As I began my current position as a Technology Integration Specialist five years ago, one of the first realizations that I had to deal with was my new role in helping teachers. After being in the classroom for twelve years, I was leaving the world of everyday teaching and entering into one where I was providing support for others. Technology was to be my tool, but in order to be effective, it wasn’t going to be enough to simply show others what to click on. I needed to be able to help them be their own support and teach them to see things a little bit differently. My task wasn’t to train teachers on specific hardware and software, rather, it was to help teachers to develop into technology users. To be successful, I needed to be a coach.
Marcia Hagen addresses the idea of coaching in the workplace in her 2010 article, “The wisdom of the coach: A review of managerial coaching in the Six Sigma context”. In the article, Hagen is making the case for incorporating managerial coaching into the workplace and training managers who are already involved in Six Sigma activities to serve in this coaching role (2010). She suggests that, “the concept of managers working as facilitative coaches has emerged in response to the flattening of organizations” (p. 791). As Anthony Marker points out in chapter 21 of our textbook, “simply flattening the organizational structure, without also aligning the culture, values and norms of the organization, is unlikely to lead to the necessary increases in efficiency and effectiveness” (2006, p. 500). Therefore by bringing coaching into a flattened organization, managers can have a more direct influence on their employees and by incorporating coaching techniques in their work.
Hagen points out that while many of these flattened organizations have found success with the Six Sigma activities and techniques, the Six Sigma approach focuses more on technical applications of performance improvement than on skills such as leadership and coaching (2010). Because of this, the six sigma approach has a tendency to be more calculated, data-driven approach that is focused on the process rather than the people. By incorporating coaching techniques into the Six Sigma activities, Hagen theorizes that organizational knowledge will improve allowing the organization to find solutions to problems for which they don’t have an answer (2010).
Citing the work of Makherjee, Lapre’ and Van Wassenhove (1998), Hagen suggests that these techniques will also expand the conceptual and operational learning that occur in organizations. Conceptual learning will help employees discover why and event occurs aiding in problem-solving, while operational learning will help employees implement and assess organizational changes. Through these two types of learning, “the learning rate of the entire organization is accelerated” (2010, p. 794). Combining that learning with the Communities of Practices structures outlined in chapter twenty-seven of our text, it seems that incorporating these already successful programs would make the workforce and the managerial staff even more effective (2006).
Hagen’s real point in her article is that adding coaching to the Six Sigma structures would ultimately offer a greater sense of sustainability of these performance improvement initiatives and further pull in the workforce as a partner in the initiatives instead of the subject (2010). She is quick to point out that many of the individuals incorporating the Six Sigma program are already using coaching skills because they are central to effective leadership. However, including training on these coaching skills for managers and leaders who are a part of the Six Sigma program has been overlooked and should be considered for future training endeavors.
Although I had heard about Six Sigma as a performance improvement technique, I was unfamiliar with the activities and programs that were included in the training. As I read more about it in our text and through this article, it did make me wonder why coaching isn’t an integral part of training programs for management. Three years ago I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in Cognitive Coaching development through my school district. While not specifically billed as a performance improvement initiative, it has certainly had that effect for me. Every conversation I have now is an opportunity for performance improvement because I’m looking for ways to enhance and further learning through questioning and other coaching techniques. While I’m not suggesting that Cognitive Coaching is the model that should be used in all business environments, I do think that managers would benefit from the techniques that are used in the various coaching models.
Approaching performance improvement initiatives as a coach could very well bring about a different level of effectiveness and understanding to the work of the Six Sigma managers. Additionally, it could ultimately improve the working environment and make cultural change more manageable. Truly, I believe that anyone who has the responsibility and opportunity to influence the work of others could benefit from training as a coach. I know that it has certainly helped me.
Barab, S., Warren, S. J., del Valle, R., Fang, F., (2006). Coming to terms with communities of practice: a definition and operational criteria. In J. Pershing (Ed.), Handbook of human performance technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 640-664). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Hagen, M., (2010). The wisdom of the coach: A review of managerial coaching in the Six Sigma context. Total Quality Management. 21(8), 791-798.
Marker, A. W., (2006). Shifting organizational alignment from behavior to values. In J. Pershing (Ed.), Handbook of human performance technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 498-515). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Mukherjee, A. S., Lapre’, M. A., & Van Wassenhove, L. N. (1998). Knowledge driven quality improvement. Management Science, 44(11), 35-49.