Thursday, 27 September 2012

Is coaching more effective than other forms of training and development?

Mark Evenden I have often had discussions with other training and development professionals about the different approaches and interventions to developing leadership and management competence. When discussing the various development options, questions often arise over the relative effectiveness of coaching over other more ‘conventional’ workshop style approaches. Several colleagues have suggested to me that using coaching to improve leadership capability and performance is more effective than spending the equivalent time on a conventional leadership or management development programme. While I recognise that this is a somewhat subjective statement and quite difficult to measure objectively, there is a fair body of evidence that supports this view. But what are the key differences between these two approaches to development that might produce different outcomes? My personal experience has been gained from being coached and attending leadership development courses, as well as having coached many leaders and delivered numerous development programmes. From my experience I think that there are a number of key differences. Firstly coaching is a 1 to 1 process that is focussed is completely on the individual and their needs, whereas conventional workshop style leadership development programmes are run in groups. The agenda and objectives for a group leadership development intervention will have been developed to best meet the needs of the whole group and may or may not relate directly to an individual on the programme. This is in stark contrast to the objectives for coaching which are set by the coachee and can be flexible and evolve as the coachee progresses. The coaching process deals with the reality of a coachee's situation rather than the generalities, theories, models or techniques that form the basis of a leadership programme. This can mean that the ‘call to action’ is also stronger and more specific for a coachee than for a participant on a leadership programme. The ability for an individual leaders to talk and act honestly, naturally and spontaneously is generally easier in a 1 to 1 coaching session. Any displays of frustration, anger or emotion can sometimes be regarded as disruptive on a leadership or management training course and is often not encouraged. Finally, the timing of coaching sessions can be based around the individual’s needs and the speed at which they develop, with sessions planned more closely together, or further part as appropriate. However, I am certainly not suggesting that conventional group workshop leadership or management development programmes don’t have advantages over coaching, because they do. For example, a group programme provides opportunities and stimulus for knowledge sharing, networking and team development, as well as a mechanism for delivering development in a consistent way. Clearly each approach to development has its own merits and if I reflect on the most successful leadership development programmes that I have been involved in they have been a blend of coaching, conventional ‘training’ as well as other approaches. In this way the participants gain the benefits from coaching as it provides a focus for their specific learning needs as well as the benefits of consistency, networking and sharing learning from a group development programme.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Managing Performance Effectively

Performance management has always been a key part of a manager’s responsibility. However, in the current tough economic climate I believe it is now even more important to manage the performance and development of staff effectively to counter the effects of tough trading conditions. In my view the overall purpose of performance management is to maximise the contribution of individuals and teams to enable a business or organisation to achieve its goals and objectives. I also believe that performance management is applicable to all levels within an organisation from front line operatives to the board. As a manager I have always tried to use a number of principles when managing the performance of my staff. Set clear expectations. I believe that it is vital that everyone in the business knows what’s expected of them if they are to maximise their own and the business’s performance. As a manager I set expectations in the following two ways:  By describing what needs to be achieved through the setting of personal targets (that are ultimately linked to the business strategy).  By describing how managers and staff are expected to behave and deliver their personal targets. Manage performance continually. I do not let my managers and staff ‘just get on with it’ in the hope that they will deliver the expectations that I have set. Instead I continually review their performance by meeting with them on a regular basis (e.g. every 6 weeks) to discuss progress against targets and resolve any issues that might have arisen in the previous period. The outcomes of the meeting are usually a set of actions that need to be taken by both the individual and myself. Review performance annually. I conduct a formal review of performance once per year (using set procedures and documentation). I review performance both in terms of What has been achieved as well as How it has been achieved.  What has been achieved is a review of the job holder’s tasks and responsibilities which I measure by achievement/delivery of the targets set.  How the targets have been delivered. I determine this by reviewing an individual’s behaviour against the business’ competence standards and values. Generally, I have already collated the majority of the evidence for the annual review from the regular meetings I have had with staff. Performance management outcomes. Clearly for performance management to be effective something needs to happen as a result of it. The outcomes from the process typically range from recognition of efforts and achievements, and sanctioning of bonuses and other incentives for those who have delivered on the expectations I set them. For those that do not, there may be consequential action. In addition, I agree learning actions and plans as well as new targets for the coming year. Ultimately, the measure of whether or not performance management is effective is if all managers, teams and ultimately the business achieves its goals and objectives. While performance management is never easy and can often require having difficult or tough conversations, my own experience has been that using the principles above has enabled me to deal with the majority of performance issues before they become a serious problem for either me or the business. Good performance management can provide essential support and guidance to inexperienced staff who if badly managed will continue to perform below their potential.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Making Meetings More Effective

Many years ago I watched a great Video Arts production called ‘Meetings Bloody Meetings’. It starred John Cleese who took a satirical look at the creation of meetings and how to get the most out of them. It was fun to watch and it prompted me to think of not just how much time I wasted in meetings and also and more importantly how much of others people’s time I had wasted by not planning, preparing and chairing the meetings I was responsible for. In my view the key to a successful meeting is in its preparation, and over the years I have used the following checklist to help me prepare. 1) Is the purpose of the meeting clear? For example is it to gain consensus on an issue, to make a decision or is for information sharing? This is an important point because I use it as a challenge, do I really need a meeting or can the purpose be achieved in another way. For example if it is for information sharing can the information be disseminated via email? 2) Related to the first point what are the specific outcomes of the meeting? In other words what do you want the meeting to achieve? 3) Who needs to attend and do any of the participants need to have specific roles during the meeting? 4) What decision making processes are needed? For example, will it be the group leader who makes the decision, via a majority vote, consensus or some other process? 5) Where will the meeting be held and has the availability of the space/venue been confirmed as well as the availability of any equipment needed? 6) Does everyone know when and where the meeting will be held? 7) Has a preliminary agenda with purpose and outcomes clearly stated been prepared and sent out to key participants and other stakeholders to sound them out in advance? 8) Following 7) above has the agenda been finalised and distributed it to all participants? 9) What information (e.g. reports) need to be sent out to the participants in advance to allow them to prepare and has this been done? 10) Have you prepared yourself and all necessary materials? Clearly the above doesn’t address all aspects of making a meeting effective as it doesn’t cover actually chairing and facilitating the meeting. However, my personal experience is that the better prepared you are the more likely you are to have a successful meeting – or as the Army’s mantra states, follow the 4 P’s, Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Performance!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Understanding Your Leadership ‘flaws’ with 360° Feedback

I believe great leaders succeed because they play to their strengths. They are extremely aware of them and know how to deploy them for their own advantage and for the benefit of their business. This enables them to successfully repeat their performance in different roles and organisations. However, in my view all leaders also have weaknesses, and these can inhibit a leaders’ success in their role. I remember many years ago I had a new boss who was young, energetic and full of good ideas. While my new boss was keen and clearly wanted to do the best for the business, he was very unaware of the impact his behaviour had on others. For example he: • Interrogated me about my budgeted overspend and expected me to come up with an urgent plan to correct the situation. On investigation I discovered that he had shifted a large spend onto my budget to make another part of the business appear more successful than it actually was. • Instructed me not to contradict him in public – he spoke to me about this when we were in the gents toilets together! • Did not listen other people properly, he was not interested in other people’s views, just his own. • Was insensitive to other people’s needs. • He was indiscrete and would tell stories about others as well as be overly critical about other people in public. The consequence of this was that many people didn’t trust or respect him, ironically an issue he often complained bitterly about! However, self awareness is rarely an innate talent that most people have. So how do leaders become more self aware of their ‘flaws’? Personally, I recommend using a leadership 360° feedback appraisal system to collect the views and opinions of bosses, peers and team members. My own personal experience of using leadership 360° feedback appraisal, is that it increased my self awareness enormously. For me one of the most powerful aspects of it was understanding what my team expected of me as a leader. As a manager you are used to setting expectations for your team, but not the other way round! It’s a shame that the boss I referred to earlier did not have the opportunity (or perhaps courage) to ‘look in the mirror’, because if he had done he would have seen his flaws and done something about them.