The Art and Science of Coaching


Leaders are always striving to get the best performance out of their people. The attraction of applying science-based data to the people side of business is that it provides a unique lens of clarity to a potentially puzzling subject. In general, employees are motivated by very different things; what motivates one person can actually de-motivate another. A leader with a cookie cutter approach to the human aspect of the business is destined for under performance by all.

Coaching gives leaders a unique approach to bridge the gap between an employee’s current performance and their desired performance. Executed correctly, coaching can be the linchpin to get movement forward, comfort with change and long-term sustainable results. The objective is to make coaching an impactful management solution rather than a thing to do or even a questionable time waster. Add science into the mix and you’ve got “informed coaching” which adds rigor and accuracy to the actual coaching conversation itself.

There’s a wonderful concept from the world of science known as cognitive complexity. Cognitive complexity refers to the brain’s ability to use multiple sources of information and do something effective with that information on the spot. You could also think of it as judgment skills. Advancing cognitive complexity and judgment skills are best done by coaching. There’s a unique feedback loop in coaching that makes the topic you are coaching about actually stick.

Coaching provides an environment where an employee can practice the newly acquired skills, receive feedback and modify their behavior. This is the key to long-term change. Giving leaders behavioral assessments data combined with solid coaching ensure an increase in performance and sustainability.

As people we have similar drives, but in varying degrees, making the individual expression of those motivators show up very differently in a work environment. This reality is at the root of why one employee seems so comfortable connecting with other people and responds positively to challenges and why another one prefers to work heads down and has a strong preference for consistency. It also helps explain why one employee may be better suited to sales and another more comfortable in engineering. All of this is measurable and quite predictable. One important aspect of behavioral science and the application to business is that human behavior is relatively stable over time. That stability provides you with dependable data and insight into the people in your organization. The predictability gives you tremendous insight on how to motivate your employees for peak performance and sustainable results.

Let’s say you have a CFO who is terrific at the numbers but not so great at presentation skills, and you are trying to increase his comfort with presenting at your quarterly Board of Directors meetings. By understanding this CFO’s motivating needs and behaviors, as well as the cognitive complexity of the situation, you have valuable insights on how to create a custom coaching strategy that is targeted and will get results. Your CFO has to simultaneously balance behaviors with finance knowledge, familiarity with the current financials, presentation skills, and take questions from the high stakes audience, the Board of Directors. Coaching gives you a unique way to help your CFO build comfort and confidence. The coaching in this case could take the form of a rehearsal. One week before the meeting you ask your CFO to present to other executives on your team. You each ask real life questions that a Board member might ask. This rehearsal provides learning at a very fundamental level and you will quickly increase your CFO’s cognitive complexity ability by doing, rather than by telling.

There are many benefits to incorporating behavioral data into your coaching activities:

  • Objectively understand individual motivating needs and drives
  • Identify the fits/gaps between the employee’s current performance and desired performance
  • Uncover key behavioral differences between the manager and employee that may impact communications
  • Develop communication strategies to build rapport based on employee’s preferred style
  • Apply behavioral based approach to help employee develop solutions to their challenges
  • Enhance coaching activities for both immediate and long-term results
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