The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Co-ordination Being Crucial

Great organisations recognise that co-ordination is crucial. Why? Getting creative people to combine their talents can be a challenging task at the best of times. Co-ordinators ensure that people channel their efforts towards achieving the agreed goal.

Clarity is vital. The leader’s role is to communicate the purpose, principles and picture of success. The team member’s role is to make clear contracts about their part in achieving the goals. People then deliver consistently high standards and do their best to achieve the picture of success.

Sounds simple in theory, but things can go wrong. Strong co-ordination is vital, otherwise individuals may do their own thing.

Co-ordinators make things work by focusing on clarity, co-ordination, consistently high standards, creativity and concrete results. Let’s explore how this works in practise.

Clarity

Co-ordinators are good at managing upwards and clarifying the real results the leader wants to achieve. They then communicate this clarity to other people in the organisation.

Sometimes this involves continuing to communicate the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success. Sometimes it may involve focusing on a specific piece of work and clarifying the real results to achieve.

Co-ordinators realise that sometimes the desired results can evolve. This can be the case when with working with a visionary founder or leader who has lots of ideas.

Bearing this in mind, they keep in touch with the leader to confirm or develop the desired goals. Sometimes they may need to translate these new aims in ways that enable the employees to take them on board.

Co-ordinators may also sometimes need to provide air cover for their people. This can be necessary if other stakeholders start passing down tasks without first checking that these fit with the overall strategy.

Co-ordinators also encourage the leader to play to their strengths. They see their role as making sure the engine keeps running and delivers excellence. This helps the leader to feel more at ease and focus on where they excel.

Co-ordination

Good co-ordinators make things work. They often do this by harnessing people’s strengths to achieve the agreed picture of success. They aim to manage by outcomes rather than by tasks.

Such co-ordinators start by explaining the big picture. This is especially vital when working with knowledge workers who want to know the context. They often take the following steps before making clear contracts with people:

They remind people about the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success;

They explain where the specific piece of work fits into achieving the picture of success; 

They explain the real results – the outcomes – to achieve by doing the piece of work;

They then aim to co-ordinate people’s strengths to achieve the goals. Here are some of themes they focus on when taking these steps.

Good co-ordinators manage by outcomes rather than by tasks. They make clear contracts with people about the contributions they will make towards achieving the picture of success.

People must be able to describe what they will deliver in outcome terms. This can be challenging because many people are used to writing lists of tasks. They describe what they are going to do rather than what they are going to deliver.

Good co-ordinators spend a lot of time with each team and, when appropriate, each person agreeing on the outcomes to be delivered. When agreeing on a piece of work to be done, for example, they make crystal-clear contracts about the real results to achieve.

Why? Because from then on virtually every performance conversation will start by concentrating on this ‘What’ – the agreed outcomes – rather than get into supervising the tasks.

After such a contracting session, for example, here is how one team leader might describe their contribution under the 3 Ps – Profits, Products and People.

My Contribution To the Picture of Success

Profitability

To ensure my team achieves its financial targets – a profit of £500k.

To develop 3 new customers and do work with them that delivers a profit of £100k.

To reduce our overheads by £100k.

Products

To ensure more than 90%+ of our customers say they are extremely satisfied with our work.

To develop 2 new products and pilot these successfully with customers – then launch these products by the end of the year.

To simplify 2 of our complex products to ensure these are more user friendly for customers – then get a further £100k’s worth of orders for these before the end of the year.

People

To deliver an internal morale rating of 90%+ of our team members saying they enjoy coming to work each day.

To educate, equip and enable 2 of my team members to win promotion and move on to other roles in the company.

To recruit 4 new positive team members who take responsibility, build on their strengths and get some early successes that contribute towards achieving the team’s goals.

Co-ordinators set-up people to succeed. They agree on the outcomes to achieve and give people the necessary support required to do the job. They then encourage and enable people to achieve success.

They also like to be kept informed. Bearing this in mind, they ensure that people proactively update them about their progress towards achieving the goals.

Co-ordinators focus on the outcomes to achieve when people are faced by challenges. During the conversation, the co-ordinator keeps returning to the agreed ‘What’. They say:

Let’s go back to the real results to achieve. How can we do our best to deliver those results?

What are the options going forwards? What are the pluses and minuses of each option?

What is the route we want to follow? How can we follow this route and do our best to deliver the results?

Why take this approach? People can get into a pattern of talking about details or making excuses. They may also confuse activity with results. Whether it concerns profits, product quality or people, the mantra is:

Let’s go back to agreed outcomes. How can we do our best to deliver those results?

Consistently High Standards

Co-ordinators encourage people to deliver consistently high standards. They do this by making clear contracts with the teams and individuals about:

The specific standards they will deliver when working to achieve the picture of success.

There are many models for encouraging people to maintain high standards. One of these can be found in the work of Bill Walsh. He was a legendary coach for the San Francisco 49ers, the American Football team.

Bill believed it was vital for everybody in an organisation to deliver a certain Standard of Performance. This was more important than striving for winning. He believed that, providing people consistently delivered the Standard of Performance, the score took care of itself.

Did it work? Despite not focusing on winning, his team was hailed as a dynasty. It took two seasons – 1979 and 1980 – to turnaround the ailing team. The 49ers then won the Super Bowl three times – in 1981, 1984 and 1988 – before Bill retired. Let’s explore some of his ideas.

Taking over the San Francisco 49ers

Bill took over the team in 1979. Interviewed for the book The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, he said that his aim was to create an environment of excellence.

The first two years were difficult. He aimed to build a top-notch organisation rather than one that was toxic. This called for hiring great people and moving on those who chose not to meet the required standards. Bill explained:

I came to the San Francisco 49ers with an overriding priority and specific goal – to implement what I call the Standard of Performance. 

It was a way of doing things, a leadership philosophy that has as much to do with core values, principles, and ideals as with blocking, tackling, and passing: more to do with the mental than with the physical. 

While I prized preparation, planning, precision, and poise, I also knew that organizational ethics were crucial to ultimate ongoing success.

It began with this fundamental leadership assertion: Regardless of your specific job, it is vital to our team that you do that job at the highest possible level in all its various aspects, both mental and physical (i.e., good talent with bad attitude equals bad talent). 

There are also the basic characteristics of attitude and action – the new organizational ethos – I tried to teach our team, to put into our DNA. 

Of course, for this to happen the person in charge – whether the head coach, CEO, manager, or assembly line foreman – must exhibit the principles.

This called for commitment to details, such as people having a positive attitude, no shirttails out when wearing the 49ers uniform, being prompt, showing good sportsmanship. No strutting, posturing or cheap shots, controlling of profanity, treating fans with respect and always exhibiting professional behaviour.

Bill believed that leaders must develop the right strategy for delivering success. This included developing the right planning for tackling various scenarios.

People could then follow the strategy, do superb work and achieve success. He explained this in the following way.

The motto of the Boy Scouts, ‘Be prepared,’ became my modus operandi, and to be prepared I had to factor in every contingency: good weather, bad weather, and everything in between.  

I kept asking and answering this question: ‘What do I do if…?’  

You must envision the future deeply and in detail – creatively – so that the unforeseeable becomes foreseeable. Then you write the script for the foreseeable.

Of course, there’s always something you can’t anticipate, but you strive to greatly reduce the number of those foreseeables.

Bill followed the 80/20 rule. The 49ers focused on maximising the 80% they could control in a game. There may be 20% they couldn’t control, such as a referee’s call, a bad bounce or fortune.

The team aimed to prepare and perform properly, however, because this vastly increased the chances of success. People could then follow the strategy by delivering the Standard of Performance.

People were expected to practice relentlessly until their execution at the highest level was automatic. Bill called this routine perfection and described it in the following way.

Maintenance workers, ticket takers, parking lot attendants, and anyone receiving a pay check with the emblem of the San Francisco 49ers on it were instructed as to the requirements of their own job’s Standard of Performance and expected to measure up.

Bill saw himself as a teacher. He believed in encouraging and enabling motivated people to consistently deliver the basics. They could then add the brilliance. Some people chose not to meet these standards, so they were moved on.

Looking back at his time at the 49ers, Bill said that the turnaround did not come straight away. Despite setbacks on the journey, however, people began to deliver the required standards. He explained this in the following way.

Eventually – within months, in fact – a high level of professionalism began to emerge within our entire organization.

I moved forward methodically with a deep belief that the many elements of my Standard of Performance would produce that kind of mindset, an organizational culture that would subsequently be the foundation for winning games.

The culture precedes positive results. It doesn’t get tacked on as an afterthought on the way to the victory stand.  

Champions behave like champions before they’re champions; they have a winning standard of performance before they are winners

Keep focusing on the standard of
performance – especially during times of stress

The 49ers became known for winning games in the last few minutes. Why? Bill explained this to Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh in the following way.

Have you noticed that great players and great companies don’t suddenly start hunching up, grimacing, and trying to ‘hit the ball harder’ at a critical point?

Rather, they are in a mode, a zone in which they’re performing and depending on their ‘game,’ which they’ve mastered over many months and years of intelligently directed hard work.

By focusing strictly on my Standard of Performance, the 49ers were able to play the bigger games very well because it was basically business as usual – no ‘try harder’ mentality was used. 

In fact, I believed it was counter-productive. Consequently, the San Francisco 49ers could function under tremendous stress and the forces that work on individuals in competitive situations. 

Bill was true to his philosophy and principles. The key was to ensure that people delivered the Standard of Performance. The score would then take care of itself.

Great organisations often take a similar approach. They continually explain the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success.

They explain that these principles are based on what is required to achieve the mission rather than being plucked out of the air. They bring these to life by giving examples of how people have followed the principles in their daily work.

Here is an example of the Professional Standards that were described by one organisation. Potential employees were given illustrations of how these worked in practise. They were then invited to decide if they wanted to join the organisation.

Creativity

Good co-ordinators stay calm in challenging situations but also act with appropriate urgency. They then sometimes need to find creative solutions to challenges.

They often begin by planning ahead and aiming to prevent potential difficulties. They also consider how to solve problems if, despite everything, these challenges do happen. Some people do the following exercises to prepare for such challenges.

Good co-ordinators often enjoy finding solutions to challenges. One approach is for them to use the 3C model for creative problem solving. This involves focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results.

The co-ordinator can buy time to think, gather information and clarify their strategy for going forwards. They can do this by exploring the following themes.

Clarity 

What is the challenge we want to tackle? What are the things we can control in the situation? What are the real results we want to achieve? What is the picture success? What will be happening that will show we have achieved the picture of success? 

Creativity

What are the possible options for going forwards? What are the pluses and minuses of each option? What is the attractiveness of each option? Are there any other potential creative solutions? What are the key strategies we can follow to give ourselves the greatest chance of success? 

Concrete Results

What is the option – or the combination of options – we want to pursue? How can we translate this into a clear action plan? How can we get a quick success? How can we encourage ourselves on the journey? What else can we do to achieve the picture of success?

Concrete Results

Good co-ordinators get some early wins rather than embark on long process analyses. Success breeds success. It also buys time to tackle the more long-standing challenges.

They keep in touch with the leader and see their role as being proactive rather than that of being a glorified progress chaser. They have regular meetings with the leader to look ahead to the next week, the month and the next quarter. They clarify the challenges facing the team and agree on the potential solutions.

Good co-ordinators ensure that people proactively keep them informed about their progress towards achieving the goals. They set up sessions where each team, for example, continually reports on the following themes.

Progress Report

The specific things we have delivered in the
past month towards achieving the goals are:

*

*

*

The specific things we aim to deliver in the
next month towards achieving the goals are:

*

*

*

The specific other topics we would like to highlight – such as
positive suggestions, solutions, challenges and any other issues
– that are relevant in terms of working towards the goals are:

*

*

*

Some co-ordinators take another approach to making sure things are on track. They have a dedicated room or other place that shows the state of play regarding pursuing the various strategies.

People flag up the activities that are currently in the green, amber and red zones. They also suggest what can be done to maintain or improve what is happening in these areas.

One company I worked with had a dedicated room where people constantly updated the progress towards achieving the goal. It had charts that covered the following areas.

The Picture of Success

People could keep referring to the company’s aims that were displayed on one wall. These were grouped in terms of what it wants to achieve under the 3 Ps: profits, products – including customer satisfaction – and people.

The other walls had the following charts that described the current state of play regarding various activities.

The Green Zone 

People listed the things that were going well. They also provided concrete suggestions regarding how to maintain or build on these activities.

Great workers capitalise on what is working. If things are going well with a particular customer, for example, they explore how to continue providing great service. This can lead to developing the relationship even further.

The Amber Zone 

People described where there were warning signs. They also provided suggestions regarding how to improve these activities.

Great workers worry about things that are in the amber zone. They are concerned that, unless these issues are addressed, these may quickly slide into the red zone. So they focus on how to move these activities more towards the green zone.

The Red Zone

People listed the things that were going badly. They also gave suggestions regarding how to improve these activities. These could involve making radical improvements or even call for key decisions to be taken.

Great workers think ahead to ensure that, as far as possible, things do not slide into the red zone. Crises do occur, of course, so then it is vital to find positive solutions.

There may be some issues, however, that are continually falling into the red zone. If systems are breaking down, for example, these may well need replacing.

A more challenging issue could be if a particular customer continually makes life difficult. Certainly it is vital to do whatever possible to provide great service. In some instances, however, a customer may prove impossible to please.

They may also prove to be a massive drain on resources. In such cases it may mean deciding to move on from the customer. This can be a difficult but necessary decision.

Good co-ordinators harness people’s talents to deliver the goods. They also encourage people to embody the ethic of continuous improvement. They invite people to build on their strengths and tackle areas for improvement.

There are many models for making this happen. One approach is to invite people to review the piece of work they have done by completing the following exercise.

Good leaders and co-ordinators get their act together. They know that clarity is the starting point for any venture. But co-ordination is the bridge to producing concrete results.

Different people follow this process in different ways. This article has focused on how co-ordinators take the following steps towards delivering the agreed picture of success.

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