Performance consulting has its roots in human performance technology, which is a systemic way of looking at problems and searching for solutions. There are many frameworks, but the same basic steps include (1) identifying measurable and desirable goals, (2) determining the performance necessary to attain those goals, (3) identifying barriers that hamper performance, (4) intervening to remove the barriers, and (5) assessing if the goals have been met.
Performance management then, is to identify the goals, needs, or problems related to people and their performance that must be addressed for success.
In order for performance consulting to be successful, there are key things in your environment both you and your coach should look for, including (1) getting corporate buy-in from the beginning, (2) remembering executives will not open up to the idea of coaching overnight, (3) steering clear of formal training, and (4) remembering that coaching usually deals with subtle issues.
Subtle issues to address to develop strong leaders often come from weaknesses in four key areas: (1) social and communication skills, (2) decision-making abilities, (3) self-esteem, and (4) leadership skills. Richard Hagberg described these weaknesses in his "Identify and Help Executives in Trouble" article in HR magazine (August, 1996):
• Social and Communication Skills—Executives in trouble often have problems working with others. They seem to prefer working alone and have difficulty subordinating their own needs and agendas to those of the team. Their tendency to be stubborn, abrasive, and argumentative may create conflicts with co-workers, while their strong need to win can damage relationships that will be important to future successes.
• Decision-Making Abilities—Executives in trouble tend to be risk
averse; they are slow to make decisions and to take action. Anxiety causes them to focus on "worst-case" scenarios, making it difficultto adapt to change. When change does occur, they focus on obstacles and problems, rather than opportunities.
• Self-Esteem—Facades often mask an individual with a low sense
of self-esteem. These executives may set perfectionist standards for themselves and be merciless when they fail to meet then- own expectations. Others are also held to these same high standards, and may receive harsh criticism. Anxiety, moodiness, irritability, and emotional outbursts are also common traits of executives in trouble. When under pressure, they become angry and impatient
and can lash out in damaging ways. These emotional outbursts are
often the precipitating factor that causes an employer to seek help
for the executive from an external coach.
• Leadership Skills—Effective leaders are able to motivate and in
spire team members to put aside their individual interests to achieve common goals for the good of all. Executives in trouble are often perceived by co-workers as poor facilitators and poor representatives for the group's interests, while subordinates view them as poor role models or mentors. Troubled executives have limited vision, and cannot inspire or motivate co-workers or subordinates. Afraid of change, they are usually defensive. They don't inspire colleagues
to climb the next mountain.
Executives with these characteristics are typically discouraged and frustrated. They have historically been driven by intense career ambition, and sense things are not right. They are still involved in their careers, but their level of job satisfaction is low. While these executives can be difficult to "reach," they are usually motivated to improve. Whether you have these weaknesses or not, it is important for your coach to help, not judge. It is also important that your coach not impose answers, but create an environment in which solutions can surface.
The most useful learning and insights for the both the coach and the executive lies in examining how the executive manages situations. You should look at what available resources were used, and how things might have been done differently. Your coach should ask tough questions, and help you use the experience to learn lessons and gain practical insight to prepare for the future. This personal learning process is the essence of executive coaching. And, because executive coaching is so personal, no two situations are alike.
Performance Consultant Competencies
Kathy O'Hara, director of professional development with Prudential Health Care Systems Southern Group Operations, worked with Dana Gaines Robinson, co-author of Performance Consulting, to identify key competencies for performance consultants:
• coaching—helping people recognize personal needs, alternatives,
• collaboration—communicating information and observations in
ways people will understand and take action
• group processes—influencing groups to address tasks and relationships
• questioning—gathering information and stimulating individuals'
• relationship-building—establishing networks and relationships
across people and groups
• business knowledge—understanding business processes and impact
of business decisions
• project management—planning, organizing, and monitoring work
• performance observation—observing and describing behaviors and
• human performance technology—understanding approach to ana
lyze, improve, and manage performance through appropriate and
• data review and reduction—drawing conclusions from data.
Other skills you should look for in an executive coach include theabilities to listen, ask the right questions right, deliver information in ways that lead to insight and action versus fear and resistance, and provide a mirror for the you, the executive, to see the impact of your behavior.
In order to be effective, you and your coach should jointly establish target dates and deadlines, or there is a tendency for executives to muddle through with behaviors that have worked in the past, because they still need to get their day-to-day job done.
Seeking and receiving coaching is challenging because many of the people who got to the top arrived there using different skills than the ones they need today. As high performers moving up the ladder of success, squeezing out that extra ounce of performance becomes increasing difficult. For many, coaching is the answer. By looking for "evidence" points, you and your coach can determine which type of imprint you are heading towards leaving, identify the appropriate imprint for you and your organization, and develop and execute an action plan to get there. Preferably, it is one that will enable you to leave "footprints," or a legacy that cannot easily be reversed.
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