Is coaching for improved performance effective?

Subject: Is coaching for improved performance effective?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 2002 10:30:40 -0500

Pat Glass wondered: <<1. Does your firm have a coaching program? 2. Have you
ever been coached? Was it effective?>>

There currently isn't one in tech. comm., but there is for our researchers;
if we were bigger, we'd probably have a coaching program. I learned editing
from a senior editor who laboriously went over everything I did to show me
what I'd missed and done wrong, and it was a great learning experience. I
combined this with lots of reading on my own to acquire the basic knowledge
that I'd apply during my work and the mentor provided a reality check on
whether I was doing it right.

<<3. Was it the coach, the tools, or the method he or she used that made it
effective? If none of the above, then what?>>

The coach was good, but what made it work was that I came to the learning
process with the right frame of mind and she shared my philosophy:

First, I started out assuming that I wasn't an expert yet, and that I had a
long way to go before I would become one; that let me accept criticism as
beneficial rather than as judgmental and ad hominem. It didn't make
criticism less annoying, but it did let me accept it.

Second, I assumed that I would not always agree with my mentor, and that
understanding the source of those disagreements was more important than who
was right and who was wrong. Discussing disagreements was always more
productive than "do it that way because I told you to". It also taught me to
question why things were done instead of doing them blindly, and that's a
valuable thing to learn.

Third, I accepted the fact that I would be making mistakes and correcting my
mistakes for a long time, and that if I were going to stay sane and not end
up wanting to kill my mentor, I'd have to accept the fact that nothing I did
would be good enough--not because the quality was inherently lacking (even
my early edits were pretty good) but rather because the goal was continuous
improvement (if not perfection), rather than plateauing and settling for
"good enough".

<<4. Have you ever coached someone? What tools or method did you use?>>

I used much the same approach as was used with me. The key is to make sure
that both you and the student understand and accept all three points I
raised in the previous paragraph. If not, one or more of the criteria is
going to trip you up.

<<5. Are there differences between coaching technical people and
nontechnical people?>>

I don't think so. The relationship between mentor and student is the same
for any kind of learning. One might argue that technical and nontechnical
people represent different types of learners and thus require different
strategies, but I'm not sure that's a good generalisation. I suspect that
you'll find different types of learners in any supposedly homogeneous group.

<<6. Do you believe that anyone (e.g., managers) can be an effective coach
given tools and training?>>

Everyone has things they can learn to do well, and things they can't learn
to do well. While I believe that even those who really suck at a job can
learn to suck less, I don't believe they can inevitably become good at the

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"Every man is a damned fool for at least five minutes every day. Wisdom
consists in not exceeding the limit."--Elbert Hubbard, author, editor,
printer (1856-1915)

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