Communication is at the heart of leadership and teamwork. But most of us didn't learn the necessary communication skills to build solid work relationships. Performance Support Systems is the publisher of books and tools that help you grow stronger leaders and teams by improving the way they connect with each other. Meredith is President & Co-founder of the company.Follow Follow
In this episode of the RecruitingDaily podcast, William Tincup speaks with Meredith Bell, founder and president of Performance Support Systems and host of the Grow Strong Leaders podcast. They discuss how to create a coaching culture in the workplace.
On the Grow Strong Leaders podcast, Meredith interviews business leaders who are committed to their own growth and the development of everyone on their team. Listen in and let us know your thoughts!
Listening Time: 30 minutes
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This is RecruitingDaily’s recruiting live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies, gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Meredith on from Grow Strong Leaders. And we’re going to be talking about creating a coaching culture, which is very important and critical, one would say, to the retention of talent. And so she’s going to break things down for us and explain not just why it’s important, but how to do it. Meredith, would you pull both introduce yourself and your company?
Great. Thank you. William, I’m glad to be here with you. I’m Meredith Bell and I am co-founder and president of our company, growstrongleaders.com. We have been focused, for more than 30 years, my two business partners and I have worked together that long, on helping leaders and teams improve the way they communicate with each other, because we have found over the years, that is such a critical piece of productivity and performance in the workplace. And unfortunately we don’t learn these skills typically at home or at school. Originally, we were consultants, we’ve created software tools for assessment and development, and more recently we’ve written books on these topics of communicating as well as peer coaching to help those skills get firmly in place in the workplace
Let’s start at the beginning, someone, for whatever reason, maybe it’s a startup, and they just haven’t gotten around to it or established a company that for whatever reason hasn’t prioritized it, where and how do they get started?
Building a coaching culture.
For creating a culture, another word for coaching culture would be a healthy culture in which people are really there to support each other, both in their development, as well, of course, creating the results that are needed for the organization. And that needs a foundation of trust. And that to me starts with the top leadership and cascades all the way down. So that’s a key element, the commitment to making sure that people feel comfortable telling the truth, being honest with each other in the spirit of supporting each other’s development and each other’s maximum productivity in getting the work done.
So coaching obviously historically, and you’ve seen all of this play out in your career, was something you did with high performers, high potentials, people in the succession plan, probably if we really dig into it we’d probably see that it was probably dominated with men and or white men, maybe even in particular, obviously we’ve hopefully moved forward from that. It’s not just for both a class of employee but also a more equitable approach to coaching. What have you seen? So let’s just start with what you’ve seen and how that’s transitioned and what does it look like today?
Well, it’s also true, William, that because bringing in an external coach is such an investment that it’s by necessity been restricted to typically higher levels of leadership. And the truth is, and this is what I think people have been finding over and over, everyone really needs coaching. And so the ideal is to teach people the basic skills at all levels where they can coach each other. Now, this is not to dismiss the importance of having coaches for those senior level people, because so often, people in the higher positions get isolated somewhat and so they need someone external that can really tell them the truth. But for everyone else, it’s really not feasible to bring in a coach. So it’s ideal if everyone can be exposed to and actually learn to use a variety of skills that I would call coaching skills, such as learning to ask good questions, demonstrating curiosity, being able to give feedback to someone in a way that really is supportive and uplifting for them as opposed to being critical.
I think those are all really essential skills. Another one is encouragement, because when people are trying hard things, they are going to have setbacks, they’re going to have failures. And so this need for someone to be able to encourage and remind them of their past successes, of the strengths they have, those are all elements that are involved with coaching. And, of course, what that means is people have to be willing to set aside ego and look at, for the good of the team, for the good of this other person, how can I be more aware of what they might need that would help them be the best performer possible? Because sometimes people think this focus on the development side is extra, but in fact, it’s really critical to someone feeling motivated and enthusiastic and engaged with the organization and really wanting to give their best. So I think this whole idea that everyone needs coaching is a key concept to be embraced.
I love this. And it ties into, I think it was November of 19 or before COVID we did a study and we basically did… It was in five years, what is going to be the most attractive skills. A simple study, and we asked a ton of people the same question, and inevitably it came back to soft skills. A lot of it came back to soft skills. And one of the things that I loved as you went through some of those examples, teaching people to ask good questions, empathy, a lot of those are soft skills. And this is a way, coaching is a way to bring everybody up to speed and learn those soft skills if they haven’t learned them somewhere else. It’s a wonderful way of thinking about it. What do you think the relationship between vulnerability and trust is with great coaching?
I love that. Well, they’re very interrelated because, and from two different angles. So one is I have to have a certain level of trust in you to be willing to be vulnerable with you. So to expose some doubt that I might have, weakness, fears around doing or taking on a specific task, that requires me to be able to admit it. But if I don’t trust that you will take that information as a way to be of help to me, and instead I think you’re going to judge me, I will be less likely to open up and I’ll pretend that I know what I’m doing and I might get into trouble. So I think there’s a key aspect of trust related to somebody being vulnerable.
And the flip side of that is that when an individual, whether it’s a leader or a coworker, is willing to be vulnerable and admit wow, I really made a mistake here, I could have done it better, to own up to when they didn’t do things as well as they could have, that actually builds trust because other people are watching and noticing oh, it’s safe for me to be honest about what I don’t know or concerns that I might have. And I think that’s really important for someone in a leadership role. People pay attention to what that leader is doing or not doing in terms of opening up. And I’m not talking about inappropriate sharing of personal details, but just that willingness to admit to being human, we all make mistakes. Sometimes leaders are afraid to acknowledge those kinds of human characteristics, when in fact, the more they are willing to do that, the more they build trust with the other people in their team, because those individuals realize okay, it’s safe to admit if I don’t know this, and so that’s a huge aspect. I think they’re very tightly related.
I love that. Now you’ve used the word expose twice. And so it got me thinking about, well, do you make coaching mandatory or do you expose people to the availability of coaching? What’s the best to get consumption and usage?
Yes. I always think it’s best to start with the people who are raising their hand saying, “Pick me. Pick me.” Because what happens when you get enthusiastic participants is then they become your internal champions because others are watching the benefits that they’re getting from that. I think anytime you mandate something like coaching, at least initially you can get the naysayers who can put a cloud over it. I think it’s much better to start with people who are eager to participate and build up momentum and then bring along the others.
And if you have people that still, over time, resist coaching, I think it is an excellent investment of time to explore with that person what is it that’s causing them to not want to engage with that. Because, to me, that’s part of an organization making development a regular part of the workday. And I think everyone needs to get on board at some point if that is going to be the culture you want to create where we coach each other. And if someone is really not willing to learn how to do that well, and be the recipient of coaching, then they may be the best fit for your organization. And you might have to make the hard decision or have them make the decision based on the fact that that’s not the kind of culture they want to be in.
And again, that’s a part of the investigation you might find with maybe historically underrepresented folks, that there’s fear, uncertainty and doubt. And so a part of that investigation, or really the probative okay, well, obviously you’ve been exposed to it, you see your peers using it and you’re not using it, that’s cool, give us some indicators as to what we can change. What can we do so that we get past fear, uncertainty of doubt, or anything else that might be barriers for you to consume coaching, because we would love for you to consume it so that you get better, so that you feel more confident, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Again, if you have folks that aren’t consuming, then it warrants okay, well, there’s a why, let’s get to the why. It might be external things. It might be they’re going through a tough time at home. It could be something outside of work and that’s fine too. For folks that are listening, how does one know that they’re getting coaching right in an organization?
There are certain elements to coaching itself, I’ll answer that in a couple of parts. Because one is what are some of the behaviors that you observe people doing? All right, so an example of coaching is if somebody approaches another person looking for the answer, is that person who’s being asked, responding with an answer or are they getting good at asking questions that help the other person think through to the solution? So it’s this noticing behaviors of people asking questions of each other. And by the way, I loved the questions you were just proposing about asking someone who may be reluctant to get coaching. Too often we make assumptions and draw conclusions. And so those were great questions that you brought up. Those are good examples where we probe out of curiosity and genuine interest.
One of the goals is helping people think for themselves so they’re not overly dependent on the leader or another individual for the answers all the time. And so do we have an atmosphere, an environment in which people are asking each other questions a lot? Because another aspect of question is we don’t just accept it face value what someone tells us, we want to understand the reasoning behind what they did and why they did it and also to learn from experiences. So if they made a mistake or that they handled a situation, let’s say, less professionally, rather than tell them, “You should have done this, you should have done that,” if we had more getting others to process their own experiences, that’s another indication that you have coaching going on. Another aspect would be do people give each other feedback on both positive things that are done as well as constructive feedback on how things could be done better or are they telling somebody else instead of the individual involved? So this direct feedback giving is very important. And then are people receiving the feedback? Are they open to the coaching?
When someone notices something that they’ve done, are they able to receive it? Can they thank the person? Can they commit to making a different behavior as opposed to justifying, defending and explaining? William, really the basis of it is we assume the best of each other. And so we don’t assume a bad motive or something, I think that’s a key aspect of what to look for. Do we see people relaxed, having fun, enjoying each other because there’s this basic foundation of trust, of safety, of a commitment to each other’s wellbeing.
How do we get fit for coach and employee? How do we match up the folks that… I’m just doing my own per personality. So I can see the people that would respond well to me, but there’s an entire sector of the population that just would not respond to my style. And maybe they’d like the outcomes or the content, but stylistically I’m not sure that I’d be right for everybody. Okay, so fair enough. That’s just some insight into me, but how does one and how do companies get this fit right?
I think a key aspect is allowing people to select a coaching partner. We call it peer coaching, where you can put people in twos or threes where they make a commit to meet with each other whatever period of time and find out what are they working on. For instance, we wrote this book, Peer Coaching Made Simple, and it’s a companion to the one on communication skills, how to connect with your team, with the idea that it’s hard to make changes in your behavior without support. And so a key element of a coaching culture is support. And so to have at least one person that you know you’re accountable to, you’re meeting with on a regular basis. And I love what you just said because there are some folks that are like oil and water.
And so to people to be paired with each other, I don’t think is the best approach. We’re talking adults here, even kids know who they like to play with. And so when you’re talking about someone that you’re going to be vulnerable with in talking about challenges you may be facing or holding each other accountable, it’s got to be somebody you’re comfortable with. So whenever possible, I think having people choose their own or talk to someone else and say, “Let’s be peer coaches to each other,” then the commitment is likely to be stronger and the compatibility is likely to be there.
I love that. I love it. So I won’t say poor coaches, maybe poor fit is probably is something to think about. How do we and what do you instruct folks around ratings or understanding how it’s going well and how it’s not going well? Both sides for both coaches coaching and for those that are being coached, how do we eliminate any areas where there just might not be the right match?
Oh, I love that, because it’s such a reality, right?
I think that one of the key things to creating and keeping such a culture going is to have an internal champion or you have someone external that’s working closely with an internal champion who is checking in with people regularly to find out how it’s going. And I think even some group sessions, especially for folks who working remotely, it’d be easy to pull people together when they’re in person, but you could have a Zoom call where you bring together a certain number of the pairs of people just to do check-ins. And so they can learn from each other what aspects of their coaching each other have really helped each of them. And the other participants can then learn from that, but I do think it’s very important to have someone within the organization who is really monitoring all of this to make sure that there aren’t issues that are emerging somewhere that go unnoticed and unattended.
It’s funny, coaching reminds me of teaching. And when you teach something, you’re also learning. You’re learning the content at a much deeper substantive way and you’re learning from your students if you’re open to it, if your mind’s open to it and your eyes are open to it and all that other stuff. If you’re open to it, you’re learning, maybe not just as much, but you’re learning while you’re teaching. And I would assume that there’s some type of similarity in coaching.
Absolutely. Yes. Even the top executive coaches are learning from their clients. And when you have peers coaching each other in a company, they are really learning too. Because one of the things they’re doing is practicing some of these interpersonal skills that are so important as they’re in that role of coach, in terms of listening, asking questions, encouraging the person. There are all these skills that they get to practice real time while they’re in that coaching role. And that then transfers to other areas both at work and at home, because you don’t use these skills in isolation. Once you really get good at them, you use them with everyone.
So I won’t assume that there’s a relationship with coaching and mentorship or coaching and training, but I want to ask you about those, if you see these either coinciding, being collaborative with one another, et cetera. So let’s take on mentorship as one and then training as the other.
Well, for a mentor, I see that as someone who can accelerate another person’s learning curve around, say, specific either technical skills or leadership skills or just networking and how to advance their career in whatever field they may be in. So that person could get into some coaching, but their primary role is to provide guidance. So it’s more directive, if you will. They’re telling more, they’re sharing more of their own experiences to guide the person to shortcut some of the learning curve that would be required for moving up a specific career path.
And training, any relationship between coaching and training? And it unlocked, this thing, when you did peer to peer. A couple times I thought to myself, okay, well, what’s the difference between that and training?
That’s great. Well, we often think of training as going to a, quote, classroom or online event and going through specific material. And that’s one form of training. But the problem with that is that it often doesn’t stick because there’s no follow up, there’s just information shared. And so, to me, the most effective training is where you are applying it on the job real time. And that is where the peer coaching comes in so beautifully because you’re training each other as you practice these skills.
Because if you really have a good relationship with your peer coach, if somebody jumps into telling you instead of asking, that’s something you can provide feedback real time to them, so you’re both learning together. And so I think the key with training is overall, globally, you’re trying to acquire a skill that is important to use at work in life and so part of the training is using it. And if you have the opportunity to use it, you’re likely to rewire your brain and really ingrain it as a part of your behavior. So peer coaching is one way of getting at that.
And again, that translates to life. So it’s you’re doing it all in the guise, of work and making performance better and people happier at work and all those things, but it also carries over to everything that happens at the home.
And you know, William? I wanted to also just mention, because I’ve listened to some of your recent episodes where you were talking with different guests about Gen-Z. And one thing that’s so important to them is opportunities to develop. And so it doesn’t mean having to send them to a formal training class, it is looking for opportunities for them to be put in a position that they can grow, stretch, learn, and develop. And I think that this whole creating a coaching culture is one way to do that on an ongoing basis.
So let’s do some storytelling with the time that we have left. What’s, without naming names, of course, but just some innovative ways that you’ve seen companies use coaching?
And I know you’re going to have thousands of these, you’re either going to have to go alphabetically or maybe in the last year or so.
Right. I think a key thing is this commitment from leaders. Maybe I can give you a consolidated example is leaders that recognize the importance of leading by example, where they are open to sharing what they are working on and where they want to improve and asking their teams to help them by giving them input. Let’s just say, for example, a leader says, “I want to be better at listening.” And I’ve seen this happen where the executive was honest with everyone in the company about this and so he gave them permission to give him feedback if he interrupted them or if he didn’t seem to really be attending to them.
It’s so tempting these days to multitask and try to split your attention, but you can’t listen well. So he was committed to really making improvements, and it was amazing how people began, over time, giving him guidance, feedback and encouragement. Because they started even noticing when he did it well and complimenting him on that, so it reinforced his commitment to improve in that area so he kept getting better and better over time. And I think that was just such a profound example for everyone else in the company, because they saw this person being humble enough, being open enough and it just helped create an openness for everyone there.
I love this and we could talk forever, but I’ve got to get you back to work and just absolutely appreciate your time, Meredith. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom.
Thank you, William. It’s great talking to you. I just so enjoy your questions, your curiosity, and thank you.
Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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