Most businesses are efficient; otherwise they would not have survived the last three years. That also means that for most, further efficiency increases are likely to be incremental, with decreasing return on investment from the effort that needs to be applied.
The challenge now is to leverage those harder to measure but critically important resources that can get the business in, deliver results in a way that delights customers, identify new initiatives, and commit to the organisation. It is about moving beyond efficiency to create real value that attracts, retains and delights customers. That needs both leadership and engagement.
The Power of Coaching
The difference between coaching and training is that coaching assumes that each of us already has within us what we need to perform better. It is often not so much about “putting stuff in” as removing it – the “it” being distractions, concerns, perceptions and other issues that impede us. Most of us have great ideas, suggestions, knowledge and talents that we believe would improve the business, but are often reluctant to put them forward for fear of ridicule or failure.
An external coach is able to work in total confidence with the person being coached (something that will often be more difficult for a “manager as coach”), to help them focus on what’s important right now to achieve their goals, how they might bring all their skills, talents and insights into play, and “face down” any fears they might have. Coaching is particularly effective when practised with those who are considered to have real potential in an organisation, whether as leaders or practitioners, as it highlights not only the internal resources of the person, but an awareness of the resources of others that can be brought to bear.
The opportunities for business in 2011 and beyond are exciting, but we will not go back to “business as usual”. We have to find ways of achieving more and delighting our clients whilst operating with fewer resources. Improving the engagement of key people and teams, and enhancing their ability and confidence to explore, inspire and lead is fundamental to this. For many businesses, Coaching is the fastest, most cost effective and enjoyable means to achieving this.
Free Web Based coaching Tool
We are developing an experimental free online coaching tool with two of the World’s leading Coaches, Myles Downey (founder of the School of coaching and author of “Effective Coaching”, and Tim Gallwey, founder of the “Inner Game” approach, and author of “Inner Game of Tennis, and many other titles.
If you would like to participate in this project, please mail firstname.lastname@example.org with E-Coach in the title, and we will send you a personal invitation.