We recently addressed the foundational truth of coaching for maximum impact: “To truly change behavior and engrain new skills people actively need to ‘generate their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery based approaches and frameworks.’” Many managers see the need and opportunity for coaching but struggle with methods of holding employees accountable for this development. Merely getting the participant to generate their own solutions and actions is not enough. Frequently, even great employees do not stay actively engaged in their own development! This is unfortunate because in my experience, there is an incredibly high correlation between real growth (coaching success) and how dedicated the participant is to the coaching process and the execution of their plan. The more accountability the coach has to exercise, the poorer the ultimate outcome will be. Carl Whitaker, a notable family therapist, termed this concept of “taking control for the responsibility for change”:
The Battle for Initiative
The Battle for Initiative is “won” when a coaching participant chooses to own their effort and outcome not only during the coaching sessions but also out in the “real world.”
A successful coach employs strategies to create an environment in which a participant wins The Battle for Initiative. The first step in The Performex® coaching methodology is to win the battle by gaining the participant’s acceptance for their need to change. It is next to impossible to coach an employee who is noncommittal or rejects the need for change. Our Performex® Summit Excellence Program is uniquely successful because by the end of the first workshop, nearly 100% of our participants accept that there is a need to change.
Unfortunately, the coach or manager does not have an intricately created experience to help them facilitate the need for change. So how can they do it?
The Traditional Approaches
The carrot and the stick - The manager uses his position’s “power and authority” to force acceptance of the need for change. The manager accomplishes this through the implied or direct threat “You won’t be promoted or rated higher on your performance review unless…..” or “Staying in your job is dependent upon……”
Overwhelming evidence – The manager uses her observations and feedback from others to identify undeniable trends that equate with a particular developmental need or challenge area. The underlying concept – “I can prove you do this and therefore I can insist you change.” Typically these conversations are documented to provide the most impact and a “legal” basis for having taken action.
THe Performex Approach to enforcing accountability
Establish trust that the individual’s success is the coach’s top priority – The coach must - through their communications and actions – demonstrate complete honesty, confidentiality and commitment to helping the individual being coached. Nothing increases a coach’s impact more than making sure the participant knows that his or her success is the coach’s upmost objective.
Lead with positives first to maintain receptivity – When people hear positive feedback first they are more receptive to negative feedback later. We know from neurological studies of the brain that receiving negative feedback at the beginning of a conversation creates anxiety and fear which effectively shuts down the logical processes of the brain. It’s hard to accept the validity of the feedback and thus the need for change when you feel threatened. In fact, try to maintain the self-esteem of the participant throughout the conversation. Focus on the issue, not the individual. People respond positively to the notion that the need for change is not a character flaw or shortcoming but an underdeveloped skill.
Do not force acceptance into the first meeting – We operate in a world that prizes the quick results and immediate gratification. We’d all love to have every coaching engagement make linear progress. The problem is, lasting success does not come quickly and people normally do not display steady progress. People have set backs and breakthroughs that impact the pace of development. Furthermore people often cannot completely accept and internalize the need for change in one or even two meetings. Give your employee time to accept the feedback, but be consistent, confident, and unrelenting about the need for change.
Ask them to rate themselves – I begin every feedback session by asking the person to rate him or herself against a specific competency. If I don’t get an accurate response I follow the question up with “Do you think your current level of competency for ____ is adequate for what
the company needs in the future or you will need in the next position?”. Finally, I ask them to compare their ability to the best person in the company
for this particular skill. “How do you stack up against?” or “What would excellence look like if you were truly gifted at___?” If none of these questions produces the desired effect, I move onto “truth talk.”
Use truth talk if required – Truth talk the Performex way is not just about telling people the unvarnished truth; it’s about telling the “truth” in a way that makes its acceptance more likely. How? Framing the feedback as it truly is….a gift. I do this by saying “I feel I
owe it to you to tell you….” and then moving on to questioning the individual about specific examples, the consequences of not improving, etc.
Use personal introspection backed by questioning – Facilitating the need for change can be accomplished by the use of empathy. By getting the person to experience the situation through the eyes of others can help develop awareness of how ones action affects other people. For example - I’ve found that none of the micro managers I’ve worked with like to be micromanaged. For these individuals the best strategy is to get them to reflect on how they feel, the effort they make, and the pride of ownership they lose when they themselves are micromanaged.
Perspective shift – Another way to use empathy to create ownership for the need to improve is to use “Perspective shift.” Using the art of constructive questioningthe coach asks the individual how the situation looks or impacts others raging from coworkers or employee family members to the senior leaders of the company. He or she can also look at the issue from a future state or how the individual handled things in the past.
We get asked frequently if a coach should proceed with a coaching engagement if they perceive the participant has not fully accepted the need for change. The answer is yes – you often have to proceed on this basis but remember if you employ the strategies in this article you will have a much better chance of your participant winning The Battle for Initiative.