The number one complaint we hear from leaders in organisations is that they are always ‘fire-fighting’.
Now they are not actually members of the fire-brigade, so we know that fire-fighting is not supposed to be their main activity.
Most of them mean two things:
This was a familiar problem before Covid 19, but shifting into the virtual world has made it even more challenging! You are at a greater distance from your people, so communicating with them becomes trickier than before.
And, as the world comes out of lock-down, we all have to think again about how to organise our collaborations.
When we find successful answers to this question, we’ll have a big competitive advantage over other organisations and also over the old ways of working.
Here’s a prediction, based on evidence from our work in the past: A coaching culture will outperform a fire-fighting culture.
When we were invited to work with Walkers (the potato crisp people), they were losing staff fast, and their organisational survey revealed that the main reason people were leaving was because of poor communications from their immediate manager. This was consistent with findings in many organisations: 11% of employees cited ‘Manager Behaviour’ and 22% cited ‘lack of growth and development opportunities’ as reasons for leaving their jobs, in a decade-long study produced by the Employee Benefits organisation.
We trained the Walkers’ managers in Solutions Focus coaching, so that every conversation between manager and a direct report would create more clarity about who should do what, and leave the direct report feeling both empowered and supported.
A main principle for these conversations is to follow the process indicated by our coaching model. We taught them to ask two questions and make one suggestion.
- What's going well for you?
- What do you want to do next?
- Here's what I feel also needs to get done.
Starting with what the employee is thinking - about what’s going well for them and what they want to do next - is a good way to build engagement. And then including what the manager needs to see keeps the conversation grounded in the reality of the organisation’s needs. And so by the end of the talk, staff are far clearer about their role and immediate next steps.
What’s more, the top team signalled their commitment to this new coaching culture by being the first to attend the training, then clearing space in their diaries to coach their direct reports.
In short, it worked. Over a period of just a few months, retention rates went up and staff said that the quality of communications had noticeably improved.
Perhaps you’d say that this would not be possible in your organisation: if we stop fighting fires, everything is going to burn down.
The clue here is to escape the metaphor. Not everything will turn to cinders. In fact, everyone remains keen to get things done, so although there’s a brief period of adjustment, it’s a small price to pay for long-term, sustainable improvements.
Sure, to begin with, some things may not get done, or may be done more slowly. And that might feel awkward in the short term. But very quickly - if, let’s say, you put in place an improved system - within a few days, it will have already relieved the pressure. Which in turn creates space for your next considered improvement.
That’s coaching on a large scale. Each conversation between manager and report, or between colleague and peers, is set up to address a significant issue. After every conversation, you make small changes immediately.
The result is a renewed sense of control, and an atmosphere in which calmness replaces descents into panic at the slightest signal.
When managers adopt a coaching style, they quickly get a sense of how it builds capacity in their colleagues, encouraging everyone in the organisation to work out their own solutions. And that takes a load off of the leaders’ backs.
Staff - the very same people who seemed so frustrating before - are rediscovered as resourceful.
We’re planning soon to re-open our popular online course, SF Coaching in the Workplace, to teach precisely these skills - a programme that means you will save time by conducting conversations that are purposeful, without being uncomfortable or confrontational. You can increase performance in a way that makes you and your direct reports feel good.
We’ve opened our waiting list so that you can sign up to learn how to coach in your organisation to get better results - mostly by ensuring fires don't break out so often in the first place!
Click here to join the waiting list and receive a free series of useful coaching resources.