Coaching in Knowledge Workplace
By Venkat Manthripragada
Unlike the skilled and unskilled manpower of yester years belonging to traditional industry, knowledge workers involved with the new age industries require more direction and guidance. With high knowledge and restlessness much higher than the yester year workers, knowledge workers take more managerial time if not properly coached and directed. This article touches some important aspects of coaching the knowledge workers.
The modern day workers are knowledge workers and are highly empowered.
They are as forceful as the river water; always find ways to direct their energies in directions that allow them to. Because of the dynamism and flexibility the knowledge workers may go in all directions which was not the case in case of skilled and unskilled workers of yester generations.
It is said that knowledge workers probably require more direction and guidance than skilled and unskilled workers of manufacturing era. Because they can see more world than what their predecessors could see, the opportunities to loose themselves into the wilderness are more.
Be it a research assignment, new product development, a short term engagement or a long term project, directing the workers is the only way to achieve even intended results. One of the effective ways of directing the high power knowledge workers is coaching.
Coaching in the knowledge environment
Coaching in the knowledge environment needs to be handled with a high degree of involvement from the coach who is normally the leader in charge. The leader may or may not hold a formal managerial position in the team to act as a coach. A senior member of the team with sufficient maturity can act as a coach in directing the energies of the team in to intended directions.
Modern day workers can be motivated, their energies can be directed and can be guided but these workers cannot be controlled by organizational barriers. It is important to motivate the employees to improve continuously. The knowledge workers possess inherent urge to learn and move up both from learning and organization perspectives. In the absence of proper direction, the learning can go into directions which may not be useful to the organization and can prove to be hindrances to achieve the target performances.
Coaching is a technique aimed not just to help the employees to achieve a specific intended goal. It should trigger a success which can engender another and instill the self confidence that leads to high levels of performance and productivity of all subsequent tasks. The employees under coaching should eventually transform themselves into high power dynamos to energize the rest of the workforce.
How to coach
Coaching is a leadership function that calls for directing and influencing skills of the leader. While coaching the leader in charge should follow some fundamental principles to influence the team under coaching. Some of the very basic principles of coaching are :
Being a coach involves taking responsibility. Coaching is an exercise taken up to impact and improve someone’s workplace behavior be it interpersonal behavior or executing assigned tasks.
The coach should take the responsibility of observing the team member under coaching, providing positive feedback without distracting the employee from the focus, keep providing the required inputs during the coaching period and rewarding the positive response.
Coaching requires complete attention and time of the leader and the commitment of the leader to act responsibly to direct the team members under coaching is the key factor for a successful coaching exercise.
The coach should be assertive enough to keep the focus on the intended results. Team members under coaching can offer justifications for a specific act/behavior pattern the leader is focusing and thus try to get away from going through the painful process of change.
The leader who has taken the responsibility to coach an individual or team should show the path by walking the talk. The leader should resist temptations of following shortcuts while executing tasks because the team members under coaching look up to the leader to mould their personalities.
The leader if commits a mistake should accept the mistakes candidly. Any attempt of justification for a specific behavior can bring the leader’s position in the eyes of the team member down and the leader will loose the ability to influence the team members.
In the conditions of formal authority where the leader’s decision can impact a team member’s growth opportunities, the team may show patterns of following the leader’s advice but the intended results of coaching can be achieved only if the leader can exercise individual influence because of the strength of personality and principles.
Taking team’s advice
Often coaching exercises may not target entire team as such. Growing a team started fresh is different from coaching a team. Coaching often is required to motivate the team members to work towards a positive result when they are showing the behavior away from the goal.
In majority of the cases, leaders try to use their single heads to generate ideas to resolve team’s issues in turn wasting the most valuable asset – the good ideas of the team.
Often the ideas generated within the team results to be much simpler and close to the intended solution.
To generate good ideas from the team, it is important for the leader to show that the team’s opinion is valued and used. Also while taking ideas from the employees the
leader should use active listening skills – to listen, understand and respond. If the leader does not respond to a team member’s advice, the team may stop talking to the leader.
Two important issues while dealing with the ideas generated by the team are – leader’s ability to handle the ideas on their merits and tendency to assign the task to execute a specific idea to the person who came up with the suggestion.
Leader’s often try to interfere their own interpretations or small diversions to the ideas generated within the team and try to claim the credit of generating the ideas or innovating the basic common thought. This will de-motivate the team leading to new issues rather than resolving the existing issues.
It is also a general pattern to assign the task of executing a good idea to the same person who generates the idea. Generating idea is a different skill from executing the same. The act of assigning the idea back to the owner can lead to closing the team’s ability to generate good ideas.
Coaching is a two level exercise. The coaching exercise should start at the team level and then focus on individual. The common direction for the team should be established at the group level and individual different should be observed to focus individual coaching.
To make the coaching effective, the team members should be challenged with some achievable results rather than just involving in motivational lectures. The motivational lectures often become idealistic leaving the team members bewildered about their fundamentals and action points required to reach the levels mentioned as a part of the motivational lecture.
It is important to put a challenge with clearly defined goal, provide necessary resources and the leader just need to stand back observing the team members emulating themselves to meet the challenge. If executed carefully, this can become a better learning exercise for the team than direct class room teaching or motivating lecture.
Reward the deserving
It is important to have a fair system of rewards for the team under coaching. When the team responds to the challenge, it should be rewarded. A fair system of rewards doesn’t mean that the rewards will even out over time. All workers must have an equal opportunity to compete for the reward, but the rewards must go to those who earn them. Rewarding the group evenly can impact the team’s cohesiveness and balance. It is important to establish the acceptable parameters transparently; the rewarded can be admired within the team resulting into a good balance of providing internal guidance within the team.
The actual coaching takes place in one on one session with each individual employee. The group level coaching direction through lectures and challenges will have individual impacts. Each of the team member takes the challenges at different levels depending their maturity and confidence. It is important to have one on one coaching sessions where the leader should bring out the topic directly, positively and honestly.
One on one session may involve review of individual performance or behavior patterns. How the leader is communicating with the team member in individual coaching session is as important as what is being said. The tone and eye contact are as important as the content itself. As much as possible, the coaching discussions should focus on the issues positively rather than touching individual limitations which can divert the team member from the topic leading to counter productive results.
When a leader is resorting to coaching, the key intention is to convert the team member into positive and more productive and these outcomes should be clearly communicated to the team member through the conversation and tone and body language play a vital role in establishing the same.
Keeping the focus on the subject
While designing the coaching for an individual or team, it is important to keep the purpose very clear and staying honest about the motives.
The discussion and questions during the coaching session should strictly be on the subject and on target. If the answers are straying off the point, the discussion should be refocused tactfully. Because the coaching deals with behavior patterns and improvements, it is highly probable to get emotional and divert the whole discussion and thus defeating the very purpose of the coaching.
During the coaching period, the leader should keep regular contact with the team members. It is important to move around the team members motivating them. The leader should provide feedback to employees – especially the positive feedback which can energize the team to achieve the intended results faster.
The feedback provided to the team members should be honest, strait and objective. The team members should not become conscious about their capabilities or behavior patterns which will lead to developing defense mechanism. The response from the team members to coaching should always be positive.
Closing the Coaching Exercise
The coaching session at individual level should be closed formally with clear feedback to the employee about the whole exercise from the beginning of the coaching session to achieving intended results.
The coaching session should not be left incomplete else the whole effort will leave the team members confused about the intended direction.
Often one successful coaching session motivates the team members so much that they keep on working towards continuous improvement consciously similar to the coaching session concluded.