HBR Guide to Coaching Employees: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 3rd, 2015 by bobmorris

HBR Guide CoachingHBR Guide to Coaching Employees
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
John Quincy Adams

This is one of the volumes in another series of anthologies of articles, previously published in Harvard Business Review, in which contributors share their insights concerning a major business subject, in this instance coaching employees. As is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management Tips, HBR Guides offer great value in several ways. Here are two: Cutting-edge thinking from 15-30 sources in a single volume at a price (about $15.00 from Amazon in the paperbound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost.

Given the original HBR publication dates, some of the material in some of the volumes is — inevitably — somewhat dated such as references to specific situations in specific companies. However, the most valuable insights and lessons to be learned are timeless.

The material in the HBR Guide to Coaching Employees was selected to help those who read this book to improve in areas that include creating realistic but inspiring plans for growth, asking the right questions to engage your direct reports and other colleagues in the development process, meanwhile creating room for them to grapple with problems to solve and questions to answer, allowing them to make the most of their expertise and experience while compelling them to stretch and grow, giving them feedback they will actually apply, and finally, balancing coaching with everything else in your workload. If you need assistance in any of these areas, this book be of invaluable assistance now as well as in months and years to come, as will Noel Tichy’s Succession: Mastering the Make-or-Break Process of Leadership Transition, and, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization.

The authors of the first ten of 15 articles explain HOW TO:

o Shift your thinking so that you can collaborate on learning with others
o Step the stage to stimulate growth in a context within which peak performance is most likely to occur
o Earn trust by building a rapport based on mutual respect
o Conduct effective sessions by asking the right questions, articulating goals, and reframing challenges
o Follow-up after a session to monitor intake, monitor progress, and adjust (if/when necessary)
o Provide feedback that “sticks” to avoid a negative and/or defensive response
o Enlist assistance (if/when needed) by tapping the “deep smarts” of the given challenge or opportunity
o Help people to help themselves through effective self-coaching and/or coaching others
Comment: Throughout recorded human history, one of the best ways to learn more about a subject is to explain it to someone else.
o Avoid common coaching mistakes by knowing what they are, how to recognize them, then avoid or overcome them

* * *

Here is Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer’s Market at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I offer these three brief excerpts:

From Edward M. (Ned) Hallowell’s article, “Set the Stage to Stimulate Growth” (Pages 13-28):

“Why, then, do so many people struggle to connect with others? We’re all too busy. We do not spend enough time together, face-to-face. We overrely on electronic connections and so don’t develop the trust required for candid exchanges. But you can help your employees overcome those forces. Try the following techniques:”

1. Noticing and acknowledging your employees.
2. Allowing for idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes
3. Encouraging conversation
4. Encouraging breaks.
5. Offering food and drink.
6. Fostering impromptu get-togethers.

Hallowell explains HOW.

* * *

From Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap’s article, “Enlist Knowledge Coaches” (73-76)

“How to capture the deep smarts residing in your organization? Turn your experts into knowledge coaches. Knowledge coaches use learn-by-doing techniques — guided practice, observation, problem solving, and experimentation — to help novices absorb long-acquired business wisdom.

“Knowledge coaching not only spurs transfer and retention of vital wisdom, it yields breakthrough product ideas and more efficient business processes.”

Leonard and Swap offer real-world examples to illustrate how this occurs.

* * *

From Carol A. Walker’s article, “Coaching Your Rookie Managers” (123-134):

“Seemingly capable rookie managers often try to cover up a failing project or relationship — just until they can get it back under control.

“What’s the boss of a rookie manager to do? You can begin by clarifying expectations. Explain the connection between the rookie’s success and your success so that she understands that open communication is necessary for you to achieve your goals. Explain that you don’t expect her to have all the answers. Introduce her to other managers within the company who might be helpful, and encourage her to contact them as needed. Let her know that mistakes happen but that the cover-up is always worse than the c rime. Let her know that you like to receive occasional lunch invitations as much as you like to extend them.”

Walker discusses dos and don’ts when delegating, getting support from above, projecting confidence, focusing on the Big Picture, and giving constructive feedback.

* * *

Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need effective leadership and management at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. If your organization is that rare exception, congratulations! However, if there is an urgent need for more effective leadership and/or management throughout your organization, it is imperative to establish coaching as a core competency among supervisors. How? Have them read and then meet to discuss the HBR Guide to Coaching Employees. That’s a start. If needed, consult the aforementioned books by Tichy and Senge. If at any time there is anything I can do to be of assistance, please let me know immediately.

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