Recently, I took the plunge and started taking lessons toward scuba certification. That’s where I met Carmen Shultz, scuba instructor #8765432. Carmen proudly bares sun-damage spots and jelly-fish scars like war medals. Whether our group was in the classroom or in “confined waters” the right answers to Carmen’s quiz questions was, “the buddy system.”
Run out of air? Turn to your buddy.
Tangled in kelp? Signal your buddy.
Encounter a great white in the Boston Harbor? Stay close to your buddy.
Back up on the surface, organizational life has become a lot like the unpredictable waters below. The changing work of the future is here now and the waters are choppy.
For example, we’ve come to accept that 70% of the workforce is disengaged. One of the big reasons, studies show, is that people feel they don’t have a manager who cares or a buddy who has their back. This matters because we need an engaged workforce to deliver results.
IDEA IN BRIEF: PEER COACHING
Does organizational life need a buddy-system?
Yes! But the old “mentoring” programs, when a wise sage imparted knowledge to a fledgling executive, don’t meet today’s needs. Instead, peer coaching has surfaced within the last ten years as a crucial and possibly more outcome-oriented alternative.
Peer coaching is a “focused relationship between individuals of equal status who support each other’s personal and professional goals,” say my colleagues Polly Parker, Douglas Hall, Kathy Kram and Ilene Wasserman, in their latest book, “Peer Coaching at Work: Principles and Practices.” Through decades of research, these experts in the field of mentoring and peer coaching have pinpointed the critical success factors that make peer coaching work.
Peer coaching is for everyone. In a world where no single person has the answers, we need to make the workplace safe for people to admit when they don’t have knowledge or skills and make it easy for them to seek advice and support. This will lead to greater organizational efficiency and ease in accomplishing the audacious goals organizations—and individuals—need to achieve to survive.
Peer coaching delivers what many people seek—opportunities to grow and develop, to feel connected. In their research, Parker, Hall, Kram and Wasserman found the surprising benefits of peer coaching include greater “zest, empowered action, new knowledge and skills, enhanced self-awareness and a desire for more connection.” All of the benefits are well-accepted components of employee engagement.
Learning is a social process: cognitive scientists tell us that we learn and retain more when in relation with other people, a common trait of both mentoring and coaching. But I find peer coaching to be different from mentoring for several reasons:
How can you successfully implement peer coaching in your organization?
In each of the next three newsletters, we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these steps, so you have a roadmap for implementing this new-economy way of generating knowledge, innovation, insight, engagement and connection, for yourself and for others.
What impressed me most about Carmen, scuba instructor #8765432, was her forceful yet caring way of ensuring that we each did what was needed to survive the unexpected while underwater. When it comes to scuba diving, I can’t imagine going to any depth without a buddy.
Like Carmen, all scuba instructors are required to have a number. People have come to feel like numbers in organizational life. Peer coaching is an important solution to creating a more human workplace, with greater depth of connection and learning.
But buyer beware: peer coaching isn’t just getting together for tea or happy hour. Success is a matter of being intentional. Before you take the plunge into peer coaching, make sure you have a plan.
TODAY’S TIP: There are 5 key ingredients to building great teams
In my Italian family, food was love.
Sunday came with a big pasta dinner and my grandmother’s red sauce bubbling gently to a simmer in the pot on the stove-top. We have lots of wonderful cooks in my family, but no one could make sauce like my grandmother. Even if she gave you the recipe, your food would come out good, but not great.
Today, I confess to take-out more often than homemade meals. But I love my work and carry my grandmother’s ethic with me. As I coach, I help leaders build a great culture to achieve bold goals.
In our last post, we introduced three tips for moving people in to the Nexus at your organization. As a reminder, the Nexus is that brilliant place where company business goals and people’s passion meet for optimal performance.
Here we will dive deeper into these concepts so you can easily apply them at work:
- Be specific when communicating your vision.People want clear direction and meaningful work. In Jeffrey’s company we generated a list of projects and tasks that are specific to the company. Managers use the list in career conversations with people to match development goals with work that optimizes the Nexus.
- Strengthen your coaching muscle.As managers, we tend to give people advice but they learn more when we ask meaningful questions. At Jeffrey’s company, we trained managers how to coach for both continuous and career development.
- People don’t learn from challenging assignments, they learn by reflecting on their experience.Schedule time for periodic conversations that reveal insight and lessons learned that people apply to improving both on the job performance, which prepares them for future roles and opportunities.
Remember, relationships are ongoing and there is no finish line.
We’ve been following Jeffrey in our recent posts, whose challenge was to keep people engaged who had worked at his company for more than three years. At Jeffrey’s company Prior Consulting piloted tools that enabled fresh career conversations. Some people left after realizing that the source of their burnout was the result of a small overlap between their interests and the company needs. This is healthy.
Jeffrey reports that managers, not HR, take ownership for building relationships with people, delegating more effectively and coaching people more frequently.
The benefit: people have a clear sense of their strengths and development areas. Managers and employees work together to close the gaps.
KEY TAKEAWAY: If you want to move your team into the Nexus, enable people to take charge of their careers.