PEOPLE COACH BECAUSE THEY ARE COACHED
Jackson and Lexington, Tennessee
By Andy Deakins, Consultant, The Peer Group
Young Touchstone is a manufacturer of industrial heat exchangers operating two manufacturing facilities located in Jackson and Lexington, Tennessee. The current operations were at one time competitors in the industrial radiator markets, but that changed in the late ’90s when the companies were merged under the Wabtec Corporation. The immense challenge facing the leadership team was how to mesh the cultures of two organizations that had been bitter rivals for many years. This was an ideal environment to create high-trust partnerships between former arch-competitors—and to align them around common purpose and values using a collaborative coaching process.
Andy joined Young Touchstone in 2001 as the Director of Human Resources and Safety. This role put him in an ideal place to co-sponsor the development of a culture where coaching became a common way to interact.
In 2016, Andy left Young Touchstone and joined The Peer Group, a consulting company located in Tennessee. It provides human capital management services, including training, throughout Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, and focuses on both large and small manufacturers. Today, they are working to integrate The Heart of Coaching (THOC) into the portfolio of consulting and training services they offer.
I was introduced to The Heart of Coaching in 2004 after our company President read Tom’s publication and suggested I do the same. We were both impressed by the methodology described and knew it could help in bridging the related “gaps” seen in communication and employee engagement, which varied widely depending on personal leadership styles. We quickly decided that this approach to coaching should be one of the tools in our leaders’ management toolbox.
I became certified as a facilitator of THOC later that same year. Tom and I tag-teamed the first THOC workshop with our leadership team, which included everyone from the front line supervisor to the company President. We shared the initial set of THOC tools and immediately focused on their application in our day-to-day work relationships.
It was no small task to break the competitive ice between rivals and turn them into a collaborative team. In our male-dominated manufacturing environment, a strong command-and-control management style ruled the day. So, introducing a far more collaborative, supportive way to communicate about production quality, goals, and performance was a completely new way of managing on the production floor.
With many managers, as they gradually became willing to preface their feedback with a simple request for permission, things began to shift.
In terms of working with both younger and more senior employees, we tried to institutionalize a cultural belief that, regardless of age, everybody can be coached. This helped shift our collective mindset that some people were just not coachable. And that included our management team.
There was a great example of how one department manager learned that, to work with a bright, newly hired engineer, he had to establish rapport at the beginning of the relationship. He took time away from work with the young man to share a common interest, long-range target shooting, as a way to build connection. The result was a higher level of rapport that furthered the young engineer’s trust. That, in turn, allowed him to be open to his senior manager’s, as well as the feedback of others.
In another instance, one senior manager felt he had always kept a high level of rapport with his peers and direct reports. This made him resistant to embracing the new tool of coaching. Over time, it was evident that this missing piece of his toolbox, coaching, had been disregarded in place of what was comfortable and easy…staying with command and control. Working relationships were under constant strain because that openness to receiving and responding to feedback was missing. Defensiveness during engagement resulted and communication barriers between people remained, which obviously destroyed trust.
One of the single biggest areas for application of our coaching model was in creating alignment—a common mission, purpose and goals—across the newly expanded business. Joining two organizations together was a target-rich environment to be sure.
The more progressively thinking managers learned that The Heart of Coaching model could be used effectively in dealing with employees in widely varying situations, from performance improvement to relationship and trust building. The lightbulbs were turning on!
We had one of the biggest shifts take place in our engineering and quality departments. As a result of the THOC process, the leaders in those departments earnestly listened to people and let them voice what was going on, especially in relation to how their departments interfaced with manufacturing and the rest of the company. The managers made significant transformations, from “bosses” to “coaches”, and as a result had their pick of the best existing employees wanting to join their departments when business grew and positions were added.
Obviously, we saw the biggest and most positive shifts where managers embraced what it meant to be a coach. They were able to move away from the top-down, command-and-control style to something that was far more engaging and collaborative.
With the departmental teams where coaching had been embraced, team members were far more amenable to overtime and cross training requirements that inevitably came up. Team loyalty was tangible, and led to better decision-making and collaboration across the board. A dynamic of trust and faster conflict resolution resulted because personal relationships were cleaned up. And, a measurable reduction in turnover rates had a huge impact on productivity and efficiency.
Certainly, some of our longer-term managers did have an attitude of, “That’s the way I’ve always done it.” Regardless, we coaxed people to integrate more questions, more listening, and more incorporation of team members’ ideas and, over time, this had a significant impact.
I had the privilege of directly working with an extremely competent, very coachable woman in our company. She knew how to engage in conversations with employees, attentively listen, and then embrace feedback that was given to her. She would always follow up and respond to employee concerns, no matter how trivial they may have been. She could not have been more engaging with staff and colleagues and was a true role model in that more senior employees could coach and be coached, given the right attitude.
If, during my time there, everybody in YT were to have become fully coachable, this is what I think I would have seen:
- We would become far more aligned on common goals and methods.
- Efficiency and effective problem solving would occur naturally.
- Productivity would soar.
By 2030, Millennials are going to be a major force in the workplace. They seek coaching—they ask for feedback. Having an organizational culture that is coachable from the top down is going to become one of the driving factors in attracting talent.
My specific advice is to:
- Avoid using email as a way to deliver feedback.
- Always consider using the permission check to make sure it is a good time to talk, especially if the conversation could lead to a significant and deep coaching opportunity.
- If I am finding someone un-coachable, it’s probably because I haven’t established a proper, high level of rapport.