To help people discover and develop their own capacity to achieve and improve.
That’s the basic purpose. In reality, the work of a coach varies quite a bit depending on the needs of the client and the immediate situation.
What problems does this solve?
Clients may need a coach to help them learn a new method or technique. In that case, the coach may demonstrate how to do something and help people begin to do it on their own, in a role similar to that of a sports coach.
Clients may need a coach to help them find a path to the next level of performance, after they have mastered the basics of a given method or technique. In that case, the coach may function as a guide or teacher in the broader sense, in a role similar to that of a mentor.
Clients may need a coach to help them break through an impasse or surpass a plateau in their work performance. In that case, the coach may serve by encouraging people to find their inner strengths and go beyond their self-imposed limits, in a role similar to that of a life coach.
In the context of software development and delivery coaching, the value added by a coach has to do with his or her knowledge of processes and skills for building and delivering software, with cultivating a mindset consistent with contemporary methods, and with guiding people in areas like problem-solving, measurement, conflict resolution, collaboration, decision-making, and more. Dave can help in this regard for several different, yet related reasons:
- Familiarity with processes, methods, techniques, and tools relevant to contemporary software development and delivery, and experience in helping people understand and apply them. (Many lean/agile coaches are familiar with one or two.)
- Experience in guiding organizational improvement in situations where the client organization had already reached a strong level of proficiency with the basics of contemporary methods, and wanted to take their performance to the next level. (Many lean/agile coaches help one client after another get started at the novice level, and never see what might happen afterwards.)
- Primary professional motivation is to see others maximize their own capabilities and learn to become lifetime learners. (Many lean/agile coaches focus on getting clients to adopt specific practices, and “check the box” — done.)
- Long experience performing software development and support work; gut-level understanding of the realities. (Many lean/agile coaches earned a certification soon after graduating university, and have little or no direct experience in performing the kind of work for which they are coaching others.)
What is Dave’s coaching style?
Every coach has a unique personality and a unique coaching style. Dave tends to be very direct and straightforward, and to tell the truth as he sees it.
Some clients prefer a coach who is more politically savvy, and takes more time and care to come to the point. Consider which approach you think will work best in your situation.
Despite his directness, Dave tends to guide people with a relatively light touch. Unless prompted to do so, he usually will not insist strongly that anyone use any particular method or practice. Instead, he tries to help them see the value in the suggested method or practice, and encourages them to try it. He sees this as a question of respecting the other person’s right to make their own professional choices. He wants people to understand what they are trading off when they make a choice, but he does not impose his own preferences regarding which choice they should make.
Some clients want a coach who is more directive; who will push people to use specific methods and practices. Consider which approach you think will work best in your situation.
Maximizing value and effectiveness
Engage coaches as consultants, not as temporary labor
Many managers have experience engaging lean/agile coaches in the same way as they engage any other temporary contract labor, on a “staff augmentation” basis. This is not the most effective model to engage coaching services.
The preferred way to engage a coach is as a consultant rather than as temporary hourly labor. This enhances the value added from the perspective of all stakeholders in the coaching engagement, as described in this blog post: “Should coaching be treated as hourly contract labor?”
Consultants are typically paid by the day, by the week, or by the achievement of milestones rather than by the hour. The work of a coach closely resembles that of a consultant, and differs significantly from that of a temporary contract programmer, tester, or analyst. Therefore, it is sensible to structure the contract as a consulting relationship rather than as temporary staff augmentation.
Limit the duration of the coaching engagement
There are exceptions to any rule of thumb, but generally it’s best to limit the duration of a coaching engagement to no more than three or four months of full-time, on-site presence. The advantages include:
- Staff know the coach will not be available indefinitely. This tends to cause people to keep appointments and to take full advantage of the coach’s presence.
- The coach does not remain embedded with staff for such a long time that he or she begins to think and act like an employee of the client organization. This tends to keep the coach objective and attentive to opportunities.
- The time limit creates a bit of pressure for the coach to deliver whatever results have been agreed in the contract. Otherwise, there is a possibility that the coach will continually remind the client that “it’s a journey,” and the journey never ends (or never really begins).
- By the time three or four months have passed, staff members have probably heard everything the coach has to say, and are trying to move forward as best they can with his or her advice. A fresh pair of eyes and a fresh voice may give staff a greater boost than simply continuing with the same coach.
After an initial full-time, on-site coaching engagement, it may be advisable to retain the services of the coach on a part-time or as-needed basis for a further three to six months, and/or to ask for follow-up, short-term visits to observe progress and make recommendations as appropriate. This portion of the engagement can be billed on a retainer-plus basis.
Look for a culture fit
Any given lean/agile coach may be very effective in one environment and hopelessly ineffective in another, due to culture fit. Although the coach is an external consultant, it’s useful to invest a little time to verify he or she is compatible with your organizational culture, as if you were assessing a candidate for full-time employment.
Coaching is not merely a mechanical process of skills transfer. Coaches ask people to change the way they think, the way they work, and even the way their performance is assessed at review time. If the coach is not a fit for the organizational culture, then staff will tend not to accept their feedback and advice.
Even if your long-term goal is to change the culture of your organization, try and ensure each coach is a fit for the current organizational culture, to maximize everyone’s chances of achieving a positive outcome.
Keep the coach focused on coaching
A common error is to bring in a person to function in a dual role, with responsibilities for delivery as well as for coaching. There can be an inherent conflict between these responsibilities that can negate the effectiveness of the coach. Sometimes, it’s necessary to allow people to make mistakes so they can learn and improve. When the coach has delivery responsibilities, he or she may not be able to allow mistakes to occur. When the coach steps in to “rescue” people from mistakes, the people never learn to handle issues on their own.
Seek to become self-sufficient
It’s often advisable to include as a deliverable the goal of mentoring and enabling selected internal personnel to take over the role of coaching after the external coach has completed his or her engagement. Qualified coaches are rare and expensive, and it’s usually not feasible to keep them engaged on a full-time basis for an extended period.
A good coach can guide an individual to become a coach just as well as they can guide an individual to become a servant-leader, a software craftsperson, or a Theory Y manager. Take advantage of that skill to build an internal coaching capability, to strengthen your organization.
Pricing is negotiable based on a number of factors, including prevailing market rates for this type of service, the level of experience in key areas of focus for the engagement, and your analysis of return on investment for the cost of coaches.
If your company requires you to obtain coaches from a “preferred vendor,” then it’s likely you will have to pay for the service on an hourly basis. Our recommendation is you try to change that rule or get an exception to it, so that you can engage coaches as consultants and not as “staff augmentation.”
Be wary of coaches who are willing to work for too low a price. A single coach may guide up to 50 of your employees individually, and far more than that on a group basis. It’s important that they receive solid advice. Whether the advice is good or bad, it will have a ripple effect through your organization. Avoid the trap of false economy.
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