Gary Wyles, managing director at Festo Training & Consulting, talks about coaching in engineering
You’ll most probably only encounter the term coaching when you’ve either been asked to receive coaching, or to investigate options to address issues with employees. Trust is fundamental to coaching. Managers need to be sensitive, positioning coaching as a two way process aimed at developing capability and increasing performance using the coachees own ideas.
Coaching is still in its infancy in engineering firms. Research that we recently conducted (Manufacturing – A People Business available at festo-didactic.co.uk) found that only 14% of manufacturing and engineering firms have a defined coaching programme in place. Much of this is down to the fact that people don’t really know what coaching is or how it can help them and their organisation. Yet, we know that there’s a real need to develop people skills in engineering organisations. 77% of respondents stated this as a requirement.
So, what exactly is coaching? At the basic level, coaching is a conversation. Those that are delivering coaching, whether a line manager, working with peers or even coaching upwards in an organisation, need to be equipped with the skills of effective questioning and listening.
You might think what help will a conversation be. With our busy working lives we cram things in so tightly. We rush from meeting to meeting. We deal with problems and issues on the hop. We often manage people with a light touch, convincing ourselves that this will be fine, or we let out our frustrations on the people we work with. The opportunities to reflect and review, to forward plan and anticipate are few and far between. And if we’re honest, there’s better ways to spend evenings, weekends and holidays than mulling over what needs to be done at work.
By asking questions, those that are coaching give individuals the space in a working situation to explore their own ideas to find out the answers themselves. It allows them to try out these ideas and embed them successfully into their own practice. This gives an immediate benefit to the individual and the manager helping to increase performance and to sustain it for the long term.
Far more than just a conversation, a good coach will probe issues. They’ll help you question and reflect. They’ll allow you to evaluate options and consider the wider consequences, to take ownership of the choices that you make. This means you’ll become more confident, capable and less reliant on line managers to make all the decisions.
When working with clients, we find that with a few basic skills in place, coaching can become a fantastic tool for first time managers. Many will have often been doing the job of the people that they are now managing. Because they are technically experienced, it can be difficult not to have staff rely on them for every decision. This though only means that they’re operating in ‘tell’ mode. Coaching is a tool that can help the manager develop their people to be self-reliant, giving the manager more time to do their own job effectively.
Equally, senior leaders who are thinking through strategic issues can use a sounding board, either with a professional coach or sometimes peer to peer. The phrase ‘it’s lonely at the top’ is a true one and a company’s leadership can often use coaching to help formulate business plans and strategies and communicate these to stakeholders and the organisation itself.
More than anything, coaching gives you self-awareness. By gathering feedback from colleagues and clients, coaching allows you to see the impact that you have on a day-to-day basis in your working life. Through coaching, you can see how your interactions affect others you work with. In a few cases, there are issues that need to be addressed but the biggest opportunity is to use coaching to increase performance.
You might think that coaching is only for working one-to-one. While this how coaching is delivered in the main, it is now also used in a team or group context. This can be working with the board to prepare plans through to working with a new team that’s been brought together to deliver an engineering project.
Coaching is one of the best learning tools available. It can be used by engineering organisations of any size and with individuals at any level. It is guaranteed to boost performance and make substantial changes to how individuals operate and to improve the culture of the company.
- For more information see www.festo-didactic.co.uk