Why do the people I am working with not get that we need to step up?

At some point in our career, probably when we feel like we are giving everything we have, someone above us in the organisation tells us that now is the time to step.  This has never been more true than this year where all of our plans have gone awry, yet we still need to close out the year and get things back on track.

Maybe you are that manager, being asked to have the difficult ‘stepping up’ conversation with your team, yet sensing that they don’t see the situation quite the same way you do.

In this podcast, Ricky and Paul explore why we all react differently when being asked to give more at work, and how as managers we can communicate better with the people around us so that they do not interpret stepping up as secret code for longer hours.

Photo by Jaz King on Unsplash.com

Is coaching all that?

Before we can answer whether coaching is limited in this way, what might be helpful is to define what coaching is – what is the definition by which I challenge the assertion! 

Coaching draws its roots from sports. It is typically a one-to-one relationship between a coach (the person ‘helping’) and a coachee (the person being helped). When you look at sports, the problem is that this type of coaching is subjective, and the coaching techniques used are really for helping high potential athletes to become elite.

In elite sports, the coach is developing the coachee (athlete) who is highly motivated. The nature of the development takes time and effort, meaning their relationship is generally a long term one. The coach will observe technical aspects of a particular routine and provide feedback to the coachee. The coach will also work with the coachee’s physical and mental performance. The high-level goal of the coach is to improve the coachee’s performance level and prepare them for competition. 

More commonly, when people think of coaching, they link it to something they are familiar with, something like childrens football, for example. The problem with this is this type of ‘coaching’ is, in reality, more akin to teaching.

So, what’s the same, and what’s different, outside of the world of sports?

According to the CIPD, “Coaching aims to produce optimal performance and improvement at work. It focuses on specific skills and goals, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes such as social interaction and confidence. The process typically lasts for a defined period of time or forms the basis of an on-going management style.”

The CIPD acknowledge that a universal definition is hard to come by due to a lack of agreement among coaching professionals. That said the CIPD suggest common characteristics for coaching in an organisation. These highlight coaching as being:

  • A non-directive form of development
  • Focussed on improving performance and developing an individual
  • Directed more on performance at work, but may include personal factors
  • Something that works with both individual and organisational goals.
  • An opportunity for people to assess their strengths and development areas better.
  • A skilled activity best delivered by trained people which could be line managers and others trained in coaching skills.

Without question, coaching in organisations can be powerful if done correctly but it can also be limited in its effectiveness. Typically, the line manager will be the coach as there is an existing, hopefully strong, relationship. However, their agenda can dominate the discussion; risking them becoming overly focused on the impact on their own goals and less on the development of the individual.  

Let’s also face up to the reality that line managers are hardly blessed with time; they are often spinning many plates at the same time as they attempt to satisfy both the needs of their manager and their people. Yet, they are expected to find quality time to coach their people. Whilst they get the intellectual argument, they may lack the skills to coach effectively, and they will often lack is the time to do it right. Their own time pressures inform where they choose to focus their time.

Additionally, managers may ignore their top performers because they believe (wrongly) that they’re alright and often choose to focus on improving their weaker performers. The contradiction here is that this will almost certainly not give them the best return on their efforts.   Because coaches can only work with one person at a time, and coaches who are line managers typically attend to performance issues, this combination feeds a belief that ‘coaching’ is what you get when you are underperforming. 

The pressure of time causes further conflict for coaches; do they do the tasks where the output is visible, and often demanded by others, or do they coach? It is much easier to defer the coaching conversation as the payoff is rarely immediate. A task with quick, visible results creates a dopamine rush that validates their decision to put off the coaching, slowly moving coaching down their agenda.

At Thinking Focus, we fundamentally believe that developing people through coaching is an essential part of any organisation’s development toolkit. We also challenge the assertion that coaching is purely a one-to-one relationship, the same skills can easily be used to facilitate group development as they would develop individuals.  

Developing skills and behaviours in groups requires three core elements – the skills (including confidence) to run the session, a defined outcome (what is the purposes of the session) and a structured process to follow. It’s likely you will have a skills matrix and behavioural template that will drive the outcomes you are looking to develop in your session, but ensure your session includes the following pillars:

  1. Psychological safety to enable the individuals to feel comfortable being vulnerable among their peers.
  2. Encourage individuals to access their experiences against the development topic 
  3. Create a shared pool of understanding for what works, doesn’t work and why – this will lead to a better answers/results
  4. Collective buy-in to the way forward
  5. Peer pressure to doing the right thing in the right way

Doing this in this way works and creates a host of individual and organisational benefits:

We know that time pressures are not going away any time soon; group coaching is highly efficient, which means you can develop more than one person at a time.

When developing in groups, you can leverage collective peer pressure, accelerate the adoption of knowledge and skills, which means you gain a return on your time, effort and your training investment.

Bring mixed ability groups together and share their different experiences to create a deeper pool of shared understanding. When they learn from each other’s experiences, it vicariously reinforces the desired behaviours and actions. This collaborative sharing means that groups are more likely to adopt the desired behaviours.

The shared experience, discussion and debate underpinned with purposeful coaching creates a shared understanding that leads to collective buy-in to the ‘best way’ for your team, department or organisation, which means more durable changes in behaviour.

Developing people in a group forum, when set up in the right way is more inclusive and psychologically safer. Contribution levels are higher, robust challenge more likely and outcomes more effective. This shared coaching experience means that coaching is no longer perceived to be a performance management tool with negative connotations.

Group coaching is an excellent forum for knowledge transfer, unwritten rules and undocumented practices that somehow make the company function now have an outlet. Sharing these ‘Spanish customs’ means reduced mistakes by people learning through error, which can be embarrassing and disengaging when they realise everyone else knew!

When groups work together on shared goals, it creates an endowment effect which means they are more likely to be committed and see it through. This collaborative approach means projects are delivered more efficiently and effectively.

Bring cross-functional groups together to create a broader systemic awareness of how to work more effectively together. This appreciation of others means that problems are owned and more quickly solved. This improved collaboration and cooperation mean organisations not only save enormous cost at the time, but they also build enduring cross-functional relationships that deal with issues more quickly, with less wasted time, effort and money.

Group coaching is not as well-known as traditional coaching and rarely utilised in development. The reason perhaps is because there is little development available to acquire the skills, so we decided that we wanted to help managers, coaches and organisations to realise the benefits available to them from Group Coaching.   

Back in 2017, we researched what was available and found very little – and less that could actually be used practically in organisations.

With this in mind we developed a product that would bring group coaching to the mainstream. Our goal is to enable coaches to coach more than one person at a time, to make group coaching practical, relevant and easy and to deliver a greater return than one-to-one coaching.  

We built a structured process, which supports and guides any coach and combined it with contextual and relevant subject matter. We harnessed social learning to enable organisations to raise the level of mixed ability groups at the same time. Reflection is in-built not just to land critical learning but transfer it to the day job.  

‘What Would You Do?’ (WWYD) is the plug and play, group coaching solution that improves results and changes behaviour. 

WWYD is available online and offline, from small groups to conferences and is engineered with social learning and group coaching to deliver durable behavioural change and improve results. It comes preloaded with ready-made content contextualised to the workplace. Scenarios frame a facilitated discussion among peers. The inclusion of game mechanics serves to create an environment where participants feel safe and openly share; the same mechanics include progress and jeopardy, and friendly competition maintains interest with the inclusion of scoring and league tables, all of which make for an engaging learning experience. 

So, going back to the original question – is coaching all that? We firmly believe so, and while coaching may typically be limited to a one-to-one activity our own research has highlighted it can be much more than this; and our own desire to build on this has led us to create a unique product to support this. Just because coaching has historically been delivered one-to-one doesn’t mean that that’s the only way, or indeed the best way, of delivering it!

WWYD is interactive and experiential, to experience it for yourself you can:

  • attend one of our monthly open demos
  • book a personalised experience
  • have a go yourself by downloading a DIY kit

Why have I started to micromanage the people around me?

Has the lockdown experience impacted the way that you manage or interact with the people around you?

The current high levels of uncertainty might be causing you, or your boss, to become much more hands-on in the day to day workload than you used to be.

Ricky and Rob talk about what might be driving this change in behaviour and how you can let go to empower the people around you again.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash.com

Why do I feel like a fraud even though I am doing great?

Ever feel like you are out of your depth? It is estimated that 7 out of 10 people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life.

In this episode, Richard, Rob, Ricky and Paul explore this common phenomenon; looking at the causes, sharing personal experiences of having to deal with it and considering strategies to help people to use the feeling to help them become more successful.

This is the 50th episode of our podcast series, The Question is…

Thanks for listening, let us know the topics that you think we should be covering in future podcasts.

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

How do you lead out of confusion?

When things change we become a little uncertain for a while. With large scale organisational change, this uncertainty can become almost paralysing for some people, and right now we are all experiencing more change than any of us are used to. There is change both at work and at home, and it is impacted on almost every aspect of our lives.

We look to leaders to help us create certainty and stability, but how do you lead out of so much confusion?

Paul and Rob explore how leaders can bring people together and create the certainty that we need to move forward together.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

Who wins (at work) when we when find new ways of working?

The way we work has changed more in the last few months than any other time in our working lives.  Who will be the winners?

Political styles that might have worked well in the office may not be as effective when working remotely.  However, ignoring the politics is equally as bad.   

Rob and Paul explore political styles during change, asking how do we find a balance between doing the right thing and getting what we want?

Photo by Jaz King on Unsplash

How do we reset targets for this year?

2020 is probably not working out quite as you had planned, that is certainly the case for us at Thinking Focus. If we carry on with our plans as if nothing has happened, then risk running out of steam chasing impossible targets.

When things go off track, you need to reset the targets and expectations, moving the focus to achievable yet ambitious goals that start moving back in the right direction.

Richard and Ricky explore how you can quickly reset the goals, help the people around you let go of the past and embrace the new challenges in front of you.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

What if my team don’t come back from holiday raring to go?

This year the summer break could not come quick enough, work has been hard this year and most of us needed a break. We hope that the people in our teams can take some time to recharge and come back ‘raring to go’.

But what if they don’t? What if, this year, teams find themselves heading into the last quarter drained and apathetic?

This podcast was recorded while we are still in lockdown.  Like most people, we are working from home (kids and pets may appear at any time).  We are still focused on the questions that are getting in the way.

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

Will holding onto the past put the future at risk?

2020 has been a year of change unlike any other for most of us, with many still coming to terms with the different ways of working (and living) that have been forced upon us.  There is little sign that the ‘normality’ that existed at the start of the year is going to return any time soon.

What is the impact of this longing for a return to simpler times?  Richard and Paul discuss how leaders can help people let go and start to embrace a new normal.

This podcast was recorded while we are still in lockdown.  Like most people, we are working from home (kids and pets may appear at any time).  We are still focused on the questions that are getting in the way.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Scary vs dangerous – returning to the workplace

As organisations are starting to get people back into the workplace, or at least having these kind of conversations on the agenda, we have been keen to hear what some of our clients have been saying about this. At a recent round table discussion online, it’s clear that people are feeling a wide range of emotions about returning to their place of work. It is also clear that there are things that leaders can do to help ease the transition, and the concerns.

It is probably worth starting with a cautionary note about the language we use when talking about this topic. As our client ‘S’ pointed out when the question of ‘going back to work’ was raised “It’s something that we’ve been pulled up on because people get slightly agitated with it. When we say people are ‘going back to work’, people have been working and believe me, people get really, really annoyed with you when you say that they’ve got to go back to work.” So, a simple reminder when talking about this is to refer to ‘back to the office’ – this might help you start off on the right footing!

We recognise that what is about to happen for many people is a second, significant change in the way they work. In March, and almost overnight, there was a move for people to work from home, which presented a great number of challenges. What we’re seeing now is a reversal of that change to start to bring people back in to their ‘old’ working environment, although this time on a staggered basis for many organisations. As we start to ask people to break their ‘new routines’ and start to think about re-engaging with some older ways of working – creating ‘the new normal’ we keep hearing about – it’s worth noting that some people will be nervous about this, seeing this as ‘scary’, and in some instances even asking whether it is ‘dangerous’, but we’ll look more at this a little later!

So, what kind of things might be going through people’s minds as they consider the return to the workplace? What we’re hearing is that there will be wide range of thoughts, which probably comes as no great surprise. As leaders though, what approach should we take?

Many organisations have recognised that people will be curious about returning to the workplace: how different will it look, what will be the same and what will be different? The messaging to get everyone to switch to working from home back in March may have unintentionally created feelings that offices (as well as many other public spaces) are not safe. That feeling is going to linger for a while. People may be going back to an office that they have visited many times, but it is not really the same place anymore, with social distancing creating new rules and expectations on how we act within the space. This all creates a feeling of a familiar place being unfamiliar and people feeling unsure of how it will work or even if it is a safe space anymore. This is the challenge that, as leaders, we need to overcome.

And there are a number of ways our clients have already been dealing with this. ‘J’s organisation has been using technology to help them “We’ve consciously kept a communication line open to all of our teams to let them know exactly what’s going on every single step of the way. And we’ve done that by making videos to send to them – we’ve brought in some animation software so we can create some short snappy animations that talk through what’s happening, what’s changing. When it comes to moving back into the office, we’ve had a company do a virtual 4D scan of the entire building. This shows all the sanitizer stations and the one way signs, and they can walk around the office virtually through all of the areas and all the floors so they know what’s where and how it’s going to look when they come in. So they understand where their desk is, the way they have to go, where all their resources are. If you look at one of the kitchenettes, it will come up with a sign to say “only one person allowed in at a time”. So we’ve made them try and feel comfortable with the fact that we’ve done everything we possibly can, plus more. And that’s gone down really well in easing some of the anxiety that people have got.” 4D scans could be a great approach, but to counter this one client also mentioned that their approach was more basic, having stickers on desks that simply highlighted which ones could be sat at and which ones couldn’t – and this was proving to be equally useful.

Another common feature of returning to the workplace is staggering how to bring people back. Again ‘J’ commented “We’re going to be slowly bringing back teams, those are at the least risk will come back first. We’ll make sure they’re comfortable in the office and they’re up and running before we bring the next back and so on. We’ve already made that announcement to them, but also said that we’ve got no date in mind. This is what we’re doing to make it as comfortable for everybody, which seems to have gone down well.”

This may be working so well for companies that, right now, not everyone wants to come back to the workplace. As ‘H’ put it “We’ve probably got about 20% who can’t wait to get back, who were missing the social aspects. We probably then have another 20% who perhaps have health concerns or relatives who have health concerns and are very nervous about going back. And then probably a whole group in the middle where it’s quite a mixed bag.”

Similarly ‘S’ mentioned “We’ve done a ‘back to the office/ site’ guide, which explains everything we’ve done, about our one way system, about using the canteen and about having respect for others. We have a little bit at the beginning of the guide that says people are dealing with this differently, so consider having that mindfulness and appreciation for how people are. And when people are coming back, we’re getting their managers to give them an induction for coming back to the office so that they don’t just slip into their normal pace.”

So, it seems that having some type of re-onboarding process will be helpful in allowing people to process their emotions and feelings and start to think about getting back into some sort of routine.

As leaders, this is really important, as it bridges the rational elements of ‘let’s make arrangements, put a plan in place, communicate’ with the emotional elements of ‘feeling unsure, being insecure, feeling tentative and wanting re-assurance’.

This is why the ‘scary and/or dangerous’ concept was mentioned earlier.
Scary/Dangerous is based on two scales and allows us to use one of our favourite ‘explainer’ tools – the four-box grid!

We feel that our reactions to situations that we feel are dangerous are hardwired into us and are a protective measure – if we do something that is dangerous it could, ultimately, cost us everything. However, dangerous is rational calculation, one that we often get wrong, as there are so many cognitive biases that get in the way. On top of that you have the hardwired reaction, whether we see something as scary or not, which is an emotional response. Our emotional responses happen almost instantly, and rarely use the facts of the situation. When you start to consider these two side by side, we have four scenarios.

Let’s take something that we know is dangerous – for instance standing on a cliff edge, leaning over. We probably know that this is dangerous (admittedly with degrees of risk) but, sitting where you are right now reading this, does this feel scary to you? For most of us, it won’t. However, if we were there, at the cliff edge for most of us it definitely would be scary. Where things are dangerous and scary too, you would really have to ask yourself why would you do that? These things we place in the ‘Crazy Zone’!

Where something is dangerous, but we don’t perceive it as scary – and there may be some people reading this who are happy standing on the cliff edge – you still wouldn’t do this in a blasé way, would you, you’d still be careful. These things go in the ‘Caution Zone’. If you’re going to do them, take care!
Sat at home, reading this, being asked to think about being in a cliff edge is clearly not dangerous (you’re not really there) and for most isn’t scary, so you’re really comfortable with this analogy – hence these things go in your ‘Comfort Zone’.

The final box is where we know it isn’t dangerous, but we still have an emotional reaction telling us it is scary – here we are nervous but can be helped to move forward – this is the Change Zone, and our role as leaders in the current situation, and in helping people return to their place of work, is to help our people ‘come back’.

Linking this to COVID19 and how people may well be feeling is worth drawing out.

Why are things dangerous right now? We have a situation that has (as I write this) taken the lives of around 46,000 people in the UK, and over 667,000 worldwide. This clearly falls into the dangerous category. Yet, there are clear steps that we can take to reduce the risks and make things safer, even if we cannot get to zero risk. We do lots of things with some level of risk, from sports to driving; the difference is that we have normalised those risks and are not constantly reminded of them as we are with COVID19.

Why are people feeling scared right now? There’s the obvious link to the dangers presented by COVID19, but also most people have been secure in their own bubbles, most have stayed safe and kept themselves and their loved ones safe. The talk about leaving bubbles and returning to the workplace is a clear change from this. There are now a range of factors people can’t control – will work colleagues have exercised the same amount of care and followed the rules, or will they have been cavalier in their attitudes? What about getting to work, will they need to be on public transport with a number of strangers? The list could go on.

It is this feeling of scary that is holding people back, and the practical plans that make things safer may have very little impact on the emotional responses of a lot of people. Think about the 20-60-20 split mentioned by ‘H’, 20% don’t perceive this as scary, 20% think this is very scary, but 60% are not sure and are looking for leaders who can help them work this out. Our aim as leaders, therefore, is to help our people to see that we have done everything we can to remove as many of the dangers as possible, and it seems our clients, amongst many others, have some practical approaches to doing this. We also need to help people with their emotions, recognising that we all view ‘scary’ differently and will need different types of reassurance.