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If you could find a way to support others in your organization, increase engagement, and improve performance and commitment all while deepening levels of understanding would you do it? On this show Vera Keown, Organizational Development Librarian at the University of Manitoba, talks about Coaching in the Workplace and what we can do to successfully implement skills that make these kinds of benefits possible.


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Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

If you could find a way to support others in your organization, increase  engagement, improve performance and commitment, all while deepening levels of understanding would you do it? On this show Vera Keown, Organization Development Librarian at the University of Manitoba, talks about coaching in the workplace and what we can do to successfully implement skills that make these kinds of benefits possible through coaching. I know I’m onboard. Enjoy the show!

Vera, welcome to the show.

Vera Keown:

Oh, thank you, Adriane. I’m so pleased to be here talking about my favorite topic, which is coaching.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: Absolutely. We are going to jump right in today talking about coaching in the workplace. As we begin, will you define coaching and how it contrasts to managing and mentoring?  01:28 

Vera Keown:

Okay, sure. Well, if you Google coaching you will come up with an infinite number of definitions, but the International Coach Federation defines it as partnering with clients in a thought provoking, and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal, and professional potential—that’s a mouthful. 

I was doing some research on this, and one of the researchers has come up with thirty-seven different definitions that they found on coaching. But what they all have in common is that it’s an improvement and an enhancement of coachee’s quality of life, their personal life, and personal growth for them. 

Coaching in the workplace really can help individuals develop and advance their organization to achieve both personal and business goals. In terms of what the differences between managing—I break it up between managing, mentoring, and coaching. That’s because in the library world if you look at job descriptions—for a lot of library leaders they have manage, mentor, and coach employees in their job descriptions, but what I find interesting is that most of us have never had training on mentoring, or coaching. We often go to leadership institutes for supervisory courses, but if we look at what a manager is, I think most of us are pretty familiar with that. 

The manager is the expert, right? They’re the problem-solvers. They set the goals. They train staff. There’s policies and procedures in place in the workplace and they make sure things are followed, and they make sure that goals are achieved. Managers usually tell people what to do. These are the goals. This is how you do them, and this is how we’re going to accomplish them. 

Mentoring can happen in the workplace. Sometimes it happens with somebody outside of the workplace, but it’s usually a longer term relationship between a junior individual and a more senior colleague. The focus there is on the senior colleague advising and supporting the junior individual to achieve success in their career. Often the senior colleague will talk about how they grew their career, and suggest that the other person try the same approaches. Mentors can help you with networking and providing opportunities for opening doors for junior colleagues.

Coaching, on the other hand, is a little different. It’s more developmental and it’s very future focused. The role of the coach is to facilitate learning and development of the coachee through self-awareness and self-discovery. When you’re coaching you’re using questioning to work through a process that helps the coachee discover their strengths, look at challenges from a different perspective, and they achieve that through some self-awareness and self-discovery. Using questioning the coach works with the individual through a process to help them discover their strengths, to look at challenges from a different perspective, consider opportunities that they may not have thought of. But most importantly, it is to help the individual develop their own solutions.

The coach really has to believe that the coachee is the expert in their own life and they can find solutions in challenges that work for them. Contrast that with mentoring a bit in terms of—a mentor will often provide advice. They’ll say, Oh, I faced a similar challenge and this is what I did. But we’re all individuals, we all have different life experiences. We all have different personalities, and are certainly all in different situations. So while it’s nice to get advice, it might not suit you and your style, and it might not suit your situation completely. You may feel uncomfortable implementing that. So coaching is very different in that we’re coming up with solutions that really work for you and for your situation, and that you’re comfortable with.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: What are the benefits of coaching for us and for our organizations?  05:27 

Vera Keown:

Well, there are many—in fact like I said, I was doing research on this and there’s been a lot of findings on that. I think in terms of why it’s really important for organizations, and for us, is because of the way work is going—I like to say the future, because it’s now, right? But as employees, and organizations, we have to be more flexible, and agile, and creative, and innovative because things are changing so fast.

There’s also diversity. We have such a real commitment to diversity and inclusion in our workplaces, but that’s going to mean we have to spend more time, more attention on culture, values, and strengths of individuals. Some of the things that coaching can really help with on the individual level—and this is based on the research, have been improvements in job satisfaction, which improves job performance. It can increase role clarity. So, when people are more certain about what their role is, and what their role is within the organization, and the impact that they make—it can help reduce stress, and again it correlates positively with job performance. It leads to greater organizational commitment, and engagement, and it really contributes to employee learning. I like to say that coaching is really an experiential form of learning because it’s a learning by doing.

For organizations, bringing a coach approach into the workplace can really improve morale. It really is a good skill for learning and developing leadership skills. Often organizations find that they come up with solutions they would never have thought of in the past. One of the big things it’s been found is that it really can decrease the rate of turnover intention in employees as well.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: How do we know when to apply those—you know, coaching versus mentoring, or managing?   07:19 

Vera Keown:

Right, right. So when I was talking about managing and mentoring, there are some situations that are suited for those conversations. Managing for example, if we have policies or procedures that must be followed—standards, maybe there’s safety procedures and things like that. That’s when we’re having to do more managing, right? It’s very important that everybody follows the rules. Within universities we have accreditation for programs. Things have to be followed, and that’s when the manager comes in.

But there’s an opportunity for coaching in almost every conversation that you run into as a manager, when those really rigid situations don’t apply. Just as an example, these are some situations that you can turn into coaching conversations. You have a knock at your door, one of your employees comes in and says, Hey, Boss we’ve got a problem with…

Or, I need your advice. Usually as a manager we’re the problem solver. We listen to what it is, and then we come up with a solution for them.

But you can turn that into a coaching conversation by asking, Tell me more—and getting them to talk some more. Or, what would the ideal outcome look like to them? Performance and annual review conversations, which I think we all kind of dread doing—both the manager and the employee kind of dread them, but they can really turn into positive conversations when we use coaching.

We can ask open-ended questions like, What did you enjoy doing this year? What was your most proud accomplishment of the year, or what did you find most challenging to do, and what did you work on this year that helped you grow the most? This is a way that you can really turn that performance into a conversation and actually make it a positive thing.

Then meetings—it’s a great place. Let’s hear everyone’s ideas. What’s the worst that can happen—is the question to ask everybody because we’re often thinking about that. And also, I think, the best way is when you’re stumped as a manager because we don’t always have all the answers as leaders. A great response to that is, You know, that’s a tough one, and I’m not really sure what to say [laughter], but, I’d be happy to help you come up with some options.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4: What do we need to know to be a successful coach in the workplace?  09:47 

Vera Keown:

Well, I think the most important thing is being silent [laughter], and asking questions. The thought of the leader is that you’re paid to have all the answers, and that’s just not reasonable. In fact we have very talented people that work for us, and we really should be listening to them for more. Some empowering behaviors that you can show as a manager is transferring the ownership, having the employee come up with some of the solutions and work with them to weigh the pros and cons of those. You can be the person removing some obstacles for them—just not being that advice monster right away. 

Providing effective feedback and positive feedback, this is really an important part. Tell your people what they’re strong with, what they do really well. Make them feel confident in what they can do, then just believing that they are actually experts, that they can come up with some solutions. Keep things positive. As a manager you really have to enjoy watching others succeed, rather than being the expert.

Communication skills are really important—the ability to motivate others. But probably the most important part is that silence, and holding that space, creating that trust that people can spend the time thinking because we all need more time to think, and space to feel safe expressing what fears they have, or what challenges, or things that they feel they might not be good at.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5: Will you explain the coaching process, and how each of us can develop these skills?  11:25 

Vera Keown:

Sure, yeah. With a formal coaching process with a professional coach, it’s a guided process that usually starts with defining a goal, and understanding why it’s important to them, exploring options, finding solutions, and creating actions. Often they start—these coaching conversations will start with specific situations. The coachee will have some challenge that’s going on that they want to be coached through. Then as the coachee continues to work with their coach it often evolves more into that self-discovery and that self-awareness, and you move from that situational coaching to that real whole person coaching.

I like to distinguish that from the leader as a coach, because as leaders we don’t have the opportunity to go—or the time to go into such depth. So, we could take a coach approach which will be enough to help someone with a specific situation, and it’s easier to learn and remember and act upon for managers.

What they have in common is that you ask more than you tell, so it’s all about asking questions, using those open-ended questions, using silence and space, and being curious and non judgemental. We want to create that safe space, so resist the urge to criticize that idea that somebody comes up with.

There are a number of ways you can develop your coaching your skills, of course. There are lots of training courses out there where you can learn about the philosophy and psychology of coaching. The International Coach Federation has a database where you can find accredited programs—most of those are very long programs, but coaches often will offer courses, or workshops to organizations, or individuals. I do teach a two-day course called Leadership Coaching Skills. That one helps managers incorporate coaching into their organizational change initiatives.

I talked about some of the skills. Of course you’re never wrong with developing your communication skills, practicing your open-ended questions, then training courses, or reading in positive psychology—strength-based development, emotional intelligence—those types of things.

I think one of the great ways to actually develop your coaching skills is to be coached, to get yourself a coach. You get to experience what coaching really is about. You get to experience the success. You get to see how well it works. You’ll turn into a believer really, really quickly once you get some coaching. You’ll start to learn how your coach is working, and you’ll start to be able to bring that back to your workplace, and use the same type of techniques on your employees. But I have to say, practice. Develop an open-ended question that you can use in a number of situations.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: Is there anything else you would like to share?  14:16 

Vera Keown:

Unlike me today, talking a lot—talk less. Ask more as a manager, that’s the most important thing to try with this. Just—coaching empowers people, it really helps them unleash the potential that they have. I find with the clients I work with imposter syndrome is something that’s present in almost everyone. Coaching really opens people’s eyes to what their actual abilities are and what they’re capable of doing. It’s a great way to empower our employees. It’s actually a really good time saver for managers because being the person who comes up with all the solutions to the problems is very, very time consuming. By bringing coaching into your toolkit as a manager, you’re really doing two things—you are making yourself a better manager, but you’re also growing and developing your employees.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7: Do you have any favorite management, or leadership books, or resources, and why?  15:16 

Vera Keown:

Oh, yes. Actually, I love this question. I have one coaching book that I always talk about, and I think they should start paying me [laughter]. It’s called The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. It’s by Michael Bungay Stanier, 2016. It’s really written for the manager and helping them see how they can really, easily implement coaching. It’s the first book I ever picked up that got me hooked on coaching.

Some other things that I’m reading now—I’m a little bit behind the times. I’m just starting with Simon Sinek, Start with Why, and The Infinite Game. I really liked The Infinite Game and I’m thinking about how that could be incorporated into libraries.

I’m doing some research right now—I’m on research leave, on power and empowerment within organizations. I came across a seminal work from Kanter, and it was called Men and Women of the Corporation. Though it’s written in 1977 it’s fascinating, absolutely fascinating. It’s a big book, but a wonderful read. I think it would be—even though it seems old, the understanding of how power and opportunity happens within organizations—just amazing insight there.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8: Vera, in closing what do libraries mean to you, personally?  16:40 

Vera Keown:

Wow, this was a hard one. I really had to think about it because it’s really hard to put into words, right? When I look back on my life I think I was destined for a career in libraries. When I was a child the library was such a calm, and inviting place. Every time I walked into a library I was excited about all the possibilities. What could I learn today? I’ve always been curious, and I’ve always loved learning, and I’ve worked in libraries since I was sixteen. 

Despite having a science degree I knew—I completed a science degree, but I knew I wanted to continue seeking out knowledge. So for me, I remember the first day of my master’s program in library science one of the students said, I think we’re all here because we love books. And I went, hmm. I don’t know if that’s it. I do love books. I love knowledge, and for me that’s what libraries mean. I do read for pleasure, and probably not as much as most librarians do, but I’m more of a die hard, non-fiction fanatic.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Wonderful. And you have given us a lot of knowledge here today talking about coaching in the workplace. This is something we all can get better at. And like you say, there are so many benefits for us and for our organizations that come with this, so I’m really glad we got to talk about this today, Vera. Thank you.

Vera Keown:

Oh, absolutely my pleasure. Like I said, I enjoy talking about this topic and I really would like to see it expand in libraries. I think it’s so important.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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