Leadership Coaching: What type? Who gets it? Who does it?

Coaching is becoming one of the most effective and important activities for developing leaders in organizations. In fact, a recent poll conducted by ASTD found that 47 percent of all respondents ranked coaching and feedback as most critical to their organization’s success in the next three years.

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Leadership Coaching Meeting

Many organizations recognize the need and value of providing coaching to leaders as part of a leadership development process. Research shows that people that have used a coach indicate that it is the single most valuable leadership development activity they have experienced. So, what is holding so many organizations back from providing their employees with the value of coaching? You guessed it: cost and time. We also find that many organizations don’t know what coaching is, who should receive it, and how it should be done.

What type of coaching?
There are many different types of organization coaches: career coaches, life coaches, performance coaches, and so on. For our purposes, we are going to focus on the role of a performance coach used for leadership development. Performance coaching is about helping individuals to set and reach goals for both personal and business development. Most times this is an ongoing process where the person meets with the coach on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.). During these meetings the coach helps the person set goals and overcome obstacles for success. The coach provides accountability and support so that the person can reach individual goals. This process is often aided by using a 360-degree feedback assessment, where employees are able to get a well-rounded view of their performance.

Who gets coaching? 
Effective coaching can benefit everyone, but most organizations need to be able to focus their development resources where they have the greatest impact. For this reason, many companies provide coaching to their executive and senior leaders, high potential leaders, and some of those key players that might be exhibiting poor performance or ineffective behaviors.

Who does the coaching?
Coaching can be conducted by an outside coach, an internal coach, a supervisor, or a peer. The following are some examples:

  1. Outside coach
    Many organizations choose to use an outside coach to work with senior leaders. Often, an internal coach is not in a position within the organization where he or she could be considered a legitimate coach, or there may be confidentiality concerns about using someone inside the company as a coach. When using an outside coach, it is important to find those that have extensive coaching experience and relate well with the individuals being coached. Using an outside coach is also quite common with, for want of better words, “problem children.”
  2. Internal coach
    Internal coaches are often effective with mid-level managers in the organization. These coaches need to be able to establish a relationship of trust with the participants so that there is no concern that what is discussed will be used against the participant. Coaching skills do not come naturally to most people. Internal coaches should be skilled at providing coaching and developing others. These abilities are often the result of solid training and practice.
  3. Boss as coach
    Certainly, a person’s boss should also be his or her coach. Unfortunately, the boss may not have the skills or the time to be effective. Supervisors should play an important role in any coaching scenario by providing support and follow-up to ensure that progress is taking place. As with other internal coaches, a supervisor’s coaching effectiveness can be greatly improved through training.
  4. Peer as coach
    Peer coaching can be very effective and economical. The idea is that leaders are paired up to provide coaching to each other. They take turns playing the role as coach and help each other reach development goals. It is important to create the right pairing, provide training, and set proper expectations. These groups also need follow-up to ensure that coaching is happening on a regular basis.

Final thoughts
You may find that you are using some or all of these coaching methods in your organization. To get the greatest value from the process we recommend that you use a 360-degree feedback assessment, set a development plan (think SMART goals), and make sure that your coaching process is consistent and ongoing.

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Can You Trust Your Employee Survey Results?

Manager engaging with employee

What if I told you that 26 percent of your employees either blatantly lie or inadvertently misidentify demographic questions on employee surveys?  If you’re like most managers we work with, you’ll immediately distrust the survey process and its reported data—and that’s completely fair.


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The fact is, when employees are asked demographic questions (e.g., department, manager, tenure, job class, age, or gender), 26 percent of them respond incorrectly.  Perhaps these employees lie for fear of excessive respondent transparency; perhaps they lie because they distrust the intentions behind the survey and seek to sabotage its validity; or, perhaps they misidentify because they simply don’t know the answers.  Whatever the reason for the inaccuracies, the statistic still holds true; we’ve tested and validated this conclusion with a broad set of our clients, and continue to find the same error rate.

How do we know?  When we conduct employee surveys we can track responses based on email address or some other unique identifier.  We receive a file from the client that includes demographic information like tenure, department, manager, etc. and match it to the unique identifier. On some surveys we asked for demographic information on the survey and then compared responses to the data provided from the employee file to find the discrepancies.

Bad demographic data kills action planning

While cumulative employee  survey results are accurate in aggregate (the questions that deal with engagement and satisfaction), these responses cannot be effectively separated by department or manager by relying on employee responses to demographic questions.  This is especially important when you are trying to report down to front-line managers and conduct organization-wide action planning. Not many things are more embarrassing than providing the operations manager a report for her department that lists 122 total respondents, while her department only has 97 employees.  Whoops.

The solution?  Design a survey that codes demographic data behind the scenes.  Instead of asking employees identifying questions (which can cause people to not participate), use a system that allows you to track responses yourself.  This is the practice we employ, and the strategy we recommend to all of our clients.  By making demographic data a pre-programmed part of the survey, your results will be just as accurate as the company’s HR records.

Now I know what you are thinking: “What about confidentiality? What if employees find out?” Transparency is the key.  If there is a low-trust environment, then wait a year or two to track demographic information.

During the first year, report the data at high levels and share the results with employees.  During consecutive years, filter the data down the management chain so employees can meet to discuss what to do in their work groups.  Only the executive team and HR should be able to access employee survey results covering all demographic categories and departments as long as data is provided in groups of five responses or more.  This will protect anonymity and confidentiality.

When you’re ready to start this year’s employee survey, ask yourself how you want to track responses.  If you plan on using demographic data gathered from the survey, don’t plan on being able to deliver accurate reports to department managers.

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Related Post: 5 Employee Engagement Survey Best Practices
Related Webinar: Employee Engagement Survey Roll Out Best Practices
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Why STEM Education Could Be Bad for Your Business

Early in 2006, US President George W. Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative. Formulated as a plan to provide US government financial support to specific academic initiatives, the plan called for significant increases in investment in fields related to STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. President Obama announced over $240 Million in additional STEM funding during the White House Science fair; the whitehouse.gov website site claims that the President’s initiatives have garnered over $700 million in public-private partnerships along STEM lines.  Given the momentum and importance, these initiatives are not likely to die down soon.  But could the STEM emphasis actually hurt business?

The STEM concept has been emphasized globally, and rightly so. Ensuring global education in these 4 critical areas is essential.  These are certainly important to success. However, it also brings up another concern. The reality is that an individual’s success in education, business, organizations—you name it—requires more than STEM. Notice something missing here?
These “hard skills” are easily defined. We all know what “mathematics” entails, and can therefore develop curricula or programs around this. We can also evaluate these hard skills within an organization.  However, while an individual may possess the “hard skills,” he or she may be severely lacking in the soft skills.

Several years ago I coached a group of individuals brought together for a high-profile international research project. Four of these scientists, in particular, were geniuses, each possessing multiple doctorates in the field. They were at the top of their fields— “STEM on Steroids” poster children.

So why the coaching? Despite their natural and acquired levels of genius, these individuals simply could not work with others, nor could they articulate their brilliant ideas to others in any way that would make these concepts usable. Their team meetings were chaotic and they left of wake of employee bodies whenever they interacted with others. Geniuses, maybe, but socially inept and severely lacking in leadership.

A singular focus on STEM, at the expense of other equally important areas, often causes problems that permeate today’s organizations. But, the issue is not with STEM itself, per se, but the thinking behind it, at the exclusion of other important topics.

Let’s step out of STEM for a moment, and into the organization, where STEM-think is apparent. More often than not, managers hire people who mirror their own skills, abilities, and desires. In other words, “in my organization, it’s easy to identify the best employees. They’re ‘just like me!’”
In some of our most recent research, we’ve looked at top-down performance evaluations, and compare these to the way the boss rates that individual on other instruments, such as 360-degree feedback. Employees receiving the highest performance ratings tend to be those employees with similar strengths as his/her boss, when comparing 360-degree profiles. So, if the boss is good at understanding the financials, he or she is likely to look for the same financial acumen in a direct report.  Again, the best employees are just like me!

Back to STEM. The increased emphasis in STEM, while important (and even essential), emphasizes the “just like me” factor. The reality is, the best employees (or students, volunteers, etc.) are NOT necessarily those with similar skills as the boss. In fact, most times, this is actually detrimental. This thinking reiterates the flawed notion that, because some individuals feel the four STEM factors are most vital, we should ALL focus on these four factors—often de-emphasizing other critical components of educational or organizational success.

Which brings us back to the four geniuses.

These men, while possessing keen intellect, lacked other critical success components, such as leadership, interpersonal skills, organization, delegation, communication, negotiation skills and, unfortunately, integrity. Many of today’s organizational initiatives and measurements miss these soft skills, which are so vital. They, instead, focus all their energy on STEM-like initiatives. Because of this, organizations and individuals today are often strong in the job-specific, hard skills, yet weak in the soft skills that make the hard skills work.

STEM (or whatever this list of key job-specific competencies is in your organization) is the price of admission. However, focusing solely on STEM-like competencies at the expense of other soft skills could be disastrous.

So, my solution? How about something more like “LICE”—Leadership, Interpersonal Skills, Communication… and Everything else. OK, not a very attractive acronym, particularly when mentioning “lice” in a school system. It needs work. However, performance and success are not only factors of what gets done, but how things get done. Focusing solely on the job-specific or STEM-type competencies in an organization (or in education) misses many of the other critical factors in an individual’s success.

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Theory X and Theory Y: Which Kind of Manager Are You?

Employee Pulse Survey
Puppet businessman

In his book, The Human Side of Enterprise published in 1960, MIT business professor, Douglas McGregor, proposed two schools of thought on employee motivation.  Theory X is the belief that employees are motivated by pay and they need supervision to make sure they get their work done.  Theory Y is the opposite: employees are motivated by the work itself, finding autonomy, meaning, and gaining a sense of accomplishment from the work.
Research on McGregor’s theory produced some interesting findings on how employee perceptions are influenced by the management style of their leadership, based on their manager’s belief in either theory.  Those that worked for a Theory X manager tended to need more supervision, while those who worked for a Theory Y manager were motivated by the work and their love of the job.

Now, while we’ve learned a good deal about motivation since McGregor’s theory came out back in the 60s, the basic premise still holds true. The manager’s beliefs influenced his or her approach which, in turn, influenced the employee’s beliefs.  The result is that employees act the way they are expected to act and become the kind of worker that their manager expects them to be.

An anonymous comment from a recent employee engagement survey we conducted for one of our clients describes the impact of a Theory X management style:

“I dislike the micromanagement from my management team. I would prefer to be evaluated based on production rather than how well I fill out software programs. Many of the tasks we are asked to do are redundant and I don’t see the practical purpose for them.”

Compare that response to some comments from employees that work under more of a Theory Y environment at the same company:

“The work is challenging, exciting, and meaningful. Never ever, ever bored!”
“My job has a real meaning now, helping customers around the world. Having the values systems helps me stay focused to try to do my job better everyday.”

Consider the impact these management styles have on employee engagement in your organization.  Leaders that believe in the potential of their employees will create an environment within the organization that promotes their success and development.  Employees, in turn, will step up to the challenge and perform to their potential.

So which type of manager are you?  Which type of manager do you work for? Which management style do you prefer? Do you prefer to have more structure and supervision or are you motivated by having more autonomy and accountability?

5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper

Four Barriers to Leadership Intelligence

As we work with leaders to provide 360-degree feedback, we encounter four common defense mechanisms that people use to discount negative perceptions they find in their report.  We call these “barriers to leadership intelligence” because they prevent leaders from gaining the self-awareness they need to become better leaders.

Taken from principles of psychology, these barriers include the following:

  1. Naïve Realism: This philosophical concept explains that each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is.  We also think that what we see is what everyone else sees.  When we receive feedback about ourselves that is contrary to our point of view, we discount the feedback by rationalizing that others have not been exposed to the relevant facts or they are blinded by their own interests, ideologies, and biases.
  2. Self-serving bias: This is a tendency to use or make dispositional attributions (put our own spin on) for success, and situational attributions (explain away or justify) for failures.  If I do something well, it is because I am skilled and work hard.  If I make a mistake, it is because I did not receive the correct specifications from the engineering department or I was not given enough time to complete the task.
  3. Ego Defenses:  We tend to react to contrary feedback in a way to maintain our self-concept and esteem.  Sigmund Freud claimed that individuals tend to repress, identify (incorporate), or rationalize away information that threatens their ego.  These reactions manifest themselves in a variety of ways including manipulation, denial, or distortion of the feedback.
  4. Negativity Bias:  This is a tendency to focus all attention on negative feedback.  We find that individuals get “hung up” on any negative information from their 360-degree feedback survey and have trouble seeing the positive ratings in their results.

The good news is that all of these barriers are relatively easy to overcome by helping individuals recognize when they arise.  When leaders are able to accept the feedback, they are then able to leverage it to change needed behaviors and become more effective leaders.

Which barrier do you see most often?  Do you find yourself confronting any of these barriers when you encounter feedback that is not congruent with your self-perceptions?

Related Post: Self-Awareness: Do You Pass the Mark Test?
Related Post: Do You See What I See? Self Score Inflation in 360-degree Feedback
Related Post: Why 360 Feedback?
Related Post: 5 Reasons Why People Dread Feedback (and why we need to hear it anyway)

Do Bonuses Engage Employees?

Bonuses come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and amounts.  Some companies offer regular performance bonuses, including the elusive on-the-spot bonus when the big boss walks by; other companies have a structured, period-based bonus program: did we hit our targets for Q1?  Excellent—everyone benefits; still other companies dole out bonuses once the holidays arrive (perhaps to meet perceived pressures of expectation).

That’s great and all, but not all of these bonuses engage—and those that do create quickly fleeting levels of engagement.  What gives?

Our conversation needs to go back to the discussion of the differences between satisfaction and engagement—the former being comprised of elements like compensation (both regular and bonus); the latter, of elements that directly impact levels of meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection. 

According to Lalin Anik and Jordi Quoidbach, “Individual rewards . . . have been shown to be detrimental to employee morale and productivity.”  Roughly translated, that means if my boss decides to give me a bonus because I’ve worked hard, he should expect my performance to decrease.  I’m not sure I agree with that premise (if I did, I’m not sure I would want my boss to know).

Anik and Quoidbach proceed to promote a different kind of bonus program: “provide [employees] the same bonuses with one caveat: they must be spent on prosocial actions towards charities and coworkers.”  That’s a nice thought and all, but subjecting all bonuses to said caveat is a recipe for disaster.  Enter Frederick Herzberg.

Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory introduces a set of hygiene factors like job security, compensation (read: bonuses), working conditions, and status, none of which provide positive long-term satisfaction, though the absence of any yields dissatisfaction.  By converting the company’s once-selfish bonus program into a prosocial campaign, you can bet employees will passively rebel.  Removing a familiar bonus program (turned hygiene factor) will sharply increase levels of employee dissatisfaction.  Since satisfaction and its contributing factors comprise the necessary foundation for employee engagement, matters will only get worse.

Instead of doing away with all individualized bonuses, consider creating a hybrid program: individual performance-based bonuses and prosocial initiatives.  Anik and Quoidbach’s research quantifies the ROI of prosocial bonus programs: “on sales teams, for every $10 spent prosocially, the firm gained $52.”  At DecisionWise we recently held a prosocial on-the-spot bonus program called Amazing Acclaims.  Each week, we each received five bonus tokens, which we were encouraged to give to colleagues when we caught them doing great things.

The program became an easy way for us to recognize each other and express gratitude for hard work.  In addition to creating a social recognition program amongst colleagues, the program also helped us interact with and get to know other employees with whom we didn’t regularly work.  The result?  Engaged employees who rewarded and recognized other engaged teammates for their efforts—a continual cycle, if you will.  In addition, DecisionWise encourages employees to support worthwhile charitable causes by contributing to organizations of their (the employees’) choosing.

Though I can’t say Amazing Acclaims or corporate giving had a 500-percent ROI impact on revenue, they certainly did improve levels of engagement, which gets us back to where we started this conversation.
Though traditional bonuses don’t necessarily engage, they do create a foundation upon which engagement can flourish.  Additionally, they serve as positive recognition for joint contribution to success.

What kind of bonus programs does your company offer?  What are some other ways companies can make bonuses more engaging?  Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

What Are CEOs Saying About Employee Engagement?

My CEO Loves Employee Engagement

What’s your CEO saying about employee engagement? I know mine won’t shut up about it. More and more, CEOs are recognizing the importance of employee engagement and the impact it has on the bottom line. Here’s just a peek at what some CEOs are saying:   DecisionWise Team at Table

“On what high-performing companies should be striving to create: A great place for great people to do great work.”
Marilyn Carlson, former CEO of Carlson Companies
“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. . . . It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”
Jack Welch, former CEO of GE
“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”
Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup
“Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”
Mary Kay Ash, Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics
“I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.”
Charles Schwab, Founder of Charles Schwab Corporation
“I think it’s critical for small businesses because there’s only six of us and we wear a lot of hats… just one disengaged employee can be a cancer.”
Mark Whalen, President and Founder of 30 Lines
“We’re competing for people trans-sector, trans-nationally, and in my view employee engagement is a vital ingredient in employee retention.”
Paul Drechsler, Chairman and CEO of Wates
“Employee engagement in times of difficulties and severe economic climate is far more profoundly important now. . . . Employees are willing to give their all when they are well-treated, appreciated. And the ability to unlock that potential is a competitive distinction…It’s their decisions, their actions, their attitude that really make the difference. Imagine taking 10,000 employees, and each and every one of them wanting to give more. That’s really the difference between [us and] a company that has its employees just punching the clock and trying to get through the day.”
Gamal Aziz, CEO of the MGM Grand

Do you have any other quotes from CEOs about engagement? Share them with us.
Employee Engagement Survey
Related Post: 7 Definitions of Employee Engagement
Related White Paper: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Keys of Employee Engagement
Related Webinar: Measuring the Business Impact of Employee Engagement
Related Post: Four Steps to Compare Your Business Results to Employee Engagement

Have You Looked into Your Johari Window Lately?

The Johari Window, developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in the mid-fifties, is often one of the fundamental exercises used in feedback and leadership training.  The premise behind the model is that there are parts of who we are that are known, and parts that are not known—both to ourselves and to others.  Understanding these, and how they impact the way we see ourselves, will provide us with a greater understanding of where we need to focus.  Feedback is at the heart of understanding what’s working, as well as what’s not working.  After all, without feedback, we tend to create our own realities.

Dissatisfied Employee
The Johari Window helps us to determine where these “knowns” and “unknowns” reside so that we become more self-aware and can improve our relationships with others.  We use this concept frequently as we conduct 360-degree feedback surveys and coach leaders through their blind spots and façades.  Here is a brief overview of the four windows:

  • Open, or Arena: Some areas are known both to you and to everyone else.  In these scenarios, your own self-perceptions are congruent with the perceptions of others.
  • Hidden, or Façade: You feel you possess these qualities but they are not known or recognized by others.  You may choose to not to share certain parts of your personality (you try not to be funny at work), or you may be shy but hide it by pretending to be an extrovert.
  • Blind Spot: These are aspects about yourself that others see but you don’t (you think you are funny, but others don’t—my kids claim this is one of my many blind spots).  This can be some of the most unsettling or difficult feedback that you receive from a 360 survey, especially when it is critical.
  • Unknown: These are areas that neither you nor others recognize in you.  In many cases, this may be that the area is simply untested.  For example, you may not have done much delegating, and therefore don’t know whether you’re a good delegator or not.  Similarly, others have not seen this behavior in you, and do not know how you may delegate—it’s unknown or untested. This window allows you to identify additional potential areas for growth and development.

If you haven’t done this exercise in a while, it’s a good idea to get some feedback from others and test your self-awareness.  You may be surprised at what you find—or don’t find.
360 Degree Feedback Survey Download

The Rise of Employee Engagement


The volume on employee engagement seems to be getting louder every day. According to Google trends, that’s because it is. Worldwide search popularity of employee engagement (blue line) has more than doubled since 2009. Conversely, search popularity for employee satisfaction (red line) and employee motivation (yellow line) has steadily declined. What gives? I’d argue that a globally improving understanding of the importance of employee engagement, relative to satisfaction and motivation, is driving the trend.
As I analyzed the popularity of these three search terms, I discovered even more interesting data. Here’s a list of the top five regions with the highest interest in each keyword, in descending order:

Regional interest
Employee Engagement Employee Satisfaction Employee Motivation
South Africa
United Kingdom
United Arab Emirates
South Africa
South Africa

Funny, the USA isn’t even one of the top five countries of regional interest. In fact, the United States only accounts for 17 percent of the search volume for employee engagement, 25 percent of employee satisfaction, and 6 percent of employee motivation. Is the USA simply slow to adopt HR best practices, or do American corporations just not care? Either way, 2009 seems to be the tipping point in transition from interest in employee satisfaction to the rise of employee engagement. What other trends are you seeing? What do you think is causing these trends? Share your theories with us.
 Related Post: Employee Satisfaction vs. Motivation and Employee Engagement
Related White Paper: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Keys of Employee Engagement
Related Webinar: The Role of Satisfaction in Employee Engagement