Robert Coates

Want ROI? Provide Effective Coaching!

During a recent client engagement I was reminded once again of how critical effective coaching is to success in the workplace. While conducting a gap analysis to identify failure points in a new sales process, one refrain was stated loudly and consistently: “our coaching on the new process is inconsistent, at best.” Unfortunately, this is a theme I’ve heard all too often in my career.

Numerous studies have shown the significant impact that effective coaching can have on performance. One frequently cited study by Olivero and Bane, showed that, “After training alone, the average increase in productivity was 22.4 percent. When training was reinforced with coaching, the average increase in productivity was 88 percent.” And a 2001 case study by MetrixGlobal found that “coaching produced a 529% return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business.” And if the financial benefits from employee retention were included it boosted the overall ROI to 788%.

Given that coaching delivers such dramatic impact, why is it so underutilized in so many organizations? There are a number of answers to that question, including: increasing spans of control limit coaching opportunities, competing priorities, and simply a lack of focus on employee development within the culture. The one that I want to address here is a lack of comfort with the skills required to coach effectively. While many managers are comfortable with setting goals, allocating resources and developing or evaluating reports, they are often hesitant to engage in a performance coaching dialogue.

While traditional classes devoted to coaching provide the context and process for coaching effectively, they fail to develop mastery. Most training sessions can offer only two or three opportunities to role-play a coaching conversation. While this may be sufficient to reinforce the key concepts, it falls far short of developing unconscious competence. Role-playing rarely provides the variety of emotional responses one is likely to encounter during actual coaching conversations, either. And unless there is an immediate opportunity or need to engage in coaching after the training, the limited proficiency that is developed will have faded before the leader can apply the skills in a critical coaching situation.

Fortunately, the latest in Level 4 coaching simulations addresses all these shortcomings. This new rules-based simulation utilizes voice recognition and hundreds of “nodes” to deliver the most immersive experience ever developed.  Learners encounter a wide range of “personalities” and emotional responses during the practice sessions. This allows sufficient practice to develop unconscious competence while never delivering the same experience twice. And it has the added benefit that leader’s can use the sim for a just-in-time refresher prior to a developmental coaching session.

Blueline will be launching this new off-the-shelf simulation in the next few weeks. Considering the significant return on investment, shouldn’t you be exploring this very cost-effective means of boosting organizational performance?

Tapping into the Wisdom of a State

In his 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki made the case that “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” His point being that the collective wisdom of a large group of people provides better solutions than a few experts. I recently had the privilege of helping to facilitate an effort to tap into the wisdom of an entire state.

Thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Florida is exploring ways to empower effective teachers — from how to better recruit top talent, to how to use mentors more effectively — and plenty of ideas in between.

After holding public input meetings and hosting lunches in some of the larger metropolitan areas, the leaders of this effort were looking for an effective and efficient way to reach out to all stakeholders, including those from smaller and more out-lying districts. And thus was born a virtual summit.

Using an online meeting solution, we were able to bring together teachers, parents, principles, and consultants to explore specific topics and questions generated from the earlier face-to-face meetings. Using virtual meeting technology allowed for not only a diverse group of stakeholders, but for a geographically diverse group as well, to collaborate. Individuals from the Florida panhandle to the Keys were able to come together, share best practices, voice concerns, and generate ideas for empowering effective teachers.

Our process would have been familiar to anyone who has facilitated large group sessions before – short, informative presentations of critical content to frame the questions, then small group break-outs for discussing and brainstorming ideas, and finally, sharing of best ideas from the small groups with everyone. What surprised and amazed me was how engaged and energized everyone was throughout the process.

While we are now using virtual meeting technology quite regularly for client meetings and project reviews, I was not convinced that this same approach would work for many of the longer and larger facilitated sessions we conduct. I thought, how do you keep the energy up and engagement high over a three-hour session, without face-to-face interactions (and movement)? Facilitating one of the small breakout teams, as well as some of the large group processes, showed me that a well-designed virtual summit can be very effective.

A couple of the attendees commented that, even though they had attended one of the regional lunch dialogues, they actually preferred the virtual summit process. They felt it allowed them to participate more and have their voices more fully heard. And if we are to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, that’s exactly the kind of experience we want to create.

Using virtual summits is helping us more fully tap into the wisdom across our state. How are you using virtual technologies to tap into the wisdom of your organization?

The Crashing of the Wave

In May of 2009, Google announced their “next big thing” Google Wave. It was touted as the next generation replacement for email. As it became available outside of Google offices and moved into the public realm, there was much speculation as to just what Wave was and how people would use it. Sadly, on August 4, 2010, Google announced that they are pulling the plug on Wave. It just never gained enough users for them to continue to invest in its development.

Wave never moved out of beta and as I posted earlier was not quite ready for prime time. Some of what it enabled users to do though is address very real and growing needs. What most people came to realize is that Wave was not a replacement for email, but rather a powerful collaboration tool. It provided for easy, real-time collaboration on everything from meeting notes to drafting research papers.

Here at Blueline we found it a useful tool for capturing conference call notes, drafting proposals, and quickly bringing someone new into a project or client conversation. The ability to “play back” revisions to a document or set of notes allowed a new team member to not only see the current version of a document, but follow the progression of the thinking that led to it.

The need for better tools for real-time collaboration that Wave tapped is now showing up in other tools such as the new version of Microsoft Office, and web-team tools such as Sync.in. Passing around a document via email is inefficient and lacks the “personal touch” of real-time collaboration.

From a learning perspective, these new tools for remote collaboration open up new avenues for peer learning and mentoring. More and more the future of learning in the workplace seems to be moving from the classroom to learning within the context of the work itself, whether that be through sophisticated Level 4 eSimulations, or just-in-time peer-to-peer learning.

As designers of learning experiences, we need to not only use these tools, but think strategically about them and how they can be leveraged to achieve the learning and business objectives of organizations. While the Google Wave may have crashed, the larger tide of more collaboration and team learning is still coming in.

How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Live Role-Play

Live role-plays are not inherently better than eSimulations, there are some conditions that must exist to make this type of practice effective:

First, the role-play should be well constructed to reflect real-life situations that the learner is likely to face, but not be so complicated that individual aspects of a skill cannot be isolated for practice and feedback.

Second, the quality of a live role-play is very dependent on the quality of the “other party,” with whom the learner is interacting. Effective role-play construction can minimize this, but there will always be some variability in the quality of the experience.

Third, and perhaps most important, the effectiveness in improving performance will greatly depend on the quality of the observer/coach and the feedback they provide. Developing competent coaches is paramount to any live role-play scenario.

One way that my designs ensure a good experience for each learner is to provide multiple role-play opportunities with multiple parties being the “other” and “coach.”

Cautions to Learning Professionals Implementing Social Media from the Facebook Brouhaha (Part 2)

Since I wrote Part 1 on this topic, the dust up about Facebook’s change to its privacy settings got so loud that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, published an editorial in the Washington Post saying “We missed the mark.” And, last Wednesday, Facebook rolled out a new “simpler” interface to control your privacy settings. While I’m sure many people are pleased that Facebook has responded to users concerns, these new developments do not negate the lessons that we can learn from this situation.

In the first post, I explored the caution on changing the implicit user agreement when implementing social tools, including knowledge management systems. In this post I’ll explore a second caution that arises from Facebook’s phenomenal success that results in them having over 500 million users.

As I mentioned last time, having such success has led to a situation where it is difficult not to be on Facebook. While there was a move on Facebook itself to make May 31st “Quit Facebook Day,” with a goal of getting 200 million users to cancel their Facebook accounts all on that day, quitting Facebook presents a real dilemma. If all of your friends, family and network are using Facebook to share information, organize class reunions, post the latest baby pictures, etc., and you are not on Facebook, you are left out.

So what’s the caution for corporate social learning and knowledge sharing? The more successful your system becomes, the greater the likelihood of creating two classes of corporate citizens — those who are engaged, contributing and valued in the social learning network, and those who are not. In a previous post, I talked about what research is discovering about the power of your network to influence your behavior and success. It is very powerful stuff.

The dynamic of those who are in the good”-old-boys (or girls)” network having access to better opportunities and support is probably as old as human beings. However, when the interactions that build those “good-old” networks are face-to-face, there are multiple ways to contribute and develop standing. At least with current social media technology, those who can most easily contribute and develop credibility and standing in a business setting, are those who are most capable of clear, concise writing. Now that is an ability that’s certainly important to develop in business today, but as an only means of establishing “network-value” it will rather limit or skew the network, meaning some will be left out.

I’m clearly not advocating that we avoid building social learning and sharing tools for our organizations. I’m just raising some cautions that we need to be aware of as we do. Just as with any change or technology, there is the Law of Unintended Consequences. As leaders in implementing these new tools and technologies, I think we have a responsibility to anticipate some of those consequences, and think about how to mitigate them.