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Saturday, 8 May, 2021
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I can’t come to the training

I can’t come to the training – I’m supposed to know this already! I was recently asked what I thought was the most important component in rolling out a successful internal coaching programme – particularly the training element.

That was easy. To me, ‘senior leadership support’ is a kind of meta-criteria in this regard. One which seems to correlate almost perfectly with successful programme outcomes.

But when I got to thinking about my own track record with such programmes I realised I have a less than perfect scorecard in engaging senior leaders in coaching skills training roll outs.

Here are some of the typical excuses I’ve encountered:

“I can’t make the training session/follow up event”

“I’m sure it’s great in theory, but here in the real world….”

“You have to understand Matt, it’s different here…”

I’d love to come but we’re ‘fire-fighting’ like crazy right now…”

“The CEO doesn’t coach me and so…”

“This seems risky. I’m not sure we should be doing this right now…”

Now some of this might be quite genuine I realise. I’m aware that at the time I’m writing this, many businesses are struggling to stay afloat and may have perfectly justifiable reasons for putting training and other change programmes on hold.

But when senior leaders don’t get involved in these things, there are consequences.

If senior management doesn’t demonstrate real and lasting commitment to a coaching initiative (or any change programme) in their actions as well as their words, it appears almost inevitable that the commitment and engagement of others in the organisation will wane. However enthusiastic they may have been to start with.

It seems to me that the senior team set the bar and I’ve seen few, if any, examples of employees ever being more engaged with a change initiative than their senior leaders are.

But, going back to the comments, what if it’s worse than that? What if they don’t represent genuine reasons at all but are in fact excuses to duck out? Why would that be?

There are certain things leaders are expected to be able to do:

Speak in public, run a recruitment interview and coach for performance for example

It’s as if we expect that when we confer the title leader upon people, that some kind of osmosis kicks in and they suddenly have skills they never had before.

The truth is that none of the above abilities (and plenty of others) can be acquired without input and development, but because leaders are expected to have them, they hesitate to admit that they don’t.

Could it be they avoid training programmes and dodge change initiatives for fear of such shortcomings being exposed?

More understandably, perhaps they need to be in a different type of forum to explore their development needs. One which is private, discrete and centred on their own situations.

Flexing my own coaching practice to cope with Covid and lockdown restrictions has provided me with an interesting laboratory to experiment with this.

I used to deliver my coaching skills training in a typical corporate training environment and in a one to many mode, but it quickly became clear that this was not going to be possible for quite a while.

I wasn’t ready to take a one to many approach online because I realised that delivering my existing material that way wouldn’t work; it would need rebuilding.

But what I could do was to start working with leaders and teach them coaching skills on a one to one basis, online, using Zoom and so on.

I have found it is proving surprisingly appealing to people and is certainly not seen as some kind of diluted version of classroom training. Feedback suggests that there’s real value in the privacy of this set up and that it leads to an honest assessment of the leader’s strengths and weaknesses and enables learning to be applied immediately to real-life, real-time business challenges.

I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to a classroom offering for people at this level. I think working on a one to one basis with senior leaders is much more effective.

I wonder if it’s one of those Covid inspired changes that will stay.

It’s a set up that means it doesn’t matter if leader feels they ought to have certain skills already and it would save me having to make a note of any more hackneyed excuses.

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Matt Somershttps://www.mattsomers.com/
Matt Somers is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD.

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