Monday, April 23, 2018

Change as the new normal: Supporting people to grow

This post was written as a guest post for Cyma (a technology and enterprise architecture consultancy), and was originally posted as Living With Change - Don’t let technology disruption disrupt your team on 16th April 2018.

Hazel Owen has been helping Cyma employees with personal development. She supports Cyma to recognise our strengths, alongside collaboration and co-construction, and can help us on our journey to transformation. She also stresses that it takes both leadership and team growth for organisations to realise their vision. Cyma has been using Hazel's professional expertise in coaching and mentoring and wanted to share it, so we asked her if she was willing to do a guest blog on what she knows best, and well, here you are:

Hazel's Contribution
At Cyma we talk a lot about how organisations need to be aware of the impact of new technologies on their business, and how they need to change in order to meet the new challenges that they face.  As technologists, it is easy for us to look just at the technology. But organisations are more about people than technology. For any change to be effective it is important to look at the impact on people and how they can support that change. This blog takes a look at how you can do just that.

CHANGE: NOT A ONCE ONLY OCCURRENCE

There are many ways of positively implementing and supporting changes in organisational culture, and much that has been written about them (e.g. Michael B. Goodman, 2017Mehdi
Khosrow-Pour, 2018). In this post, though, I’d like to consider the specific support that people are able to access that empowers them to make, and own, their own personal and professional shifts.
Change is not a ‘once only occurrence’ that means an organisation is all set for the future. Rather change is part of being responsive in a rapidly changing, global environment where it is almost impossible to keep current, let alone ahead.
In their bid to meet the needs of their clients and customers, many of the organisations that I work with invest majorly in innovation. However, innovation, without an overall shift in culture that recognises that their people need to be comfortable with ongoing change, is likely to be at best, marginally successful.


WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

To grow a culture where change is the new normal requires  “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). It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Sometimes there is an uneasy dichotomy where the current culture of an organisation sits alongside innovations that require people to develop new ideas, approaches, and ways of working that they might feel they didn’t sign up for when they took the job. Also, where a shift in culture is heavily top down, or mainly ‘lip service’, often there is a sense of being ‘done to’. In situations like this, people may feel as though they aren’t being listened to, that their organisational knowledge is not valued, and that the change underway is ‘for the sake of change’. Throw in a new culture where change is an everyday occurrence, and this can send people into a tailspin that can result in anger, stress, and a decision by (often highly talented people) to move on. Alternatively, people can become disengaged, disillusioned, and/or (vocally) negative.

SUPPORTING PEOPLE TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH CHANGE

It rolls off the tongue: “a shift in culture“, but what does it actually mean for the people who work in the organisation? People will need to have the skills and mindset to be responsive, while also being comfortable with ambiguity (i.e. the range of factors involved means that there is no clear ‘right or ‘wrong’, but rather a decision needs to be made and evaluated - then tweaked, or abandoned, if necessary).
To support their people through the process of being comfortable with ongoing change, an organisation might decide to include coaching to support the different ways their people work and interact, as well as the way they build relationships with clients and customers.
In a nutshell, any coaching initiative should be:

WHY COACHING WORKS WHEN CHANGE BECOMES THE NEW NORMAL

Coaching can help an organisation’s people identify what’s missing for them - and this might be something that is transactional (a skill set for example), or transformational (delving into what their role and relationships actually mean for them, and how they align with their own values).
Working with a coach encourages a person to unpack their challenges in a safe, confidential partnership that may be “transformative and growth producing” (Stokes, 2011, p. 8). For example, a strong coaching relationship will enable the coach to push back and ask the ‘hard questions’ that encourage the coachee to examine themselves closely, and to develop alternative perspectives (Stokes, 2011). This isn’t always easy or comfortable for the coachee, but when a coach does it well, it results in real changes. Mistakes are likely to be made as part of the process of growth, but these will be seen as opportunities to learn and will feed into future strategies.

MANAGING PROGRESS

Conversations that promote personal and professional growth, need to help a person manage their own progress (including accountability) (ICF, n.d.), often in the shape of setting their own goals. This requires a delicate balance between what a coachee has identified as important for them, and the requirements and values of an organisation (ICF, n.d.). Beyond the practical aspects of goal-setting, research indicates that setting, and evaluating, your own goals play a large part in sustained motivation and ongoing action, even in the face of emerging challenges (Bandura, 1998). The process of associating attainment of stated (valued) goals with self-satisfaction has a direct influence on “how much effort [a person]... expend[s]; how long they persevere in the face of difficulties; and their resilience to failures … [and these contribute]  to performance accomplishments” (Bandura, 1998, p. 75).
For example, in one coaching session a person might do some great work identifying goals that align nicely with an organisation’s focus and big-picture aspirations. They have worked out action points, timeframes, possible blockers, enablers and sources of support. However, at the start of the next session, for a range of reasons, they have not achieved much of what they set out to achieve. This is when it’s important that the coach remains non-judgemental, acknowledge them for what they have achieved, and talk through why the coachee feels they haven’t made (much) progress toward their actions. This could involve reviewing the actions based on what the coachee has learned, or become aware of, since their previous session - and possibly revisiting the relevance of the goals to their role at the organisation. The focus, therefore, is importantly about supporting the coachee to grow skills and strategies are all about their own resilience and self-motivation - including changing, or dropping, their goals if they aren’t working out.

RESULTS

The exciting thing is, when the experience of coaching is spot on, a person can move within an organisation, from a place that feels bleak, to one where, over time, they recognise that the initial situation provided a catalyst for incredible professional growth. However, it also pays to be acutely aware that change - especially in core beliefs and identity (as a professional and as a person) - takes time and energy, and is not comfortable. Patience is required to help ensure ongoing motivation, the celebration of positive growth when it occurs, and at all times the provision of “a mirror… to extend the...[a person’s] self-awareness” (Daloz, 1986, in Stokes, 2011, p. 8).
Over time, once a person has a clearer sense of identity and purpose, they are able to not only take advantage of, but also to recognise, a broader range of possibilities. In addition, they are more likely to be inclusive, open to learning, tolerant, and ready to make the most of change.

FINAL THOUGHTS

When an organisation recognises that, to remain relevant, they need to make change part of the way they ‘do things around here’, coaching can be integrated into the culture. This will not only help people to develop into thought leaders and lifelong learners, but also give the whole organisation a common language and, increasingly, a common mindset that will help ensure they meet ongoing change with confidence...and enthusiasm!


More Information
If you would like to connect with Hazel on LinkedIn click HERE, and if you would like to know more about what Hazel does and use her services feel free to go HERE for more information.



REFERENCES

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
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.
International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). ICF Core Competencies. Retrieved from http://www.coachfederation.org/files/FileDownloads/CoreCompetencies.pdf.
Stokes, M. (2011). Mentoring in Education: The Mentor as Critical Friend. Retrieved February 14, 2013 from http://ebookbrowse.com/d2-1-coaching-mentoring-handbook-v3-240107-htfinal-pdf-d51727958.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's in a question...?

Questions are part of our everyday lives, and it’s a challenge to communicate without them. If you have ever played those games where you have to communicate without any questions you know what a fundamental role they play. There are many types of questions, each of which has a different purpose, including (but not limited to) probing, elaborating, clarifying, and planning.
Coaching questions tend to have particular characteristics, and a good coaching question has the power to support a coachee in a range of different ways. Well-framed questions can positively stimulate thought, motivate, inspire, and help your coachee recognise their own strengths such that they remain motivated, energised and focussed.
I will now discuss some of the characteristics of a ‘good’ coaching question, but not before emphasising that effective questioning goes hand-in-hand with effective listening.
Effective coaching questions are:
  • Mostly open: Questions that start with, for example, “what”, “how”, or “if” and provide opportunities for a ‘wide’, sometimes surprising, response from the coachee.
  • Focussed on solutions: The coach supports the coachee to explore underpinning  frameworks that are influencing how the coachee considers an issue. The questions help the coachee identify options in a way that expands their thinking and ways of working (e.g. “What would you like to accomplish?”, and “What do you think you need to do to get a result that will work for you (or closer to your goal)?”).
  • Neutral: Do not contain any elements of the coach’s reaction, opinion, or concerns (e.g. “What do you feel?”).
  • Simple, short, clear and one at a time (with plenty of silence and space): Enables the coachee to focus on their thinking and ideas, rather than trying to figure out what the coach has just asked (e.g. “How could you appropriately communicate your point of view with the rest of your team?”). Multiple, rapid-fire questions can also interfere with the flow, and should be avoided.
  • Motivating: Focus on the things a coachee might do to move toward identifying and designing their own strategies and solutions (e.g. “What if you knew the answer? What would it be?”).
  • Have a positive effect on coaching outcomes: Questions that help the the coachee be creative to think of ideas and solutions that they may not otherwise have thought of (e.g. “If anything were possible, what are five possible options? What else?” And “What could you do differently?”).
These questions also map onto coaching roles, although they are not exclusive to those roles. As such, they may involve some of the following:
  • Investigator (knowledge): Who, what, when, where, why, how . . . ? Could you please describe . . . ?
  • Guide (comprehension): Would I be right in thinking...? What did you understand from...?”
  • Neutral inquirer (application): How do you feel X is an example of Y?; How would you say that X is related to Y?; Why do you feel that X is significant in your context?
  • Investigator (analysis): What are the identifiable aspects of . . . ? Would you classify X according to Y?
  • Investigator (synthesis): What are your thoughts around solutions for . . . ? What would you infer from . . . ? What are your additional reactions to . . . ? How might you go about designing a new . . . ? What could happen if you added . . . ?
  • Advisor (evaluation): What do you think about trying . . . ? What is the most important outcome for.. . ? Which would you say are the highest priority for . . . ? What would help you decide to . . . ?
Coaching questions will only really be useful if you try them out. This will provide you with opportunities to reflect on whether you felt your questions were well put together, and if they positively impacted the way your coachee was thinking. You should also consider if any of your questions were not really suitable for coaching (such as those that are closed, leading, contain your opinion, are multi-parted or wordy and difficult to understand). Effective questions are key to a coaching relationship; however, being able to craft a good question takes practice. The more you actively listen, and the more you hone your questioning skills, the more powerful the experience will be for both you and your coachee.


Image: Questions. CC ( BY NC SA ) licensed Flickr image by Tim O'Brien

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Perspectives around the benefits of coaching and mentoring

I often find myself pondering why coaching and mentoring are so powerful. When I am being coached the fact that someone is listening so intently, and asking questions that in turn ... even though I know they are part of a coach's tool box ... help me dig deeper than when I ask myself the same questions. I am not the most extroverted person around, but still have a deep appreciation of the 'gift' of someone else's time and care.
Well, that's my perspective, and I know there are many others!
A while back, Rick Whalley and I decided to find out a bit more about what people felt the benefits of being coached and/or mentored are. So, we surveyed, as part of coaching professional development sessions we were facilitating, some of the people with whom we were working to see what:
1) They thought the benefits of working with a coach or mentor were;
2) Why they might be motivated to coach or mentor someone; and
3) What they thought the key attributes of an effective coach or mentor were.
Below are some of the responses, mainly in the original words of the respondents. (NB Where responses were similar they have not been included). I hope you will agree, they are pretty interesting.

Benefits

  • Strengthen and / or challenge my personal views and ideas
  • Different perspectives from someone who is interested in me
  • Access support to change practice
  • Social support
  • Download / discuss issues with someone who is not a manager, partner, or colleague
  • Guidance
  • Help develop skills and knowledge about my orgnisation
  • Inspiration
  • Encouragement
  • Someone to run things by (critical friend)
  • Affirm that I am on the right track
  • Someone invested in my learning
  • Sharing and pooling ideas with an expert / experienced progressional in the field
  • Idea sharing
  • Articulate goals and have someone keep me on track with the goals
  • Find solutions to problems
  • Share strategies that have worked
  • Growth (mutual self discovery)
  • Strengthen and develop skills
  • Specific - e.g. 'promotions'
  • Open new doors
  • Benefit from the institutional + personal experience + knowledge of others
  • Development of capabilities and dispositions
  • Community / relationship building
The 24 key benefits are pretty wide ranging, and illustrate the fact that people see mentoring and/or coaching as achieving different things. Some of the key themes that jumped out for Rick and I are, within a 'safe' partnership, being able to share (issues, ideas, aspirations, and work in progress) and in the process developing as a person and a professional. Wrapped into this, for some people, is accountability, which helps motivate them to stay on track.
While there is nothing new in the 24 benefits, it is a useful snapshot of where the thinking is around coaching and mentoring, and maybe - if you don't already have a coach - be the catalyst for you to seek one out.

Why coach or mentor?

The other part of the partnership is 'doing' the coaching and/or mentoring, and these are some of the responses.
  • Help others achieve above what they thought was possible
  • Support someone to realise their potential
  • To help people find their own paths through discussion and support
  • To give something back / help someone else
  • Share our experiences with likeminded other / next generation
  • Learning is two way and I can always benefit from a coachee or mentee
  • Enjoy co-creating and collaborating, especially in developing best practice
  • Enjoy people
  • Inspire / share ideas
  • Give a new perspective to others
  • Help someone through the process of self-discovery
  • See how others grow
  • Communicating in a respectful space
  • We learn powerfully when we coach or mentor others
The stand-out themes that came through for Rick and I were the enjoyment of the reciprocal nature of a coaching and/or mentoring partnership, as well as the fundamental 'feel good' aspect of supporting someone to grow personally and professionally.
If anything resonates for you, maybe it's time for you to look into opportunities to do some coaching and mentoring :)

Attributes

The final responses were to do with the attributes people felt were essential in a mentor and / or coach, and, by implication, what they would look for in their own mentor/coach and within themselves.
  • Humility
  • Dependable
  • Listener
  • Questioner
  • Reflective (lateral)
  • Self-knowledge
  • Neutral
  • Non-judgemental
  • Passion for learning
  • Experienced
  • Empathetic
  • Approachable
There are a wide range of perceptions of what coaching and mentoring is and can provide, and the results from this informal survey align with some of the formal research that is out there.
The responses have prompted Rick and I to ask ourselves, as well as some of our clients:
  • What is already underway in your organisation?
  • What could professional learning look and feel like if it were all underpinned by a coaching and mentoring approach?
  • What would you add to the lists?
Your thoughts...?

Image


Light on white. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Hazelowendmc: https://flic.kr/p/FncgJd

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