The Shirt, the Challenge, and the Surprise

Coach T-Shirt

The Shirt

When teaching a class on coaching, I joke with the class about having shirts made up that say “COACH” and threaten to hand them out and make them wear them in their workplace.

 “What if I gave you a shirt like this and made you wear it in your workplace when you get back on Monday? Who here would want to wear it? What would your employees say?”

A few replies to my questions from a recent group of leaders during a class on coaching appear below.

“Not a chance.”

“They would ask me if I started coaching one of my kid’s teams.”

“I would be laughed out of the place.”

I pressed a little further to find the root of the hesitation on being labeled the “COACH” in their workplace. Each was a leader in their organization. Each had a title and at least a few employees. But something was stopping them from coaching.

As the conversation progressed, the obstacles became more clear. There wasn’t enough time to coach (and get their own work done). The culture would be critical of this approach. They were not coached as employees, and the list went on and on until an even more revealing answer came to light.

“Because when a team is failing, they fire the Coach!”

There it was, the real fear behind the hesitation. Being the focus of performance may result in the owners switching leaders if the organization is not performing. With the fear out in the open we could move towards agreeing on why coaching is essential to the team’s success.

Coaching goes beyond holding people accountable for task completion. Coaching is about developing people as individuals, stretching them, and helping them achieve more both individually and collectively. Coaching requires a combination of encouragement and accountability. Coaching is needed for teams.

The Challenge

Beyond a mere threat, I actually had these shirts made up and hand them out at the end of the class. Periodically, I would get an email about how wearing the shirt in the workplace helped the leader focus on coaching their employees, despite the initial awkwardness. I even heard from a leader who must wear a uniform each day at work, but wears the “COACH” shirt underneath once a week as a reminder to coach their employees.

A few months ago, I changed my strategy. In addition to having them take a shirt, I issued a challenge. The first leader to email me a picture of them in their workplace wearing the shirt would win a prize.

The Surprise

The responses have been great. Within a day or two I start to receive photos of these leaders wearing their “COACH” shirt in the workplace. The challenge helped provide some incentive, but the results have been greater than just a prize. Many leaders have been surprised as they experience something more once the awkwardness fades: their employees have embraced the concept and are enjoying the coaching.

But that is not the only surprise.

Last week I taught the Coaching class in the morning, but then there was a break where the group had a few other instructors before concluding the day with me. I headed back in the room and started the session.

It was when I clicked to the second slide of the PowerPoint.

There it was. A photo appeared on the screen. It was a photo of the entire class wearing their “COACH” shirts in the lobby. They had managed to take the photo and put it into the presentation during the break.

“Technically, since we are all on the clock, this counts as working.”

I laughed. I was encouraged by their creativity. I was surprised.

After giving out prizes to all of them, I reminded them that now that they had gotten over their initial hesitation, they could all become better coaching in their workplace.

Over the next few days, other photos appeared in my inbox. Coaches were identifying themselves, and starting to do the work. They were making a difference.

How about you? Do you need a shirt as well?

Make a list of those in your workplace, circles, or life that need some coaching. Once the awkwardness fades, it may be just what they need.

Inspired Vision or Dictated Standard?

IMG_0623

(Image courtesy of my daughter who loves to snap photos while we drive.)

While working with a group of senior leaders they described some compliance issues especially with those further down within the organization. Procedures were not being followed, routine issues were on the rise, along with a rise in negative attitudes.

Many of these leaders have a behavioral bent towards adherence to and creation of rules, so I pushed in a little with some questions.

Were these particular procedures and rules important?

Yes. This is a high risk endeavor with lives on the line.

Okay, then why is there such pushback on these rules, procedures, and policies?

The culture below us seems to create this tension.

How do you communicate these procedures and rules?

Memos and operating procedures.

With a few more questions, a few additional clues were revealed. The memos, and operating procedures were then implemented by middle or front-line supervisors who didn’t always agree with or embrace the policies. 

Instead of seeing the importance of these procedures, the policies were viewed as a dictated standard instead of part of a larger inspired vision of keeping everyone safe.

Out of context, the constant emphasis on procedures can feed a negative culture. Those leaders needed to inspire a larger vision and continually explain why these small changes added to that overall vision.

As with all leaders, they needed to tell their own story and not always rely on others to explain their inspired vision.

Imagine how many times we try to get our employees, our organizations, our families, our kids, or our friends to follow some rule or procedure, yet it doesn’t resonate or create action. Instead we are left with the grumbling culture around us despite the fact that those rules would help keep everyone safe, ease some difficulty, or just make things run more smoothly.

Maybe we can all learn from these leaders.

Inspire a vision and provide the context for changes and rules. Stay on message about how these changes are important to the organization, the family or the relationship.

If not, simply dictating a standard may not be enough.