The ebb and flow of work in this consulting life is always fascinating. I have, for quite a while now, neither actively sought nor said yes to doing face-to-face classroom-based skills training for managers. If I’m brutally honest, this is partly due to some sort of sniffiness on my part (I’m not proud of this by the way) It’s the work I cut my teeth on and I suppose I feel I’ve sort of graduated, it’s not big meaty change stuff, it’s not gnarly coaching stuff… it’s starting back with basics. My story: I’ve kind of done that. Others are better at it than me. Not my bag.
And so it is, as it always is, that the universe conspires to remind me to get over myself. I’m in the midst of two pieces of work, in very different circumstances, both of which have the requirement to go right back to basics and pass on some skills mainly around coaching & feedback.
It’s been an interesting journey. One thing I realised is I know a lot now. Still got a lot to learn, but no point in pretending otherwise anymore. I’ve been round the block a few times, sat in a lot of situations… if you work in this field, you get to dip in or deep-dive into many cultures, circumstances, scenarios… it is astonishing what you pick up.
The other is the importance of knowing the basics and how much you actually rely on them. Coaching, for all the stuff written about it, for all the skill and practice required, seems to come down to three things: Listening, Questioning, Self-management. (I’ll come back to this)
This particular realisation came when I was asked if I could “do” coaching skills in 4 hours. Me? “do” coaching skills? In 4 hours? Are you serious?
It’s a deep and in-depth, terribly important thing…..
And when I lost my pomposity and started to listen to what the client was needing, the answer to that was: you can and you can’t.
You can stand for 4 hours and bestow your wisdom and a few old chestnuts to a group of new/semi-new managers. Run some exercises. Give out some handouts. You could rock up and slightly dial–in your efforts, find old notes, reconfigure that which has been done before, blah blah blah…. And they would leave with some 2D stuff – on paper or in their heads, which may or may not be relevant or used… and I can make a fairly strong case for why this is rubbish work, scattergun and a likely waste of budget.
Or.. you can use the 4 hour frame to get to the heart of what might be required. Cut it down. Get specific. Get efficient. You can talk to the client about the time before and after the 4 hour frame – what “pre-work” works for this group? What might they like, appreciate or actually pay attention to?
If you make it look good & it is short and relevant – if it is welcoming and makes a compelling case for turning up to find out about how coaching & feedback can be useful management tools…might that be better work?
Then seek to make the 4 hours matter….take seriously the notion that folk can learn stuff in 4 hours – people can have lightbulb moments and discussions that can open them up to try – to feel encouraged. If the design revolves around LESS content and more sensemaking of that content, surely that’s a thing?… how about we do 4 things well? Would that be good?
How about we look at it like this:
Listening – the active stuff where you pay attention to what is being said and HOW. Also Listen to yourself actively.. what are you experiencing? Practically? How do you to this?
Questioning – the art of curiosity – good questions, asked from a place of cheering someone on to do more/ different/ better. What does that look like? What questions do that stuff? What demeanour helps the other person believe they can do a thing?
Self management – holding silence, acknowledging your own limitations, being willing to talk to others to get a perspective on how you handled something, seeking to find a co-created, shared solution WITH the other person. Including them. Not dancing by yourself.
The importance of practice and reflection – try. Try listening so you can summarise someone else’s words – Try listening to yourself and the guff you muddle your head with. Try asking questions kindly. Try staying curious when you thing you know. Practice these – 3 times a day. Then talk to other folk about what’s working and not working for you – get their perspective – this is skills development – this is HOW you learn and shift behaviour.
OK – It’s not Masters Level – but the importance of this stuff – and how well it can serve you in YOUR WHOLE LIFE and the joy of where it can take you… you can get that across. Can you make it compelling enough that they want to know more, seek more, try more for themselves? Those ripples go beyond 4 hours. That sounds good….
And then in the aftermath – what? The client has no budget for follow-up? OK – so what will they do to support the 4 hours? For me, this was a deal breaker. If I was to agree to squish my beloved stuff into a short space of time, I needed guarantees that it would have places to grow and expand beyond the classroom.
So I made the argument for the follow up – coming up with ideas, cheap solutions, means to continue the learning – buddying up, coming back together at a later date – I’d prefer to do this with them, but in this instance it was never on offer – and now at least there is someplace for the 4 hours to go… and I’ll check in to see how that is happening & keep nudging a little.
Don’t get me wrong, my preference is to work with depth and discernment… but it has done me no harm to distil what I know, to draw it right back to the heart of the art and work with that. And I haven’t run the sessions yet – it’s coming up soon – so it could be a disaster, with terrible timings and folk leaving without proper handouts with neat models… or it could be the start (or continuation) or a journey for loads of folk and ripple out to the folk they manage. OK. That’s pretty cool….