We’re doing a webinar with the KCS Academy called KCS in Action: Coaching and Licensing on October 2. In this blog post, we’re providing a sneak preview of one of the topics we’ll be covering: picking KCS coaches.
We have never been part of a successful KCS implementation that didn’t also have a healthy coaching program. The KCS v6 Adoption Guide supports our experience, stating “An effective coaching program is a necessary investment.” So, what makes a healthy and effective coaching program? You need the right coaches, properly trained, with time to coach. Training and time are pretty straightforward (not to say easy), so in this post we’ll focus on selection.
Coaches are change agents. They’re “people people” who lead by example and help their peers develop the skills and understanding needed to be effective participants in the KCS Solve Loop. When we ask our workshop participants about people like this, people who have made a difference in their lives, they have common characteristics. “Patient.” “Available: there for me.” “A good listener and communicator.” “Challenges me.” “Asks good questions and lets me discover the answers.” “Honest and straightforward.” “Supports me.”
Unsuccessful Approaches to Picking KCS Coaches
In the earliest days of KCS, people running the program tended to pick subject matter experts as coaches. It seemed logical: they’re already doing technical mentoring, so why not have them mentor KCS, too? Unfortunately, if you think of the most technical people you know, and then consider attributes like “patient,” “good listener,” and “lets me discover the answers,” you see that the technical peoples’ skills usually lie in other areas. Not always, but often enough that picking subject matter experts isn’t a good default choice.
Managers, being managers, often think they should just pick the coaches themselves. We’ve had mixed experiences with this. At worst, they pick people they like, but peers don’t. At best, they miss the unassuming go-to people who are already quietly and informally coaching.
A Successful But Sometimes Difficult Approach
The KCS v6 Practices Guide recommends using Organizational Network Analysis (ONA, sometimes called Social Network Analysis or SNA) to select coaches. This involves asking people questions about their peers—who do they wish they could work with more, who do they ask technical questions, who do they trust—putting the answers into a software package, and crunching the numbers to see who is most connected with and trusted by peers.
ONA works. We’ve seen it be used to successfully pick coaches, and to diagnose and fix situations in which the wrong coaches had been picked. Yet, unless our clients have a track record of using it, we tend not to push it strongly, for two reasons. First, in many corporate cultures, asking these personal-seeming questions might seem invasive, worrying, or even creepy. Second, while the software computes different measures of connectivity and centrality, the results still need to be analyzed and interpreted by someone: there’s no “pick the coaches” button. Many organizations, including ours, don’t have much expertise in understanding how to use ONA measures like degree centrality, betweenness centrality, and eigenvector centrality to select coaches. So, if you can use ONA, do so, but most of our clients are looking for an alternative.
What We Often Recommend
An approach we advocate involves the whole team, just as ONA does, but in a simpler and more coaching-specific way:
- We reach out to team members who will be embarking on a wave of KCS adoption to make sure they understand the role of a coach (someone who helps without having authority) and the characteristics of an effective coach.
- We ask them which of their coworkers they think might be an effective coach—someone they might like to work with, and why.
- We compile the answers to see who bubbles to the top
- We confirm the nominees with their managers. Sometimes there’s a compelling reason a person can’t be a coach that isn’t known by the rest of the team.
- We invite the nominees to become coaches. We only want coaches who want to be coaches, so opting out is a perfectly good option.
- Once we have the final list, we go back to the remaining members of the team and ask them their top three choices, and pair people up accordingly. Sometimes people get concerned that a coach won’t get picked, but we find that doesn’t happen—especially since all of these people were nominated by their peers.
In coaching argot, “ABC” stands for “Ask Before Coaching.” It’s a recognition that, if someone doesn’t want to get input from you right now, it’s best to keep it to yourself. One of the things we like about this process is that the people being coached have literally asked for their coaches, which creates a sense of buy-in and engagement.