Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Apprentice week 4 analysis, RWA: Coaching for high performance

Summary: Today's post reviews episode 4 of The Apprentice Australia and offers a Real-World Application (RWA) on "Coaching individuals for high performance," in organizations and on their own.

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Review of episode 4: Pub Nights in Mudgee

The Boss: Mark Bouris
In the time between last week's episode and this one it seems Mark Bouris has reflected upon and/or received good counsel about his decision making in the Boardroom. I suspect this week we're starting to see more of the good judgment that's made him an Australian business success story.

This time in the Boardroom when both Heather and MaryAnn took full responsibility for aspects of their team's shortcomings - with MaryAnn even offering to forfeit Team Pinnacle's clear victory on ethical grounds - Mr Bouris praised rather than punished their displays of accountability. In addition he came down much harder on potentially misleading advertising and in so doing remedied the errors in judgement that I thought he made last week.

Another development in the Mark Bouris' style this week was what I think is a useful shift in perspective. Rather than pressing each team's Project Lead to talk about the "weakest link" in their team, Mr Bouris made several comments on the positive traits he saw in team members - which recalls the ideas offered in the analysis of episode 2 on giving feedback using the Affirm technique.

Offering someone positive feedback doesn't mean you close the door on pointing out his/her areas of development (which we've all got!). On the contrary, it's a highly effective way to help the person stay on top of his/her emotional reactions and win the Battle inside their Brain.

Neuroscience is beginning to offer hard evidence to help explain what we implicitly know from lived experience. In particular, it suggests that the "Command and Control" approach isn't an effective way to motivate, develop or lead people. When we feel threatened and get defensive our capacity to pay attention, take in new information and process it creatively essentially disappears.

In The Apprentice format, the people who get the most feedback in the Boardroom on their performance (and especially areas for development) are typically the three who are up for elimination. True, this ensures they will pay close attention to what's said, but for one of them the feedback will come too late to be effectively applied in further weeks. This week's trio on the hotseat were from Team Eventus.

This week in the Boardroom

As Team Eventus Project Lead, Heather again exhibited the sort of controlling behaviour that she did in episode 2 when she was put in charge of designing the cereal box graphics. This week did not use a consultative decision-making style and instead quickly arrived at what she thought was the "right" decision on the price for the evening. This was followed by a lot of positive talk (e.g. This is going to be great! It's going to be awesome! Why wouldn't anyone come to a night like this?! etc.) to convince herself and presumably her team that this was the right decision, but this positivity had the effect of making it hard for her team to tell her that they all thought the price was too high.

What ended up happening was the team fell victim to the psychological error of confirmation bias. They saw only the information that confirmed Heather's pre-existing decision about the price - information that ultimately proved inaccurate, since on the night people were unwilling to pay such a high price for the product on offer. Despite a last-minute inspiration to raise more money with a raffle in the bar, her team lost by over $1,000 ($2,814 vs. $3,930).

In the Boardroom Heather was credited with being "passionate and optimistic" but this loss caused her to "eat humble pie". Asked why she should stay, Heather could muster little more than, "I have so much more to give". She was advised by Mr Bouris to improve her management skills, which I'd suggest would among other things involve her learning to hear other people out rather than jumping prematurely to the one, "right" decision. This is a team member with great potential but as Mr Bouris suggested, could definitely benefit from some coaching to frankly assess her own strengths and weaknesses and clearly identify what she has to offer.

This week smooth-talking charmer Gavin missed a trick by failing to think of the table sponsorships idea - a financial blunder that cost his team the victory. Though in the Boardroom he made much of "putting his hand in" and actively participate in every project, and though he was credited with confidence and persuasiveness, he was faulted for seeming unwilling to take accountability when things fail to work out as planned.

As before, Gavin needs to do more than look good and speak well. Mr Bouris pointed out that he is "the guy the team looks toward" when they need leadership and stated, "You've been too measured...I want to see the real Gavin, I want to see the best come out of you from now on." While he is clearly strong at the intangible areas of relationship development and team building, a development area for Gavin continues to be producing tangible practical results - in this case, setting a course of action and sticking to it, not getting distracted by the dancing girls, costumes, making friends and doing deals. While clearly adept at playing to this strengths, Gavin could usefully be coached to become aware of his blindspots and formulate a course of action that addresses them.

It was hard not to feel for Blake this week, whose halting performance in the Boardroom exhibited a clear lack of confidence, even a bewilderment at what was happening around him, and a lack of energy to fight for his own survival. He was faulted by Mr Bouris for not stepping up on decisions and for flying under the radar, which Blake said he "does not do on purpose." Yet when asked why he should stay could only muster: "I don't have the background [in marketing]...I have skills but not experience. [...] I'm here to work for an organization I can build a career out of" - hardly a compelling case of value-add to Mr Bouris' organization.

Self-doubt of this sort is normal and we all experience it occasionally (otherwise we'd risk becoming thoughtless automatons or egomaniacs). The time and place to express it, however, is not the kill-or-be-killed Boardroom setting. This is a clear case of someone whose performance is slipping and could benefit from coaching. A coach could help Blake to a) identify what he wants and b) develop an practical action plan that plays to his strengths, to help him focus less on apologizing for what he can't do and get the best results from those things that he does well.

Real-World Application (RWA): Coaching for high performance

I liked the moment when Mark Bouris mused aloud, "there's some positives there, we've got to try to figure out how we get the best out of them." Above I've suggested some ways that coaching could help develop these three people. Similarly, in previous reviews I've highlighted personality and character traits that would be useful to explore and develop in a coaching conversation.

When I speak to people about coaching, however, I notice there's a lot of confusion about the subject. Since coaching came into vogue in the business world some years ago there's been an explosion in both the different kinds of coaching on offer (executive-, business-, skills-, team-, behavioural-, personal-, life-, sports-, health-, and even dating-coaching!) and the sheer number of people who now call what they do "coaching"...with widely varying degrees of expertise. There seem to be a lot of misconceptions these days about what a coach does and how the coaching process works.

Here are my views on coaching - what it is, what it isn't, and what it can do for you and your organization.

"Hey, I don't need therapy!!"
Some people shy away from coaching because they think it's going to get all soupy, emotional or just too some kind of therapy or counselling. Broadly speaking, while therapy tends to focus on feelings and experiences related to past events, coaching is oriented towards goal setting and encourages you to move forward. So you don't have to be sick to get better: while therapy aims at helping a dysfunctional person to become functional, coaching helps a functional person to achieve high performance and is action-oriented. The focus is on where your are right now, where you want to be, and how you can get yourself there.

"How's that different from having a mentor?"
Mentoring differs from coaching in both the type of expertise on offer and the nature of the relationship. A mentor typically has years of experience in the field, someone who is able to offer advice from the perspective of "been there, done that." The means the mentor is usually older and more experienced than the person being mentored and the relationship is more teacher-pupil. An important difference from coaching, then, is that a coach does not need any expertise in the client's field of work, while a mentor provides the perspective of "when I was in your shoes and facing the same situation, here's what I did...."

Coaching for high performance
A coach works in side-by-side with you to explore your current situation with the objective of identifying what you want to achieve and creating a plan of action to help you get there. In this process the coach does not have to be an expert in the client’s business - the client is the expert. The coach's expertise in this partnership is to serve as a sounding board and to occasionally reflect back certain information (like recurring themes or patterns).

Note, however, that the coach does not have the answers. The coach's role is to ask useful, thought-provoking questions - ones that encourage you to find your own answers and clarify your own thinking. The real value of a coach is to help you draw on your own wisdom and insight, arriving at your own conclusions and resolve to address the situation with practical action.

In this way a great coach is a little bit like Lao Tzu's definition of a great leader: "...he who the people barely know exists and, when his work is done and his aim fulfilled, people will say: we did it ourselves." Or as renowned psychologist Carl Rogers is credited with saying, "in order to truly help someone we must be able to enter their lives, help them resolve their issues and then exit their lives without them ever knowing we were there."

How can organizations and individuals benefit from coaching?
While it's tricky to put a precise ROI on an intangible service like coaching, here are a few stats that have been compiled over time:
  • A study of Fortune 100 executives found that coaching resulted in an ROI of almost six times the program cost as well as a 77% improvement in relationships, 67% improvement in teamwork, 61% improvement in job satisfaction, 48% improvement in quality. (Manchester Consulting Group)
  • Productivity increased by 88 percent when coaching was combined with training, as compared to a 22 percent increase with training alone. (International Personnel Management Association)
  • A study of a Fortune 500 telecommunications company found that executive coaching resulted in a 529 percent ROI. (MetrixGlobal)
  • Productivity among salespeople who had participated in an intensive coaching program rose by an average of 35 percent (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company)

Related previous posts:
Analysis of episode 1, RWA: Foundation & Force
Preview of episode 2, RWA: Conflict Management
Apprentice week 2 analysis, RWA: Giving/Receiving Feedback using Head & Heart
Apprentice week 3 analysis, RWAs: Team Leadership and Setting a Team Culture

Credits: I gained useful insight and the ROI stats, from Dutchcoach. Photo of Heather by Richard Polden.

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