Continuous Improvement: A Leadership Journey

"Modeling, through one's own behavior, may not only be the best way to teach, it may be the only way to teach." ~ Albert Schweitzer

As a leader of people in an organization, one must function as a teacher and a coach. Most of us understand, instinctively, what the function of a teacher is - that is to impart a particular set of information or knowledge to learners. But do we fully appreciate what it means to be a coach, particularly in the workplace? 

In the arena of continuous improvement process design - coaching is defined as the process of observing your learners' behaviors, comparing those behaviors to desired standards and having conversations about them. At the early stages of my corporate leadership journey, I was taught that coaching is a dialogue to discover new insights and identify actions to take that will lead to the achievement of goals. 

DIALOG  --->   NEW INSIGHT   --->   ACTION   --->   ===>   GOAL

Whether you've played sports or not, you probably can recognize the attributes of a great coach: 

  • Build Trust: Investing in their employees by paying attention to them, listening and developing relationships
  • Observe: Taking time to understand and look for opportunities to challenge and stretch employees 
  • Develop New Insights: Helping employees surface new insights
  • Create Action: Following up on actions to help employees reach their goals

But in order for these attributes to show up as authentic and connected to the process of solving complex problems, a successful coach must drive the process of continuous improvement, while allowing a learner to find his or her own solutions. In addition, a good coach has to be able to actively listen to their employees, provide feedback based on observations and allow their people to fail "safely" as part of the learning process. 

What does that look like in the real world? 

At OVP Management Consulting Group Inc., we've been working with a client that has owned a small business for four years and developed a steady and reliable client base. The owner identified an operational goal of growing her customer base by 10 percent in 2018. But she needs her employees to be more assertive in selling the company's services to prospective customers. 

After conferring with the owner about the specifics of her goal, we began to construct a coaching/learner environment where we focused on improving her process defining and management skills.

We recommended that our client start structuring her coaching sessions with her employees so that she can practice deploying the coaching attributes noted above. To do that, our client was required to learn the five step process of conducting a Continuous Improvement coaching conversation: Prepare, Observe, Get Permission, Explore, Close. 

So far, our client has begun setting up regular one-on-one meetings with her team, to better understand where each employee is in their understanding of her company's goals around growing the customer base. She's also using some additional coaching tips that we've suggested when asking questions of her team. Specifically, we recommend she avoid leading questions and try to use open-ended questions that begin with "what" or "how".

We think this lesson can apply to most any organizational environment. Once a leader is able to identify a concrete objective and ways to measure it, the application of continuous improvement process design tools can be a great way to streamline operations and ensure your employees are exhibiting the right behaviors to help you reach your goals.