Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Two things coaches really need

While under discussion between coaching theorists and practitioners, there are some core competencies that most will agree contribute to being an effective coach. These core competencies are the ‘things a coach does’ before, during and after a coaching session, and comprise coaching knowledge, skills, attitude and behaviour (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.).

Active listening

I’d like to focus on two competencies that I feel are possibly the most challenging. The first is listening (ICF, n.d.). The ability to listen involves the related skills of active listening and questioning. Active listening also has many different interpretations, but essentially includes three aspects: comprehending, retaining and responding. Going hand-in-hand with active listening is questioning. Questions are part of our everyday lives, and we can’t really communicate without them. Question types that are common include, probing, elaborating, hypothetical, clarification, planning and strategic.
The tough part is being fully ‘there’ while your coachee is speaking, so that you are listening for what is and isn’t being said. You also need to be able to understand what is meant within the wider context of your coachee’s aspirations - while also choosing powerful questions to help your coachee express themselves and dig deeper into their area of focus.
Sometimes active listening will require a coach to leave space for their coachee to download what’s on top, without passing judgement or making comment (ICF, n.d.). Imagine working with someone with whom you have developed a strong professional relationship, such that you care a lot about their welfare. They then share a situation in their professional or personal life that is affecting them deeply. You have to be able to listen while keeping your own opinions firmly off the table, and to hear what is being said, as well as intuiting the ‘gaps’. You then need to be able to summarise, paraphrase, reiterate, and mirror back (ICF, n.d.) what your coachee has said, and follow up with questions to help them break from a loop of negative reflection so that they can work toward next steps.
Sometimes supporting the coachee to move forward may require finding just the right questions to support them to break from the narrative running through their head. The conversation can help them recognise, for instance, implications within their current situation for their own values, beliefs and goals. It is likely to involve bringing the coachee to the point where they identify what they feel is important, what is and is not possible, and to support their exploration of their own perceptions and concerns, while possibly helping them identify alternatives. Ideally, by the end of the session(s) the way forward should be owned by the coachee, who should feel heard, supported, positive, and comfortable about the next steps they have chosen to take.
This is a big ask, and requires empathy rather than sympathy. The coach has to remain as neutral as they can (non-judgemental) and to constantly check whose agenda is being served by the questions they are posing.

Help with managing progress

The second core competency I feel is tricky, and which is linked to the first one, is to help a coachee manage their own progress (including accountability) (ICF, n.d.). Within this competency is a need to delicately balance attention on what a coachee has identified as important for them, while also leaving responsibility with the coachee to take action (ICF, n.d.).
For example, during a coaching session it may be that there has been some great work identifying steps toward your coachee’s stated goals and big-picture aspirations. Your coachee has identified specific action points, considered possible blockers, enablers and sources of support, and put a timeframe around everything. They even ask if they can text you once they have carried out key actions as they feel it will help keep them on track. You receive one text, and then nothing. At the start of your next session you ask about how things are going in relation to the actions that were identified. Then, remaining non-judgemental, you acknowledge them for what they have achieved, and talk through why the coachee feels they haven’t made progress toward their actions. This could involve reviewing the actions based on what the coachee has learned, or become aware of, since your previous session.
The focus, therefore, while helping the coachee remain on track and ensuring an ongoing sense of positivity, is more importantly about helping them build the skills and strategies to be resilient and self-motivated, such that they carry through with what they say they are going to do, within the time frames they have put in place.
These are both competencies that it takes time and experience to hone, and remaining self-reflective as a coach will help develop them. The exciting thing is, when it’s spot on, the coachee can move from a place that seems bleak, to one where, over time, they recognise that the initial situation provided a catalyst for incredible professional growth.

References

International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). ICF Core Competencies. Retrieved from http://www.coachfederation.org/files/FileDownloads/CoreCompetencies.pdf.
Southern Institute of Technology. (n.d.) Transformational Coaching and its outcomes (Module A) [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from CBC105 (NET).

Image

Helper. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Outi : https://flic.kr/p/bRkRu

Monday, October 30, 2017

Short courses to whet your appetite - and they're free!

Are you looking for a short, online course to study...and that is, even better, free? Open2Study has an interesting variety of courses from which to choose, including subjects as diverse as:

User Experience for the Web
Principles of Project Management
Latin American Music: Translating Cultural Sensibilities, and
Agriculture and the World We Live In

The time commitment for each course varies, but is about 4 to 6 hours per week. Most courses are self-paced, and you get a certificate of achievement when you have completed each course. There are also some handy ideas, for each course, of formal study pathways that you might want to explore.

Well worth checking out :)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Changing: Your environment and yourself

In the places I work, there is a requirement for innovation, responsiveness, and a comfort with change that often calls for “a culture shift: a new environment in which the majority … think in new ways, develop new skills and have new understandings of themselves as professionals” (Bolstad, & Gilbert, 2012, p. 43). As such, there is sometimes an uneasy dichotomy when the current culture of the organisation sits alongside innovations that carry with them the likelihood that people will need to develop new ideas, knowledge and skills. An upcoming change in leadership, or a particular policy or project, for example, is likely to send ripples of uncertainty throughout a work context.
Most of the people I encounter have a clear idea of what they want, but are often not sure how to get there. Sometimes there is also a sense that they aren’t confident about how to avoid doing what they don’t want to do, or aren’t sure why something doesn’t feel quite right in their role. This is where coaching can assist, in part by helping them identify what is missing - and this could be something that is transactional (a skill set for example), or transformational (a need to delve into what their career and relationships actually mean for them, and identify their purpose).
Over time, once a clearer sense of identity and purpose have been identified the person would be able to not only take advantage of, but recognise, a broader range of possibilities. They would also be more likely to be open to learning, inclusive, tolerant, and resilient to change (may, in fact embrace change rather than feel a victim of it).
Our experiences of offering (optional) coaching / mentoring for 3 months (sessions every fortnight, with just-in-time coaching available when needed), or for 12 months (monthly one-hour long sessions) with an opportunity to extend - have been interesting.
For people who have chosen the three months transactional coaching option I have seen positive outcomes, especially where they have stepped outside their comfort zone and developed additional strategies, skills and understandings. These coachees feel more confident about their ability to accept and work comfortably with upcoming change. Interestingly, about two-thirds of the people on the three months option have extended it to twelve months. They seem to have experienced the positive outcomes, and have grown to recognise there is ‘something more’.
People with whom we have been working for 12 months or more, have been exploring the ‘why’ of their identity (as a professional; as a person within a specific life and work environment; with a set of beliefs, assumptions, and biases). They have been responding to challenging questions that have supported the process of transformation on the inside that will make sure they are ready to make the most of - and lead - upcoming change and beyond.
I have noticed, however, that everyone is in slightly different developmental phases. Some are ready for deeper conversations with the more wide-ranging, longer-term impacts, but others are looking for a mix of transactional and transformational, and often in varying proportions depending on their current stress and circumstances.
Coaching is not only about helping people to develop into thought leaders and lifelong learners, but it is also giving them a common language and, increasingly, a common mindset, that will help ensure we meet change with confidence. We will make mistakes, but these will be seen as opportunities to learn and feed into future strategies. People will be “achieving their goals [transactional] while also creating a new way of being [transformational]” (Chittenden, 2015, Para 2).

References:

Bolstad, R. and Gilbert, J., with McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012).   Supporting Future-oriented Learning and Teaching: A New Zealand Perspective. Wellington:   Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/schooling/109306.
Chittenden, C. (2012). Transaction Or Transformation? Retrieved from http://www.talkingabout.com.au/TransactionOrTransformation.

Image:

Butterflies in Kuala Lumpar. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Hazelowendmc: https://flic.kr/p/u1kyCh

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How do you support people to build their cultural understandings?

Coaching, with its focus on listening, questioning, and exploration of self, especially values and beliefs, can be a highly effective way to develop understanding of a range of cultures. Such understandings have a positive impact on a person’s own - and where coaching is used throughout a business - all employees’ ability, to comprehend differences in communication and how professional relationships are formed, as well as alternative relationships with different concepts of ‘time’, rules, hierarchy, negotiations, humour, and so on.
The supportive environment that is developed by coaching provides a safe space for employees to grow their skills and build strategies for working together. In turn, this can help with short- and long-term business development, especially around decision-making, planning and operations. Some of the benefits include the:
  • Enhanced ability to meet the needs of a culturally diverse range of clients through employee cultural knowledge  (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010), and an associated reduction in complaints / grievances.
  • Improved knowledge, understanding and relationships with culturally diverse market segments (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
  • Reduction in employee turnover.
  • Enhanced sense of inclusion, cohesion and productivity amongst employees.
  • Enhanced reputation as a business, and as an employer, with culturally diverse communities (domestic and international) (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
  • Increased customer satisfaction and number of referrals  (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
  • Lower costs and higher profitability.
  • More effective communications and marketing (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).

Reference

Australian Multicultural Foundation. (2010). Managing Cultural Diversity  Training Program Resource Manual. Retrieved from http://amf.net.au/library/uploads/files/MCD_Training_Program_Resource_Manual.pdf

Image

Challenging Stereotypes. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Jake Brewer: https://flic.kr/p/8usR2

Friday, September 29, 2017

How to make your online course sticky: Top ten tips

With online courses how do you make them 'sticky'? How do you help participants, after they have started your course, remain engaged and motivated?

Good questions, and ones I was asked a short while ago by some clients. So, I thought I would post some of the ideas I shared with them.

With all of the following ideas, I have either worked with clients to add them to their course design, or have experienced them in action in other courses.

The ideas are based on the assumption that your course is going to be for adults (or learners who are used to using what are considered adult learning strategies), and is totally online, with rolling sign ups (i.e. no participant groups, which means that approaches such as, for example, responding to online forums, are likely to be less effective):

1) Sharing is a big key to ongoing engagement and motivation. Two things you could consider in your course design are:
  • Encouraging participants to find a 'buddy', who is not doing the course but who is interested in how the participant is doing. This buddy might be a trusted friend, or family member (or even a journal...and you could frame up as something like "share your progress with your journal"). As long as the buddy is genuinely interested, it can be hugely motivational for the participant to share the big challenges, as well as the big steps forward. So, you can invite your participants to share regularly, although being careful that you don't do it to the point of overload. For instance, you might want to include one invitation per learning segment. Also, at the beginning of the following learning segment (or if you have a video in the segments), you could ask something like "we invite you to reflect for a moment - Who did you share with? How did that go?"...or something similar :)
  • You can also consider setting up a private group (maybe Facebook or similar) where people can share: their learnings, their experiences, and maybe resources that they have found useful. One aspect to be aware of if you do go down this track though, are providing 'guidelines for positive interactions / what's appropriate to post'. You might also want to consider if you, as facilitator(s) would also respond to postings, and how you would moderate the group to make sure things remain civil.
2) Participants are likely to find different approaches to learning resonate with them. Therefore, when you encourage your participants to think about various concepts, you could use language that encourages them to
  • use their senses,
  • or bring their prior knowledge to a situation, 
  • or imagine (in words, sounds, and/or images).
3) When you suggest that participants consider themselves in a particular context, you could also ask them to think about their 'future story'. For example, if they are working toward skills that will help them start a, or transition to another, career, they could imagine themselves at a table, where they imagine the other characters who are there to support, advise and guide them. This approach, as well as being a powerful personalised 'tool', can help people visualise their own inner strengths, and resources on which they can draw. Imagining the 'conversation' between the characters can also help identify possible challenges, and ways continuing with your course might help address them.

4) Having a storyline running throughout your course can also be really powerful. Participants can 'get to know' characters, and get involved with the challenges they face, and how they work through them. In some cases this approach can help participants 'recognise' themselves, while also bringing complex concepts to life. 

5) A model I have seen work really well is, for an additional fee, people can choose to have a regular - or one off - virtual session(s) with the facilitator(s). This option enables people to share their learning in a much deeper way, and request things they would like to specifically focus on. To make these sessions effective though, you are likely to find that setting clear expectations is useful. For instance, clearly stating that these are additional formal learning sessions, but are fluid and based on a specific request from the participant, and it is up to the participant to identify their focus. These sessions can be recorded and shared back with the participant for their ongoing access.

6) If you are recording videos for your course you can include hooks such as "watch the next video for...", or "next time you will have the opportunity to learn / try / experience...". This 'in the next episode' approach', if done well, can help excite or intrigue participants enough to tune in next time.

7) Measurable progress can be important for some people, which is why journaling and sharing with a buddy can be so useful. However, other people like to measure themselves more concretely. So, you could consider having a short benchmark questionnaire at the beginning of the course, and then make the same questionnaire available at a key point further through the course. Participants can then compare the two, and see how their perceptions around their progress have shifted, if at all. The comparison would be a good point for participants to choose to have a virtual session with a facilitator, if they wanted to.

8) Regularly inviting your participants to make specific commitments to themselves about what they are going to do, how often, and how they will motivate themselves to do it (e.g. telling a friend that they are going to do something on such day or putting a reminder into their phone), can help some people remain engaged and active in your course.

9) You could also have a 'badge', or some sort of image...or whakatauki (proverb / saying), that a participant is (automatically) sent when they complete each part of the course - in other words, they receive positive reinforcement that recognises their progress.

10) Polls, where other people's responses are aggregated and shown (after the participant has responded) can be a way of indicating that there are other people doing the course, along with an indication of of their opinions.

I hope that you find these ideas useful. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Also, please add any of the approaches you use, or have experienced, in the comments below - and say if they were effective or not ... and what you might do to improve on them.

Image
Glue-goo. CC ( BY ND ) licensed Flickr image by Sam-cat: https://flic.kr/p/64Z871

Friday, September 15, 2017

The person behind the label: Having those uncomfortable conversations

Diversity management is the deliberate, unwavering pursuit, when managing employees and working with clients, to ‘make visible’ “all of the significant differences between people, including perceptions of differences ... such as our thinking styles or beliefs and values (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010, p. 8).
At TEDx Auckland 2012, Philip Patston gave a presentation entitled: The Label Libel, A New Look at Diversity. In his presentation Patston explores notions of diversity. He initially describes his own experience of the labels he gave himself, and the labels (with underpinning assumptions) that other people gave him, which created feelings of confusion and frustration. He identifies that labels are sometimes useful because they can create awareness. However, if they are unquestioned, they frequently lead to judgements, inequality, and separation by creating ‘us and them’ situations.
By questioning and unpacking our use of labels, we can uncover the textures and appreciate the gradations of meaning that diversity offers. However, this can be uncomfortable, as it will require delving into our own values, beliefs, and biases - some of which we may not be aware of. However, “discomfort brings engagement and change …. [and] actions lead to success” (Godin, 2010, p, 204), which in the case of diversity management is enabling the people working with an organisation to take away labels and ‘see’ the person behind the label. In turn, this enables appreciation of each other as unique  individuals with hopes, dreams, strengths and skills.
Patston highlights that common language helps create communities. For example, as part of the New Zealand cultural/national identity there is a notion of  “#8 wire and innovativeness …  characterized as ‘being able to think outside the box’ and ‘make something out of nothing’” (Rinne, & Fairweather, 2011, p. vii). This shared language and the layers that lie beneath it have spawned everything from art to advertisements, and is a source of pride for many Kiwis. So, one key to diversity management in organisations is to provide support (coaching, training, and safe forums for discussion) that encourage people to deconstruct the common language of the organisation - to pull it apart in a way that allows for non-conformity, and embraces paradoxes.
As indicated by Patston, this is hard, difficult work, and may result in two steps forwards and one step backwards; but where an organisation has true diversity, this process is essential. Organisations with a well-developed coaching culture may find that their employees’ communication skills are honed, and they are more able to set aside their own views to explore other perspectives. These types of conversation can lead to positive yet challenging conversations that can, over time, foster true diversity.
Money is often seen as the measure of value. Patston sees this as stifling technology innovation, and causing 98% of social issues. Alongside this, a need for definitive ‘answers’ (again the dichotomy of what is correct and what isn’t), at which point, Patston posits, we stop asking questions about who, what, why, where and when - the questions that enable us to see both commonalities and differences in a wide range of contexts, and to notice that we are unique and always changing.
Diversity management can provide opportunities for other values to come to the fore, and to encourage curiosity and questions. Opportunities might include formal and informal activities that provide a chance for employees to get to know each other, perhaps around a common interest or shared activity, as well as a buddy system for new employees (HCS, n.d.). Employee networks can offer opportunities for mentoring, or to seek advice, as well as a chance for (facilitated) candid discussions. Workplaces can also be designed to recognise diversity by providing a choice of different types of spaces (HCS, n.d.).

Image

References

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cultural competence...what it might look like in reality

Given the opening up of the world and a shift to globalisation, it is important, especially in business contexts to be culturally competent - to be sensitive to differences and know how to work within a multicultural context.
The following is a brief vignette (based on experience, but using fictional characters) of how the Geert Hofstede’s 6D model is one of the many tools that can help raise awareness, and start discussions.

The vignette
Together, Shuyi who was born and raised in Beijing in China, and with whom I work closely in New Zealand, have found Hofstede’s model a useful way to open conversations about how we can best work together that respects both of our cultural preferences.
With China, according to Hofstede’s model:
  • Power distance (attitudes of culture towards inequalities): China comes in at 80 (NZ is 22), signalling a society “that believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable” (Hofstede, n.d.). In a workplace this means that the relationships tend to be polarised between managers and their team members, formal authority has great influence, and there is optimism about employees’ capacity to use their initiative and lead - but to also not have “aspirations beyond their rank” (Hofstede, n.d.).
  • Individualism (the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members): With a score of 20 (NZ is 79) China is a strongly collectivist culture. In the workplace this means that there is an expectation that “hiring and promotions with closer in-groups (such as family) … [get] preferential treatment” (Hofstede, n.d.). People do not tend to be committed to a company, although there is a tendency to form close cooperative groups with possible hostility shown to other groups.
  • Masculinity (levels of competitiveness, achievement and success vs liking what you do): At 66 (NZ is 58) China is a Masculine society, which means in a work context that there is a drive to succeed, often meaning long hours and little focus on breaks or leisure time.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance (how cultures feel about ambiguity and the unknown): China, at 30 (NZ is 49), scores low on Uncertainty Avoidance. In a business setting, Chinese employees are usually comfortable with ambiguity, and tend to be “adaptable and entrepreneurial” (Hofstede, n.d.).
  • Long Term Orientation (attitudes to the past, present and future): With a score of 87 (NZ is 33), China has a very pragmatic culture, where traditions can easily adapt to changes in context. In the workplace, Long Term Orientation translates to perseverance to achieve results over time, as well as a focus on saving.
  • Indulgence (control of desires and impulses): At 24 (NZ is 75), China is a restrained society. In the workplace this may be expressed as cynicism or pessimism, and employees may see that indulgence is not a positive behaviour.
Looking at the scores, while Long Term Orientation shows the biggest numerical distance (meaning that there may be misunderstandings around the Kiwi focus on ‘quick results’ and short-term gains), the most useful for Shuyi and I was Power Distance. I had noticed Shuyi rarely said much in meetings, and hardly ever contributed ideas or suggestions in the shared Google Docs - and yet I knew from our discussions, she had a lot to offer!  After I shared the results of Hofstede’s model with her, we talked about some of our assumptions. Shuyi felt it was rude for her to jump in with ideas (particularly alternative perspectives) during meetings, especially if the team leader or one of the really experienced team members was speaking. On the flip side, I had assumed that she just wasn’t keen to share - and I knew that other people in the team felt that she wasn’t really interested in being active on our projects. However, we were able to talk things through and discuss strategies such as me asking for her ideas directly during team meetings or in the Google Docs (but not all the time or too obviously), or providing signals such as a direct request for input. We both hope to continue the conversation!
In conclusion...
While these solutions are relatively surface and may not work for everyone, the key here was the fact that awareness can support folks to ‘have the conversation’ - and Hofstede’s model (or similar tools) can offer a ‘safe’ way to recognise differences.
Image
Empathy, CC ( BY, NC, SA ) licensed Flickr image by James Box: https://flic.kr/p/4ZJwhw