Why Coaching for Innovation?

As innovation becoming more demanding of leaders, organization now realize that technology alone wouldn’t be able to achieve their innovation goals. Leaders now found out that the people felt “left behind”, unwanted and confused. There’s so much animosity around innovation implementation as well as business or digital transformation towards that. 

It seems, the high tech innovation that we brag about all these years requires some human touch eh? Yes we do, if we want to make it work and integrating well for long term. One of the tools that you can use is coaching. 

Why do you need coaching in innovation?

Other than just the familiarity of the innovation tools such as design thinking, agile, scrum, lean, strategic thinking, business model canvas, blue ocean and many others; there’s a deeper hurdle left ignored. Hurdle to make change; and change is always difficult, emotional and constant. 

Leaders with foresight know, that coaching will help them change from “me” perspective to “we”. Say, in an ideation lab, the leader’s ideas opposed, he will still feel comfortable. In fact a well coached leader would welcome opposition because it will enrich the discussion. Besides, it empowers the team. Not about me, it is we.

In another situation, when an idea is risky, poor leaders will not support. A confidently coached leader, besides the mantra “doing it right from the first time”, he’d put his neck on the choppin’ to experiment a wild idea although it might fail. His new mantra is “you either make it or learn”. The word failure now taken a back seat or eliminated. 

The speed of activities is another hurdle in implementing big scale innovation. There are so many things to do. Right from the augmented customer experience, digital touch points, integration of big data, interpreting analytics, artificial intelligence bots, blockchain in smart contract, mobile first solutions to drones operation. 

How just a leader with all these new stuffs lead? Can you imagine a senior vice president at the age of 55 going to chew while keeping his sanity? It will be too much and he might be too occupied delivering his strategic function – which is more valuable due to his/her knowledge. This is another area where coaching could help. 

A coachable senior leaders would gain through giving trust early in the relationship particularly with their direct reports. How many senior leaders do you see still unable to let go certain operational meetings because it “seems” all important to them? In times of innovation like now, decision making has to be fast and getting immediate feedback should be faster. It is also should be expected, the direct reports would make some mistakes along the way as part of their learning curve. Fail early, fail often. 

In some organizations, they are still stuck at the “over analysis becomes paralysis” situation. After round and rounds of meetings, no one seem to be willing to call the shot. Because innovation about venturing to uncharted waters, a coached leader will demonstrate higher tolerance for ambiguities and can live with “just enough” information to make a next step decision. With tools such as 2×2 quadrant or A/B testing or BMC, these well informed leaders will advance further; the rest still in another meeting.

To be an innovative leaders, coaching could help to unlearn and minimize biases of past experiences. Where the culture could be dry, brazen and unwelcoming, these coached leaders turn them around so ideas thrived, people become responsive again and businesses nourished. The best innovations in the world only flourished when a corporate culture supports and drives them forward. 

Because of the change component that comes together with innovation, there’ll be always tension of opinions, resources squabble and constant realignments. Besides, strategy is not just another management retreat or document. A strategic innovation leaders know, there’s a need to discuss qualitative data, customer pain points, challenge assumptions and question “facts” at hand; although it may not be related to his own department. Furthermore, a coached innovation leader will not stop there. He will ensure the organization have taken serious and structured considerations including influencing the board of directors to discuss innovation as the top agenda in the board meeting. 

By coaching for innovation, leaders role is reimagined to be more assertive, substantive and collaborative to make the organization future ready. Leaders, you can still keep your pride, but please don’t lose your shirt. Go coaching!

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Turn On Your Headlights

In a coaching session recently I blurted out something that I thought meaningful for top talents and would-be leaders. “Turn on your headlight”. I was coaching a very smart talent and he is in the top talent pool – grooming up to lead a division of few hundreds people. Let’s just call him Saiful.

headlights

A prolific sales person cum product manager, he tops the sales chart for months this year. Last year he won the top sales awards. The clients love him. Without him, his company will lose easily 50% of sales target. He manages the sales department right now and he is very likely to be the best candidate for the divisional head. There is only one challenge, he prefers to be by himself.

His communication has always been one-to-one. Seldom one-to-group (department level) and rarely group-to-group (department to department). As a result people have heard of him but don’t really know him. The top management felt for the divisional head they need someone that are able to do more of one-to-group and more importantly group-to-group. Groups alignment is very important to ensure sustainable revenues.

His feedback to me was “it is me to be by myself”, “I am not the drama type that love the limelight” and “I prefer to be the background person”. My feedforward to him (suggestion) was, turn on your headlight. It is an analogy.

Autobahn at night
Autobahn at night

When we drive on a runway at night usually there will be street lights. We speed up at 110 – 140 km/h with a good vision of what’s in front of us and we could pretty well read up the signages and signboards. But we usually turn on the head light right? Why did we do that since the street lights are already there? The headlights are not for us, the headlights are turned on because we would like others to see us.

Can you imagine someone driving behind you with his / her car headlights off? What comes to mind? Will you pay any attention to it? Turn on your headlights by reaching out to others.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

Three Factors Contributing to Professional Growth and Development

Some months ago I ran a short survey on Professional Growth and Development. It was a “lazy” survey where I just published it without much promotion. I wish to only have respondents that are interested to answer the survey. I gave small token in discount vouchers but the desire and “giving back mindset” by the respondents were amazing. They answered because they wanted to share their thoughts. Big hand to them. Running for 1 month, the survey gathered 130 respondents.

The main objective of the survey is to find out factors that contributing to successful Professional Growth and Development for executives and managers. I have yet to published this survey with more details. I only decided to give you some highlights that captured my lazy mind.

Here are some insights on the factors contributing to Professional Growth and Development:

1. Tertiary Education Works

Almost 70% of the respondents confessed that their tertiary education – basic degree help them to gain entry level position. You see, all we need is to enter somewhere first. That’s the goal for a start. This applies to top bracket university graduates as well, if you fail to secure entry level position in the next 6-18 months after graduation, you are going to meet some difficulties (not the end of the world though, just some difficulties).

I recently met several graduates in a workshop that have graduated from 8-26 months from local university. They took science courses such as biomedical, engineering and chemistry. They said they found the job offering mismatched their tertiary education experience hence they ignored those offers. I gave them some advise and asked each of them to write me an essay of any topic they like and together with their CV. I gave them a week and only one reminder, that was before we part ways. One week later, only 1 graduate came back and her essay was solid. She was a graduate with chemistry background.

I told her that while her degree is in science, she could easily adapt to other roles – to gain entry level position. She said, she wasn’t aware that we can “switch”, but that I don’t really want to discuss here. So now she is ready to take up entry level position – to gain experience.

2. Mentors and Coaches? Go Find Them Now!

Next, around 80% of the respondents said that they owed their professional growth and development to mentors and coaches. These people include their managers, bosses, supervisors, leaders, colleagues, nemesis, trainers and friends. These “helpers” come internally and externally on need basis. In other words, these professionals get helped. Somebody took interest of them and shape them to become successful. I believe this is true. I am personally a product of mentors and coaches. I wish to share someone’s else story here.

Have you heard of Asafa Powell? He is a Jamaican sprinter – colleague to Usain Bolt. Asafa broke the Olympic record of 100 metre in Athens Olympic in 2005. He clocked in 9.77 at Olympic stadium. The more interesting story, 3 years before that Asafa was just another Jamaican teenager trying to find a place to train himself. He has been training by himself, unlike Usain Bolt that already in sports school since young. Asafa was lucky, a guy named Stephen Francis found him and gave him the opportunity to train and be coached in his camp. Three years later, Asafa was an Olympic champ.

asafapowell

The above stories resonated well to many successful people. This is also true with Sir Jony Ive, the Chief Designer of Apple Corp. While Ive was already an accomplished designer from young, it was Jobs that gave Ive the opportunity to flourish further and harness his creative giants inside him. Ive thrived and build many great products including iPod, iPhone, iPad and so on. You may refer to Ive’s biography – Jony Ive, The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Product by Leander Kahney.

jonathan-ive-quote

Some respondents also highlighted that parents too helped them in manoeuvring successfully in their professional journey. However, the percentage is rather small, 10-15%.

3. Hard Work and Persistence, This Goes Without Saying

As many as 95% of my proud achievers respondents said they work really hard to get to where they are now. They gave examples such as having to take up professional certification, stretched assignments, late night meetings and hectic schedule. However, their persistence paid off handsomely because they are now have become professional and live a great life.

While going through this, they also admitted experiencing some breakdowns and frustrations. Taking it positive, go slower at times and having strong support from loved ones boosted their morale to go further.

The drive home the point, from this insights it is clear to all of us that while most of us may have the innate ability and super resources to work hard, we shouldn’t discount the other 2 factors i.e. tertiary education and mentors and coaches.

Firstly, get good grades if you can. If you can’t or you are not qualified into tertiary education it is ok. Now you need to find mentors and coaches to learn about the workings of life. You need to learn about the trade. Yes you may be strong, why not waste your energy for something else? Go find mentors and coaches.

Coaches

It is ok to ask for help because no one knows everything. Right? For young executives and graduates, my advise is to always be mindful of people that could become your guidance. Be willing to have interest in people and talk to them. For the seniors, reach out to the young because they actually are curious whether your seriousness is towards them or to someone else! 🙂

Someday I wish to read your story and when I looked back I thanked you for allowing me to be part of it. “The thing is, it’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better.” – Jony Ive