Particularly over the last 8 to 10 years Jamaicans and track fans around the world have been singing the praises of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Frazer. Bolt’s 9.58 and 19.19 seconds world records in the 100 and 200 meters and 14 gold medals in the World Championships and Olympic games since 2007 has cemented his name in the annals of track and field for all times. Shelly-Ann’s explosive start and 6 gold medals in the individual 100 and 200 meters at the World Championships and Olympics makes her the most successful women’s sprinter of all times. Indeed a remarkable achievement. In the background of all of this is their coach, Glen Mills and Stephen Francis. What role have they played in success of their athletes? How significant is that role? What can individuals of all disciplines and particularly business leaders learn from the coach and their role? Which champion does not have a great coach? If you look at it closely, not only is a coach required to take you to the top of your game, they are even more relevant to keep you there.
Decades ago, astute business owners recognised that they could transfer the core skills and essence of the sports coach to the business place and create outstanding business athletes. Now there isn’t a fortune 500 CEO who does not have at least one personal business/life coach and many have several coaches. One of the biggest advocates of coaching in the business environment was/is Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric (GE), who in a 20 year period grew GE from a US$13 Bill to U$500Bill company. His coaching philosophy is captured in this quote: “People who are coaches will be the norm. Other people won’t get promoted.”
Over the last 10 to 15 years the art of business performance coaching has been fine tuned by organizations such as Corporate Coach University, Coachville, and the business faculties of many universities, particularly in the USA, UK and Australia. The results have been interesting. One study on the impact of executive coaching done by Manchester Inc in 2001, surveyed 100 executives, half of whom held positions of VP or higher and concluded that the coaching programs delivered a return on investment of 6 times the cost of coaching. That is a 600% return on investment. Among the benefits to the companies were improvements in productivity (53%), retaining executives (32%) and bottom-line profitability (22%). Benefits to the executives included improved working relationships with direct reports (77%), working relationships with immediate supervisors (71%) and organizational commitment (44%).
The fact that these results happened anywhere means that they can also happen here, in Jamaica and the Caribbean. I could make a strong case that the leading bank and the leading investment company in Jamaica, (Bank of Nova Scotia and Jamaica Money Market Brokers), owe their position in no small measure to the fact that they have embraced coaching as a strategic imperative.
Yet, in spite of these kinds of results, very few companies in Jamaica have embraced coaching as a strategic imperative and even fewer has succeeded at their attempts to introduce coaching.
Making Coaching Pay Off Handsomely
In conversation with managers and executives, and from my own observations, I have identified three key mistakes that thwart the effectiveness of the coaching intervention. Avoiding these will give you a head start in this game.
Mistake # 1: Treating coaching as another Quick Fix: For coaching to be most effective it requires more than the rubber stamped approval from the head of the organisation. If you want to waste money, simply instruct HR to go ahead with a coach training program for ineffective managers/team leaders only. Instead, view the coaching program as a strategic shift in the way leaders relate to the team and themselves. Relate to it as important. Have members of all levels of leadership engaging in the coach training process concurrently and have a commitment to put all leaders through a well thought out and executed coach training program. A culture of Coaching is a culture in which learning and growth thrives.
Mistake # 2: Mixing up Coaching with other disciplines: If you expect that your car will one day fly you from Kingston to New York, you will end up cussing the car as worthless and a waste of your money and time. A similar thing happens when leaders/managers mistake counselling, mentoring, training and consulting for coaching. All of these methods of helping people are useful and have their place. There are fundamental differences between all of them and coaching. In a later article I will share the key differences. Suffice to say coaching increases the effectiveness of counselling, mentoring, training and consulting. If you are going to coach somebody, do not counsel them and expect the results that coaching provides.
Mistake # 3: Treating the Theory of Coaching as Coach Training: Business Coaching as a discipline has grown tremendously over the last decade. People may think it is a science but in my experience it is more an art and the most important thing to achieve effectiveness in this art is practice. Treating it otherwise is similar to reading a manual to your child about riding a bicycle and then expecting them to jump on their bicycle and ride. It just does not happen. Most coach training programs are similarly constructed. The trainer comes in, or you send your manager to a rigorous one or two day training program. They review the fundamentals, go through the skills, do a few case studies, and then return to the office with the manuals. After two weeks 80% of what they learn is gone. The coaching training program you institute will pay off when it is structured to allow for supervised practice sessions over a period of 6 to 12 months and incorporates on-the job challenges and opportunities.
Develop the Gems within.
So how many Usain-like, or Shelly-Ann-like, employees do you have in your organization? Who are you going to develop to be their Glen Mills-like or Steve Francis-like coach? In many respects organizations fail to really engage the talent, passion and intellect of their staff. You can put an end to that in your organization. Look at coaching strategically and treat it as a major investment.
In my next article I will provide some insight as to why coaching, when done properly, is so effective in accelerating results and transforming performance at all levels. Until then, Lead well, Lead Strong, Lead with Love.