Coaching

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Six Thinking Hats

hatsIf we’re trying to make a decision, how do we stop the most critical person being the one who gets all the airspace?

Have we really considered all the angles when we make decisions?

What questions should I ask in a meeting?

These are questions we get asked a lot by business leaders, HR professionals and anyone who is questioning the value of the time we all spend in meetings.  Based on the concept of Six Thinking Hats, our experience and our focus on keeping it simple, we have developed an approach that works for making decisions, reviewing an idea and a wide range of other contexts.

This is an overview of how it works and how you can do it yourself.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Edward de Bono revolutionised the way we consider decision making and thinking overall.  He highlighted that since the Greek philosophers we have celebrated critical thinkers.  It is the most critical person in a meeting who gets the most airspace.  And what is the outcome of too much critical thinking? A lack of action.

De Bono highlighted the importance of more balance in our thinking, challenging us to yes be critical, as well as positive, creative, data driven, emotionally open and structured.

So how does this work in practice?

For meetings to be effective we need to be thinking in the same direction.  How often do we waste hours in meetings playing the tennis of,

“I agree with Richard, but I’m not convinced that will work here.”

“Well I disagree with that, we’ve got early data telling us it does work.”

“Yes but that was only in the area of…” and so on.

This is thinking in opposing directions which is unproductive.  De Bono showed us a simple way to all think in the same direction, which takes disciplined facilitation and works extremely well.

The six hats represent six types of thinking – and we can all put on every single hat.  Some people take this to the letter, have people wearing coloured hats and stick to the structure very strictly.  We like keeping it simple, so we tend to simply ask the questions that we find helpful under each hat – and if someone goes off topic, we remind them we’re only looking at this angle at the moment.

Totem Lollipops

We’ve listed some of the questions we find most helpful here under each of the topics or hats for decision making and considering a challenge:

Positive

  • What is good about this idea?
  • What are the benefits of this approach?
  • What could be a potential benefit of this?
  • What are the positive features?

Critical

What is not so good about this?

  • What are the risks?
  • What could go wrong?
  • What experience tells us this might not work?

Creative

  • What could we do to make this better?
  • What new ideas could grow out of what we have already discussed?
  • What else could we do to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks?
  • How could we overcome barriers to doing this or things that have stopped it from working before?

Data-driven

  • What information do we already have to help us make a decision?
  • What further information do we need to make a decision about this?
  • What data will we want to monitor our success?
  • What other data might be interesting to look at?  What might that tell us?

Intuitive

  • We’ve talked rationally about this, now let’s just acknowledge that we’ll each have an emotional or intuitive reaction to the idea as well. How do you feel about it / what does your gut tell you?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What are your fears?
  • How might this affect you personally ?

The final topic or hat is the process or structure of facilitation itself.  You might use this in your own preparation time, thinking about how to best structure the meeting, or it may be that you use the concept of structure to end the meeting with questions like:

  • What have we agreed?
  • What will happen next?
  • Who will do that?
  • When will we review that?

You can find out more in Edward De Bono’s frankly amazing book, click the picture and be whisked away!

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Executive Coaching

toptem-coachingFar from a nice chat, coaching can be extremely valuable to business.

But how do we measure this? How can you know you are getting value for money?  Quite simply, the value is in the time and space to think, facilitated to ensure clear progress is made. We rarely take time to step back, stop and think. We face a challenge, we find a solution and we run with it.

It’s no wonder with this pattern of working that we often end up realising months have gone by and we have not thought about overall performance, strategic direction, personal goals etc.

By taking that time to think with a facilitator, we become more effective, find ways around our fears and areas where we might lack confidence. It’s a difficult one to quantify – but think of a manager suddenly having the confidence to manage a poor performing team. Imagine you, at your best, performing with greater efficiency and focus. It’s all extremely valuable.

Jelly Bean Diversity

How can we measure the value of coaching?

As with any activity where it is difficult to quantify impact or benefit, the key is in the original objectives. It is only when we know what impact we are aiming for that we can measure whether any activity has been successful. It is for this reason that coaching objectives need to be aligned to business needs.

Consider exactly what you want to see happen and how you would know if it had happened.

Let’s take an example of a senior executive who is performing well in many areas, but struggling to build relationships with key players and influence change. This scenario is a perfect opportunity for coaching. Training in this instance would provide knowledge about what the executive should do, but coaching will more rapidly get to the heart of existing barriers and how to move past these.

To measure whether coaching has been effective in this scenario, we could define some clear objectives. For example, “by the end of a six month coaching programme, this executive will have:

  • Built positive relationships with departments X and Y, demonstrated by a 10% increase in the number of projects they are working on together
  • Influenced change in at least two areas where they were previously frustrated with a lack of progress
  • Created an action plan to move the department toward their vision over the next 3 months”

Maximising your coaching session

So as long as you set clear objectives and measure the business benefit of these throughout your coaching programme, you can be clear on the ROI of the coach.

To maximise the value you gain:

  • Define your objectives, being really clear about what would be different if the coaching was effective
  • Start with an open mind, then give your coach prompts on what is working well for you
  • Keep evaluating what you are gaining from the time and money invested
  • Calculate the financial impact of the changes you have made since meeting with coach – whether that is time saved, more productive meetings etc, you should be able to estimate an amount
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Coaching Uncovered

What happens in coaching sessions?

We have been delighted this year to have received more requests for coaching than ever before.  We’re delighted because we love doing it.  It’s one thing working with 12 people on a workshop, but the difference we can see in someone, working 1:1 over six months, is incredibly rewarding.

The question we often get asked, particularly by those who are organising the coaching, but have never actually had a coach themselves, is what actually happens?  What conversations are happening and how are we adding value as coaches?  Of course we cannot go into detail with them about their company’s coaching clients, but we can share some overall trends and useful insights about where we see the greatest change occur for people.

Having coached MDs, Marketing, Finance and Operations Directors, CTOs, PR professionals and not-for-profit leaders, we are often asked how on earth we add value to such a diverse range of people.  The simple answer is that all of these people have the same challenges.  They need to get some clear thinking space, consider how to translate ideas into solid goals and strategy and how to handle difficult conversations.

The greatest change occurs when people realise one or more of the following:

“I haven’t really asked myself what the problem is or what outcome I want.”

“I am limiting myself through fear.”

“I’m not saying what I’m thinking.”

This is the theme that underlies issues as broad as strategic planning and setting a new direction for the business all the way down to having a difficult conversation with one person.  In our article on difficult conversations, we share our top tips for those less comfortable meetings, which is the number one topic that comes up in our coaching sessions.  But here we focus on the broader themes and how you can benefit from these two insights for yourself and with your own coaching and mentoring clients.

Think of something that you want to achieve, or that you’ve been working to achieve for some time and it’s just not going as well as you would like.  From performance managing one individual to changing the culture of an organisation of thousands, it doesn’t matter what it is – take some time now to think about what it is you want to achieve.

Now consider these questions:

What is the outcome you want?  Work it through, past the initial project or conversation and to a longer-term outcome, what is it?  Why is that important to you? 

Imagine yourself in that outcome, you have achieved it.  What will be happening?  How is life / business / the team better? 

What could be holding you back from getting there?  What are you afraid of?

What do you need to say and to whom (as usually to achieve something we need to involve others)?  What would you say if you were really honest and just said what you thought?

What is holding you back from saying that?

These questions can help you identify the true outcome you want, or indeed challenge yourself: maybe the outcome you thought you wanted is really not that important and you can start considering something else.  The questions help you identify fears that are stopping you from acting.  And when you acknowledge those fears, you can challenge them.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Would that really be so bad?  What would you do if that worst situation did happen?

Realising that you would carry on, overcome challenges and survive can be very empowering.  Finally these questions can help you realise that you have simply avoided having the straightforward conversation that could unblock progress.  What if you had a go at just saying it?

This is a common flow of conversation in coaching sessions, because unclear goals, fear and not saying what we’re thinking are often are greatest challenges.

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Taking Accountability

Getting Others to Take Accountability

A common complaint from managers is that their people do not take accountability. Our feedback article talked about the need for awareness, agreement and action, but perhaps the message missing is the underlying foundation to it all: accountability.

In a recent coaching conversation, a senior manager we’ll call Jo described her frustration with a member of her team who was poor on time management. Jo shared a long list of things she had tried to help this individual, let’s call him Kris, to improve. Jo had done the work considering what could be the causes, issues and potential solutions.

Kris had the easiest job in all of this. All he had to do was describe how hard everything was, then simply say “I don’t know” whenever asked what he thought the causes or potential solutions could be. In a way, Kris has been allowed to take no accountability because he has never been pushed to explore his challenges or come up with solutions.

Driving accountability in others means asking them to come up with problem finding, analysis and solutions, then not letting them off the hook when they don’t have an immediate answer. When we ask, “what might be the cause of that problem?” and someone replies, “I don’t know,” we need to have other options than simply doing the thinking and talking for them.

What if you asked that person to take it on as a project, analysing the problem and coming up with ideas? What if you asked them to report back to you next week? What if you remembered that following week to ask for their progress report? What if you didn’t let it go?

Whilst you might argue that this isn’t really the person taking accountability at all, because you’re having to push and pull an awful lot, over time you create the expectation that your team manage their own problem solving. And that’s accountability.

This is not a quick fix, but what is when it comes to helping people understand their roles and take accountability for their work? Better to start small and build a culture or expectation over time that you expect people to think for themselves, than to keep going down the route of doing all the work for them.

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Binary Thinking

What triggers binary thinking and why it’s an issue

Have you ever noticed when you’re feeling uncomfortable about making a decision or you’re anxious about something, that you seem to only have two bad options?

It’s a sign you may be getting stuck in binary thinking – either it’s A or B.  Black or White.  Or an unattractive option against an equally unattractive option.

This is one of the limiting effects of our brain’s tendency to narrow our thinking when we’re under pressure.  It can be helpful to understand more about why this happens and what you can do about it when you find yourself stuck in binary thinking.

So why do our brains narrow in thinking when we’re under pressure?  It’s important to remember that our primary instinct is to survive and so when we face anything we perceive as pressure or a threat, then to some degree, our brain, muscles, hormones and chemicals are in survival mode.  You can dig into the neuroscience behind this here.

That might sound extreme for simply deciding how to address a difficult conversation with a  colleague, but the fact remains that since the days of escaping attacks by sabre-tooth tigers, we still have the same fight or flight mechanisms for any perceived threat.

The discomfort and anxiety caused by the idea of having an awkward conversation with a colleague registers in our brains in a similar way to a physical threat to our safety.  And so it makes some sense that during these times of pressure, our brain’s priority is not to be as creative and open as possible in thinking.

The brain’s priority is to get us out of the problem, so quick and minimal options that get us towards a decision and outcome is the focus: think fight or flight.  This might translate in your difficult conversation scenario to thinking your only options are to go in and shout at the person or say nothing.  Or you might decide that it’s fire them now or forever be stuck with their poor performance.

What we need is more options…

How can we break our brain’s natural reaction and find more options?  This is where mindfulness comes in.  We need to be consciously aware of what is happening in order to choose a different way of thinking.

So pay attention to those times when you find yourself thinking you only have two options.  Think of the thought “I can either do A or B” as an alarm bell – a warning that you are in narrow thinking and it could be beneficial for you to move into more open and creative thinking.

Once you have recognised that you’ve gone into that binary thinking, you can now choose to come out of it.  Here are some top tips for getting into a more creative space:

Tell yourself, or draw it out if you work well with visuals, that there are many options in between A and B.

Ask yourself, what if I could work out four other options between A and B?  How might that help me?  Posing this as a question rather than a factual statement engages the brain and challenges the brain to start thinking more creatively

This moves the brain to a future-focus

Focus on the outcomes – what do you want to achieve?  This moves the brain to a future-focus, imagining what we want to happen, which again breaks us out of the threat response.

In the difficult conversation example, you might say that you want the outcomes to be that the person changes their behaviour and that your working relationship is still intact.

In communicating bad news, like the need for redundancies, you might say you want the outcome to be that people know what is happening and why, and that people know you are keen to help them get through this.

It is helpful to think about your outcomes in terms of what you want other people to feel, say and do.  As this can be a clear starting point for you deciding what you need to feel, say and do.

Now plan out some other options.  Based on the outcomes you want, what are some different options?  What could you say and do?  Which options feel more appropriate?  Why?

Now you have moved from limited options to a clearer focus on the outcomes you desire.  So you can plan your next move.

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The Value Add of Executive Coaching

value-totemHow We Go About Improving the Value Add of Executive Coaching

Whether we’re coaching one senior executive in a firm or a whole leadership team and whether we are the sole coaching provider or one of many, there are some consistent ways of working that help.

We’ve put together this useful little guide to help you understand some of the key steps to successful executive coaching.

Click on the image and the magic will happen.

coaching-download-image

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The Coaching Question

Far from a nice chat, coaching can be extremely valuable to business.

But how do we measure this? How can you know you are getting value for money?  The value is in the time and space to think, facilitated to ensure clear progress is made. We rarely take time to step back, stop and think. We face a challenge, we find a solution and we run with it.

It’s no wonder with this pattern of working that we often end up realising months have gone by and we have not thought about overall performance, strategic direction, personal goals etc.

By taking that time to think with a facilitator, we become more effective, find ways around our fears and areas where we might lack confidence. It’s a difficult one to quantify – but think of a manager suddenly having the confidence to manage a poor performing team. Imagine you, at your best, performing with greater efficiency and focus. It’s all extremely valuable.

How can we measure the value of coaching?

As with any activity where it is difficult to quantify impact or benefit, the key is in the original objectives. It is only when we know what impact we are aiming for that we can measure whether any activity has been successful. It is for this reason that coaching objectives need to be aligned to business needs.

Consider exactly what you want to see happen and how you would know if it had happened.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Let’s take a classic example of a manager who was promoted due to their ability as a great technical specialist/sales person/engineer/customer advisor. This manager now has a team and they are not sure whether they should be aiming to be friends with the team or exert authority. They are not sure how to performance manage people that used to be peers.

This scenario is a perfect opportunity for coaching. Training in this instance would provide knowledge about what a manager should do, but coaching will more rapidly get to the heart of what is holding the manager back.

To measure whether coaching has been effective in this scenario, we could define some clear objectives. For example, “by the end of a six month coaching programme, this manager will have:

  • Set a performance improvement plan for team member X who has been lagging behind on targets for months
  • Improved overall team performance by at least 5%, moving up to 20% in the following 12 months
  • Contributed to team meetings and strategy days – the manager currently says very little. This should move up to at least three ideas contributed or developed with others per meeting”

Maximising your coaching session

So as long as you set clear objectives and measure the business benefit of these throughout your coaching programme, you can be clear on the ROI of the coach. To maximise the value you gain:

  • Define your objectives
  • Start with an open mind, then give your coach prompts on what is working well for you
  • Keep evaluating what you are gaining from the time and money invested
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Mediation in the Workplace

Totem-in-the-middleUnfortunately, it’s not just world leaders who need to know this…

From time to time there may be disharmony and discord within your team.  Managing at these times can be taxing, to say the least. But with a few techniques and practical tools for handling conflict, you will be equipped to confidently deal with these difficult situations and find a positive outcome.

Research suggests that managers spend around 25% of their time managing and handling conflict in their teams. Conflict isn’t always necessarily a negative thing – it can often mean that people are passionate about their work and it can encourage creative thinking. Conflict can, however, mean that teams become ‘stuck’ when an impasse is reached, so finding ways to resolve conflict is important.

You might be asked to mediate when a conflict has reached that impasse, or you might find it helpful in your own conflicts to have the tools and tips to address it effectively.  So let’s take a quick look at some the theories and models that might help.

Academic researcher and mediation expert Joseph Stulberg*, identified a pattern common to all controversies. He termed them the Five Ps of Conflict Management:

Perceptions: Our negative perceptions of conflict impact our approach in resolving conflict as we strive to eliminate the source of these negative feelings.

Problems: Anyone can be involved in a conflict, and the amount of time, money, and equipment needed for resolution will vary according to its complexity.

Processes: There are different ways to go about resolving disputes: Suppress the conflict, give in, fight, litigate, mediate, etc.

Principles: We determine the priorities of all resolution processes on the basis of an analysis of our fundamental values regarding efficiency, participation, fairness, compliance, etc.

Practices: Power, self-interest, and unique situations are all factors relating to why people resolve disputes the way they do.

With this in mind, mediation is essentially a dialogue or negotiation which involves a third party. Mediation should be a voluntary process for all. Unlike a judge, the mediator cannot unilaterally force parties to resolve their differences and enforce a decision.

Totem Gummi Bears

HR expert and academic Glenn Varney* suggests that to resolve differences between individuals it can be valuable bringing the parties together and, with the assistance of a third party, asking the following questions:

  • What is the problem, as you perceive it?
  • What does the other person do that contributes to the problem?
  • What do you want or need from the other person?
  • What do you do that contributes to the problem?
  • What first step can you take to resolve the problem?

Many people use the talking stick idea here.  This means when one person holds the talking stick, everyone else listens.  Interruptions are simply not allowed.  You don’t of course need an actual stick for this, you can just set the ground rules at the start of the meeting.

Varney emphasises that the context is important – each individual should be questioned while the other listens then asks questions for further clarifications. They should be allowed to express their feelings and get hostility out of their systems at this stage, but key to this is that both must be willing to admit partial responsibility for the problem.

It’s also critical that the first objective is for each person to understand the other’s perspective and not to get across their own view.  As Stephen Covey puts it – “seek first to understand, then to be understood”

Both individuals then discuss a mutual definition and understanding of the problem. Agreement should be reached on what steps will be taken to resolve the problem and should be put in writing in order to prevent later misunderstandings.

This requires good listening, low defensiveness, and an ability to stay in a problem-solving mode. The key to Varney’s process is exposing the different positions as early as possible.  Which is where the facilitator or mediator can help in pulling out what’s really going on.

If you’re looking for tips on encouraging good debate and positive conflict, you might find our simple approach to Six Thinking Hats useful.

 

*Stulberg, J. B. (1987). Taking charge / managing conflict. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

*Varney, G. H. (1989). Building productive teams: An action guide and resource book. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, Inc.

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Mentoring – The Basics

totem-mentoringLet’s go over more of the do’s than the dont’s…

Many of us have been mentoring for years without ever receiving training on how to do it. In a sense, that’s no bad thing – you don’t need training in order to give good advice. And yet for that advice to be taken on board and applied, there are some things we can do to be even more effective mentors.

What is mentoring?

If you’ve ever been asked to advise or counsel a colleague, you’ve been a mentor. Essentially the passing on of advice, stories from experience, lessons learned etc. is mentoring. Through years of both mentoring and advising mentors, we have found that the most effective mentors do more than just give advice.

What makes an effective mentor?

The following features have repeatedly come up in feedback from mentors and mentees in what makes a great mentor:

Really be there – It’s so easy in our world of being busy, checking the phone, rushing from meeting to meeting, to not really be present in a mentoring session. There are just too many other things to be done. The best mentors really focus their time and energy in the moment to offer their greatest advice.

Be yourself – There is no other person you need to imitate or attempt to act like when mentoring. It is your personal experience and learning that your mentee wants to benefit from, so be honest, share learning and be yourself.  This includes being vulnerable, sharing what has not gone well and exploring how you both learn from that.

Listen – For you to offer great advice, you need to have truly listened. Make sure you are really paying attention to what the mentee is saying, how they’re saying it, their tone of voice and facial expressions – what are they not saying? This will enable you to offer far more support and advice.

Totem Gummi Bears

Stay on topic – The main criticism of mentoring sessions is that they can become nice chats. Avoid that by finding out what’s on the mind of your mentee and what they want to achieve – then stay on that. Avoid conversations that go nowhere by listening to their concerns and ideas, sharing your experience and advice, then asking them what they will do now.

Don’t let them off the hook with statements like “it’s difficult” – push them by asking “what could you do then?”

Support & challenge – A lot of us think we have to do one or the other, yet both is best. Be supportive through your understanding and empathy for what they are experiencing. Be challenging by encouraging them to think beyond the barriers, try new things, focus on the positive and learn from experience. Joining these together enables you to demonstrate understanding whilst pushing for progress.

Give credit where it’s due – Often we get carried away in the mentoring itself, so that we miss the opportunity to celebrate success and acknowledge progress made. Constantly review what has worked well, where learning and real progress has occurred – and celebrate!

How will I know I’m doing a good job?

This is a great question to ask your mentee.

We each define success differently and it is a great conversation to both define what is success generally for the individual, i.e. how do they know they have achieved something great, and also how they will judge whether the mentoring has been successful.  So don’t forget to continue reviewing the usefulness of your meetings by checking back against the mentee’s success criteria.

You will also find that asking this question early on builds a great deal of trust and openness between you, as you have shown that you are not assuming superiority.

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