Prevent or react: it is all about coaching for the right mindset

Have you have ever told your team to get on with it and deliver what was agreed? I am pretty sure you have. It is completely normal. And it happens over and over again. Unfortunately, your team will come up with excuses and adopt a defensive approach, to explain to you why they did not perform.

How can you evolve from managing to coaching, when your team member does not have the right mindset, but does have the competencies to do the task?

-reading time: 7 minutes-

Prevent or react: it is all about coaching for the right mindset

Have you have ever told your team to get on with it and deliver what was agreed? I am pretty sure you have. It is completely normal. And it happens over and over again. Unfortunately, your team will come up with excuses and adopt a defensive approach, to explain to you why they did not perform.

Poor results of performed tasks is a matter of competencies or mindset. Whereas competencies are somewhat easier to address, as you will see in the matrix below, changing the mindset requires more effort. In particular if you want to create an adaptive learning culture and avoid that your team is becoming defensive.

How can you evolve from managing to coaching, when your team member does not have the right mindset, but does have the competencies to do the task? 

Competencies/Mindset Matrix
competencies x behaviour matrix STRATZR

Sometimes there is both a lack of competencies and mindset in an employee; most probably the person is unfit for the role. Take the person out of her/his misery, is probably the best recommendation one could give.

When you work with a person with matching competencies and the right mindset, you see a perfect fit for the role. Cherish the person until a promotion in knocking on the door.

When you experience that a person lacks either the right competencies or the right mindset, there is some work to do.

When you find out that your team member does not have the right competencies or skills to do the job but demonstrates the right mindset – which stands for attitude, intentions, ambition, willingness – all you need to do it train the person. Obviously, make sure that the training is focused on the skills and competencies for the role.

When the competencies and skills are there, but you find the mindset lacking, all you need to do is coaching the person.

But how can coaching be effective and sustainable? And how do you prevent yourself from slipping back into managing your team member to get to the required result of a set of actions? In other words: how do you move from a reactive to a preventive approach?

Build trust to create the right mindset

Trust and compassion is essential in coaching. Your team member has a lot of self-knowledge and information about him/herself. In order to gain your employees trust, you need to ask questions to connect your team member to that self-knowledge. This will provide you with the direction on how to proceed and what to address. The trust has to be mutual, so you both need to trust each other. Also, you both need to trust your coaching skills and the coaching process, which consists out of an agenda, multiple meetings or sessions and a long-term intention. Therefore, it is important to allow time for coaching.

When you have earned the trust of the team member and when you have a long-term intent, you can start the coaching. If not, you resort to managing.

When you are managing, you tend to focus on changing the actions to get the task done, to gain experience or to build relationships. The focus is on changing what your team member does or says to get to the result. This is more of a reactive approach; your team member makes mistakes and you tend to explain what went wrong and point out what your team member should do a next time. This is not really helping in terms of building trust. It may lead to a highly defensive team culture.

A more inquisitive approach is to focus on changing the mindset, which is what coaching is about. Effectively, you would like to prevent your team member to make the same mistake over and over again and keep on spelling out what went wrong. You would want to have an adaptive learning culture in your team.

Change the mindset through coaching
action science STRATZR coaching versus managing

When you are told what to do, but you do not want to do it, your brain goes into the fight or flight mode. You feel threatened. This is mode is regulated by the amygdala and regulates how your brain responds to threats – the amygdala hijack.

Without going into a full explanation of the whole limbic system, you would like to prevent an amygdala hijack from happening in the first place. To use a more inquisitive approach to your team member, rather than dictating and telling what to do, you may be able to delay the fight or flight response.

An inquisitive approach to change the mindset of your team member, through coaching is very much about finding out what is actually going on. How mindful or aware is the person about what is going on? What is the interpretation of your team member? Is there more to it than meets the eye?

So ask question in order to understand and change the mindset of your team member. Questions to address can be built around:

1. How do you see your self and others? 
What are your desires?
What are you passionate about?
What are your priorities in life?
What would you like to accomplish?
How do you relate this to other team members?
Do you share the same desires, passions and priorities?
What do you need to work together?

2. How do you frame your task?
Do you know what is expected?
How do you approach your task?
Are you confident to perform the task?
Do you try new things or do you stick to what you know?
How would someone else approach the task in a better way?
Is your approach compatible with the team’s approach?

3. What is at stake for us?
Are you aware of your contribution?
Are you aware of the importance of the task?
Are you aware of the relevance of the task?
Are you aware of the bigger picture?
Are you aware of the consequences of the outcome, good/bad?
Are you aware of the impact of your results on the team?

The intent is not to ask closed questions, but to follow up with the why’s and how’s. Ultimately, you would like to know what your team member needs in order to perform – and not what blocks or stops the person from achieving the required result.

The objective is to create an environment consisting of the following virtues:

  • Caring, help, and support: Increase your team’s capacity to confront their own ideas, to create a window into their own mind, and to face their unsurfaced assumptions, biases, and fears by acting in these ways to other team members.
  • Respect for others: Attribute to other team members a high capacity for self-reflection and self-examination without becoming so upset that they lose their effectiveness and their sense of self-responsibility and choice.
  • Strength: Advocate your position and combine with inquiry and self-reflection. Feeling vulnerable while encouraging inquiry is a sign f strength.
  • Honesty: Encourage yourself and other team members to say what they know yet fear to say. Minimize what would be otherwise subject to distortion and cover-up of the distortion.
  • Integrity: Advocate your principles, values and beliefs in a way that invites inquiry into them and encourages other team members to do the same.
Recommendations

Be aware of the real underlying issue of non-performance of your team members and know that training does not always solve the problem. Create a adaptive learning culture and avoid a defensive reaction of your team, by being inquisitive. When you feel that non-performance repeats over and over again, address the mindset by asking questions and finding out what your team member needs in order to perform.

So the next time when you read this famous quote:

CFO asks CEO: What happens if we invest in developing our people & then they leave us?
CEO: What happens if we don’t, and they stay?

You can think: What happens if we can change their mindset?

This publication is based on the work of Dr. Chris Argyris and the 4 day lecture of Dr. Albert Zandvoort, Dr. Michelle Zandvoort, and Dr. Robert Putnam, I received last week at Said Business School/Oxford University.