coaching skills

Reflections on Coaching: Why a Mirror Might Be Your Most Valuable Development Tool

Organizations worldwide have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the years on peer assessments and live skill practice, all in an effort to hold a mirror up to their leaders.

The goal? To get leaders to see themselves as their employees and others see them – namely in coaching situations – and build on their strengths while improving on their weaknesses.

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This approach reminds me of a time when I coached my sons’ youth sports teams. I was that guy on the sidelines, screaming at a group of 8- to 9-year-olds to do this, stop doing that, run over here and block over there – all in the name of winning.

Of course, at the time I didn’t see myself that way. After all, coaching pre-teens in an athletic environment is easy, right? Kids trust quickly, expect to make mistakes, love to learn, and the culture on the playing field is one of constant coaching. Besides, I cared about the kids and enjoyed the incredible environment in which they trusted me and craved my coaching.

But then came the video

I asked my wife to shoot video of some games so I could watch them afterward and look for ways to help the children improve. What I discovered came as a shock: It was me who needed to improve. The videos were key to learning about and improving my own coaching weaknesses.

Through the videos, my coaching style evolved, and I became supremely confident in my skills with the children. I discovered how to challenge them, pick them up when they were down and even occasionally inspire them to greatness. To this day, many of my sons’ friends still refer to me as “coach.”

Your associates, of course, aren’t children in a sports environment; however, I believe there are still some important lessons to be learned from my experience. To enjoy success as a leader, you need to:

  • Build a culture of trust and constant coaching. Encourage your people to take risks and make mistakes.
  • Honestly assess your skills as a coach. You likely model a compilation of everyone who has coached you over the years, which may or may not be a good thing.
  • Find a “mirror” so that you can watch your skills evolve over time. What you see is likely to be truly eye-opening and possibly career-changing.

If accessibility and cost make finding a “mirror” difficult, I’ve got great news: Blueline’s simulation technology offers an exceptionally affordable mirror that enables anyone who needs it to develop and hone their coaching skills in a safe environment. Imagine rehearsing delivering difficult feedback in a range of real-life performance improvement scenarios to a broad range of employee personalities. Imagine using these newfound skills to build a culture of trust and constant coaching. Imagine the positive impact your high-performing team will have on your organization. Demo the simulation now to experience the possibilities.

Contact the coaching specialists at Blueline today to learn more about our leadership-related offerings or any of our custom classroom simulations, Blueline Blueprint™ learning visuals or other innovative delivery methods that have been generating notable business results in leading organizations worldwide for more than 13 years.

Coaching Skills Faster Than Ever Thought Possible with Breakthrough Technology!

Prior to founding Blueline Simulations, I spent nearly 10 years at Development Dimensions International (DDI). For those of you who aren’t familiar with DDI’s history, its cofounders, Douglas Bray and Bill Byham, were pioneers in the field of industrial/organizational psychology. They brought the power of assessment centers to corporate America through ATT’s Management Progress Study.

Okay, a few of you knew that already. But did you know that they also transformed our profession when they pioneered behavior modeling with the introduction of Interaction Management in the mid 70s?

Behavior modeling, in this vernacular, is just as it sounds.  It’s the use of a positive model to demonstrate effective behavior followed by the opportunity to practice applying behaviors in their proper context. Over the last 40 years, DDI has helped to develop millions of leaders using the most advanced behavior modeling techniques conceived. And those techniques have been widely adopted and applied throughout our industry to develop a full range of interpersonal skills. But even with these advanced techniques, the success of behavior modeling has been limited by our ability as trainers to create opportunities for the learner to safely practice applying behaviors in their proper context.

Have you ever participated in a role-play or “skills practice,” whether pre-created or do-it-yourself, whether in bi-ads, tri-ads or quads? If so, then you know all too well the primary failure points: the role player and the coach. Let me see if I can recreate a familiar experience for you…

Imagine Stu, the role player who wouldn’t share anything with you no matter how much you reinforced his self-esteem, listened and responded empathetically, or asked for his help? Or, do you recall Sarah, the role player who spilled everything with you as soon as you opened the conversation? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! What about when Stu destroyed your self-esteem by explaining that you didn’t do anything right? Or when Sarah wasted your time by recounting that you couldn’t have done anything any better?

The big problem with role play is inconsistency. That’s because role plays are absolutely dependent on the role player. Success depends on the role player’s ability to do three very hard things extremely well: 1) play the role correctly, 2) deliver effective – and absolutely consistent – feedback, and 3) offer remediation to the learner. If you get a very savvy role player, you have an amazing experience. If you don’t, all that time spent in training was at best wasted, or at worst created confusion, fear, and who knows what else.

Simulation has long held the promise of being able to solve the “inconsistency dilemma” associated with role play. But candidly, very few interpersonal skills simulations feel real enough that the learner becomes fully immersed in the experience. It’s hard to create a human conversation with technology. And if the learner isn’t fully engaged retention suffers – in some studies, by as much as 60 percent.

Introducing SIMmersion PeopleSIM: Coaching and Performance Counseling.

The SIMmersion PeopleSIM is unique in that it blends cutting edge technology with sound instructional design to create opportunities for the learner to safely practice applying coaching behaviors in their proper context.  It provides detailed feedback and offers comprehensive remediation on the spot. And it busts through the “reality barrier” with its optional voice recognition module and a massive database of nodes (or possible responses). In fact, it offers so many different discussion threads (guided by the rules and probabilities entered into its proprietary gaming engine) that if 100 different people spoke with the simulated direct report on the screen, they could literally all have different experiences. Try it for yourself with this free demo.

Want to experience the future of interpersonal skills development? Give the talent management experts at Blueline a call today and test drive Simmersion PeopleSIM™.

Sometimes the Barrier to New Skills is the Cost of the Tools.

That’s one reason why I’m a terrible snow skier. (Or maybe it’s just an excuse.) When I evaluate the cost of the travel for my family of four, plus the lift tickets and everything else, the price for mastery is prohibitive. My motivation to increase my family’s capability in skiing is not sufficiently strong enough to balance the steep entry fee. As a result we remain forever tethered to dry, warm ground.

I’ve seen the same scenario play out for my organizational partners who feel the urgency for increased coaching skills among their workforce. Have you ever purchased coaching training? It’s worse than lift tickets. Coaching training almost always requires role-playing. And that requires a lot of warm bodies and man-hours to create and execute the simulated conversations. Coaching becomes a back burner, nice-to-have while the organization pursues more urgent learning priorities.

There are options. I recently had a compelling experience with an online coaching simulation. It blew my mind.

You should check it out, too. It’s a demo of a new simulation Blueline is rolling out this month: PeopleSIM™: Coaching and Performance Counseling.

I logged in from the comfort of my desk, and was introduced to Brooke Learner, one of my virtual direct reports. Logic told me that she was simply an actress captured on video, whom I was now watching on the screen. But the algorithms that dictated her responses to my coaching interventions were realistic to the point of being bizarre.

“I notice that you talk a lot during meetings,” I told the young woman onscreen, who had been sitting there blinking, looking at me, awaiting my coaching.

Immediately Brooke became defensive: “Well, I’m the only one who is contributing anything in meetings. Everyone else is quiet! So I guess you don’t want my ideas?”

Oops. This is not going well, I thought. Now the conversation was off on the wrong foot, and it would be difficult to recover. My mind raced with other prompts I might have used to frame this coaching conversation. Brooke sat there staring at me, awaiting my next brilliant intervention.

It felt real.

As vivid and engaging as this experience was, what was most interesting was what was not there. No training breakout room. No “real” person to step into the role of actor. No need to create a script or build anything. Brooke was ready to go. I could imagine dozens – no, hundreds – of organizational learners having their own coaching experiences, all from their desks, simultaneously, in a way that is blissfully easy on stressed training budgets.

Even better, the simulation deals with the “inconsistency problem” that plagues role-plays. Brooke Learner responded to my coaching with pinpoint-accurate, unambiguous feedback. The PeopleSIM™ felt real, provided me with detailed feedback and offered comprehensive remediation on the spot. It offered me a fun and engaging path to becoming a great coach.

Brooke is ready for a conversation with you, too. It’s a lot of fun even if – and especially if – you blow it as badly as I did. The learning insights stick.

Check it out for yourself. Demo the coaching simulation now. Then we’ll see how well you do.

Coaching Still Just as Important, But Harder Now

Research by Mary Broad and John Newstrom, as reported in their book, Transfer of Training, establishes how critical the manager’s role is to newly trained skills actually being used on the job. The authors assert that what the manager does before and after training occurs is even more important than what the training designer or the facilitator does.

One of the most critical roles the manager plays is reinforcing new skills through coaching. Just like developing new habits, becoming proficient at new skills takes place over time. Good coaching provides not only necessary feedback, but keeps the skills in focus long enough for new habits and patterns to become established.

However, there are a number of trends in the 21st century work force that make good coaching opportunities difficult to find. For most, gone are the days when everyone worked in the same office and you had small spans of control. How do you coach people in new skills when you have few interactions with them and rarely if ever see them live to evaluate their use of a new skill?

Fortunately, the same technologies that have made possible the shifts to a more virtual workforce also provide potential solutions to this coaching need.  For example, we are able to build avatar coaches right into our elearning training programs. And these same virtual coaches can be programmed to provide timed reminders to learners after the training to review material, answer questions about a key skill, or take an “on the spot” assessment to keep the learners focused on a new skill long enough for new patterns to become established.

A growing number of our programs have asynchronous coaching options in which the learner can use video or audio to capture their skill practice session – and share it with their manager for review and feedback. While this may not have the same spontaneity of a manager walking up and observing in real-time, there are new benefits.  In fact, we have found that most learners will practice a skill several times to get it right before sending the sample to their manager for review. So what it lacks in immediacy, it makes up in practice repetition and ultimately, mastery.

In the past we were often asked to create a “How to Coach” program to accompany new training. In today’s world, learning designers have to assume more of the coaching responsibility by providing the learner and the manager with the tools and opportunities for good coaching to occur.

Have questions or want to brainstorm potential strategies for putting these exciting new coaching strategies to work  in your organization? Blueline is here to help!

Confessions of a Pee-wee Coach… and an Opportunity for Organizational Leaders

Why is coaching to improve performance so hard?

When my two sons were both younger, I had the privilege of coaching their football, basketball, and soccer teams. However, my career as a youth coach didn’t start out as well as I might have hoped.

Let’s go back in time about 10 years as I was making my debut as a pee-wee soccer coach. You have all cringed when you’ve seen someone like me. You know the type: the guy on the sidelines screaming at a group of eight-to-nine-year-olds, telling them where to go and what to do all in the name of winning.

Of course, at the time I didn’t see myself that way. After all, coaching pre-teens in an athletic environment is easy, right? Kids trust quickly, expect to make mistakes, love to learn and the culture on the playing field is one of constant coaching. Besides, I cared about the boys and their friends, and enjoyed the incredible environment in which the kids trusted me and craved my coaching.

But something surprising happened. I discovered that, for better and worse, I had simply become a compilation of all of the coaches that I had experienced growing up. It would have been easy for me to continue to act like this, not knowing how poorly I was behaving but for one thing: video.

I had asked my wife to shoot video of the games so that I could watch them afterward and look for ways to help the children to improve. What I discovered instead came as a shock: it was me who needed to improve. And those videos were the key to me learning about and improving upon my own coaching weaknesses.

This story does have a happy ending. My coaching style evolved and I became supremely confident in my skills with the children. I discovered how to challenge them, pick them up when they were down, and even occasionally inspire them to greatness. To this day, many of my sons’ friends still refer to me as “coach.”

From the Playground to the Board Room:

Holding Up the Mirror to Your Coaching Skills

“That’s all well and good, David, but how does that relate to me as a manager/coach at my company when I have employees who are underperforming?”

Granted, your associates aren’t children. But there are a few lessons that I think can be borrowed from my experience:

1. Build a culture of trust and constant coaching. Encourage your people to take risks and to make mistakes.

2. Honestly assess your skills as a coach. You likely model a compilation of the people who have coached you over the years, which may or may not be a good thing.

3. Find a “mirror” so that you can see your skills evolve over time.

Most people tell me that that third challenge – finding a “mirror” – is the most difficult in corporate settings. Companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on peer assessments, and live skill practicing with or without video capture – all in an effort to hold a mirror up to their leaders.

I’ve got good news for your budgets. Today, simulation technology offers an exceptionally affordable mirror that will enable anyone who needs it to develop and hone their coaching skills in a safe environment. Imagine rehearsing delivering difficult feedback in a range of real life performance improvement scenarios to a broad range of employee personalities.  Imagine using these newfound skills to build a culture of trust and constant coaching. Imagine the impact that your high-performing team will have on your organization. Experience the possibilities, demo the simulation now.

Pick up the phone and call the coaching specialists at Blueline today.  We’ll help you turn what you imagine into reality.