Sports coaching vs the voodoo approach

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Historically, trainers and coaches rely on the trickle down method of impacting an organization: train or coach the boss and then everyone who reports to that person will change their behavior and the organization will benefit. Or sometimes the opposite approach is taken – put the staff/employees through training, thinking that will change things, only to discover that the real issues are in the leadership team.

Contrast that with a sports coaching approach. The coach develops the players, watches them perform, makes specific observations and observes the change of performance in actual game situations. This cycle continues and hopefully results in continuing improvement of performance.

Most executive coaching involves a series of meetings and discussions to identify and implement a behavior changes designed to make the leader more effective in running his or her department or division. The challenge is that typically the coach does not see the manager in actual game situations (running a meeting, talking with an employee, etc.) In this case, the coaching is really a therapy session, leaving the implementation in the hands of the manager. And given that many managers lack self-awareness of the impact of their behavior, the coaching cannot get at the real issues.

Leadership training can fall into the same trap. People attend training, have great ideas of what they want to change in their approach, only to return to existing habits when they return to work. To counteract this we started holding participants accountable for applying new skills back on the job and require them to meet with their boss to discuss changes they were making. Even with those requirements, it is still possible for an individual to “check the box” instead of making lasting and meaningful change.

Here are three suggestions to create a larger impact from your training and development initiatives:

1. Match the solution to the desired outcome

Instead of falling in love with a solution, engage the consultant in making a recommendation that would achieve the desired end result. You can still do “feel-good” training if you want to, but if the goal is to change the culture then the solution will require a more intensive intervention.

2. Address contributing factors

Training (or coaching) as a solution cannot fix other systemic barriers to change which could include reward and recognition, hiring practices, measurement, and business strategies to name a few. A conversation with senior executives who have the authority to change these factors can often do more to change behavior than simply delivering skill building sessions. The goal is to eliminate excuses and obstacles to change.

3. Train and coach in-the-moment

The highest impact training and coaching will address very specific behaviors and actions instead of broad feel-good topics. Many organizations are reluctant to do a deep dive and provide the level of support required for success because the investment is usually higher. To mitigate this, consider having internal executives play the role of coaches, observing behavior and providing immediate feedback.

Many forward thinking organizations are becoming frustrated about the lack of impact most initiatives have on organizational performance. The good news is that these enlightened executives will be more open to comprehensive solutions that actually make a difference. Instead of wasted time and money, the return on investment will be actualized.