This is the third article in a series on coaching cops. In the first article we examined the benefits of workplace coaching. In the second article we set out a beginning playbook for coaches and their cop protégés – their respective roles, responsibilities and how to conduct the coaching sessions. In this article we’ll examine whether a supervisor can be an effective workplace coach to officers they supervise.
Some say that asking a supervisor to coach a subordinate breaches the ethics and responsibilities of both coaching and supervision. As we’ve previously discussed, the confidentiality of a coaching session is strictly governed by the protégé. A supervisor cannot guarantee this with a protégé they supervise given the supervisor’s dual responsibility to the organization.
Moreover, in a formal coaching session, the protégé sets the vision and the agenda for how to accomplish their own goals. The coach helps by asking the right questions to spark this process, clarify it and help it evolve. Again, a supervisor has a dual duty to the organization’s vision and goals, not just those of one individual officer.
I’ve learned a lot about professional coaching in researching and writing these articles. At this point, I’d have to agree that a supervisor cannot provide the same formal coaching relationship and sessions as an external, peer, or other workplace coach not in the protégé’s chain of command – for the reasons stated above. But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for a supervisor to practice coaching strategies.
Certainly there are advantages to an individual officer (or team of officers) having a professional external coach. As Mark McGuinness recognizes in his excellent ebook on the topic, such advantages include:
· A fresh perspective on people and events in the organization.
· A strong focus on the protégé’s needs because the external coach is unburdened with the dual responsibilities of a supervisor to the organization.
· A confidential forum in which officers may feel more comfortable discussing sensitive information or concerns.
· Highly developed, professional coaching skills.
· Special expertise in areas such as leadership, emotional intelligence, behavioral change, etc.
But supervisor-coaches also offer benefits over external consultants:
· In-depth knowledge of people and the organization.
· Longer term relationships with more opportunity to get to know the officer and build mutual trust and respect.
· More opportunities for influence – supervisors aren’t limited to formal coaching sessions but instead are constantly interacting with officers.
And, as McGuinness observes, there are bonus benefits to the organization when supervisors coach:
· A more committed team – people are more invested when they’re involved in setting their own goals and implementing their own ideas.
· Better team performance – good coaching builds better working relationships. It doesn’t mean a supervisor becomes officers’ new BFF. It does mean more trust and mutual respect – a prerequisite to higher commitment and performance.
· Better ideas – in his best-selling book It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, Commander D. Michael Abrashoff described how he turned the USS Benfold into a model of naval efficiency, with amazing cost savings, the highest gunnery score in the Pacific Fleet, and a highly motivated and top performing crew. One of his techniques was a coaching fundamental – ask the right questions. Whenever his people asked him for approval, he’d ask, “Is there a better way?” Pretty soon his people explained up front why they did something the way they did, or they came up with a better way.
· Better information – if you genuinely engage people in a collaborative way, they will feel more comfortable coming to you with vital information – including “bad” news.
Simply put, supervisors who can employ coaching strategies make better leaders. Because coaching facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of individual officers, I would argue that coaching is a critical job function of successful supervisors.
But, how can supervisors effectively employ coaching techniques as a leadership tool, while still balancing their duties to the organization?
Striking the supervisor-coach balance.
Coaching cops need not be limited to formally structured, strictly confidential, one-on-one sessions. Coaching can occur every day between a supervisor and officer. Catch officers at the right moment, when they’re puzzling over a problem or decision. Do NOT suggest a decision or solve the problem – even if you can. This is about growing the officer. (Clearly we’re not talking about critical incident command.) Ask questions that will help the officer discover the solution, or discover and develop new skills to bring to the challenge.
Questions that facilitate this process include:
· What did you see (or hear, etc.)?
· What do you think lead up to or caused the situation?
· Have you ever been involved in a similar situation?
· What are the most important considerations?
· If you were in the other person’s shoes, how would you feel and what might you do?
· Are there alternative courses of action for you?
· How might this be prevented or avoided in the future?
It’s great to use “coaching moments,” but there is a more structured and accountable way to “coach” officers that isn’t at odds with a supervisor’s dual responsibility to the organization -- an Individual Development Plan (IDP). The purpose of an IDP is to help officers better use their strengths, develop their skills in order to take their performance to a higher level in their current job, get ready to take on greater responsibility, and prepare for promotion (should they desire to move up in the organization).
An IDP should be written. Cops know, “If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist.” It’s also much less likely to happen. It can be initiated by the supervisor and done in a collaborative fashion with the officer. The plan should focus on a specific competency or skill to be enhanced, or area of knowledge to be acquired. An officer can have numerous IDPs during her career.
An IDP shouldn’t be used to deal with corrective action. A corrective action plan is drafted by the supervisor for officers whose performance is deficient. It consists of short-term measures an employee can take to raise their level of performance to meet the organization’s expectations.
Google “Individual Development Plan” and you’ll see they are being widely used in the private sector but also the U.S. military and state and federal government agencies.
Officers don’t have to wait for their supervisor to using coaching as a leadership strategy to facilitate the officer’s professional career growth. Individual officers can develop their own IDP and then enlist their supervisor in the coaching role. Hey, that’s officers coaching their supervisors on how to coach. Cool.
Instructions for how to do this can be found in these Dep’t. of Defense guidelines for using an IDP to chart your career path. But having looked at a lot of online IDP forms and guidelines I found the following the most user friendly:
· Basics of Individual Development Planning
· Individual Development Plan Form
· Sample Completed IDPs
Building a coaching culture.
Military, government and private sector organizations are recognizing the phenomenal benefits of coaching for the organization. These include but aren’t limited to:
· Improved officer engagement
· Higher officer performance
· Increased retention of higher performing officers
Simply put, it pays for law enforcement agencies to develop and nurture a coaching culture -- which is very different from a “command and control” style of leadership. Again, we’re not talking about critical incidents. The military recognizes this because it has embraced coaching leadership. So, how can leaders create a coaching culture?
Walk the talk. Brass needs to become skilled in coaching techniques and use them. The Chief should get an external coach with developing coaching skills as part of his or her career goal or at least get coaching/training in coaching leadership. Then …
Give supervisors a coach or training in coaching. An external coach for every officer may not be feasible but consider a formal external coach for supervisors with the understanding and expectation the supervisors will use coaching methods in their management roles. At the least, provide training in coaching to supervisors.
Tie performance, evaluation and promotion to coaching skills and applications. In the second article in this series we looked at key traits of winning coaches and protégés and the actions each needed to take to ensure coaching success. The agency should tie these skills and objectives into performance evaluations and promotions – this is another way to “walk the talk.”
Recognize and reward coaching-culture behaviors. Forty-three percent of respondents in a survey about how to create a coaching culture ranked this in their top 5 choices.
This series has documented many benefits of coaching for supervisors, individual officers and their organizations. But there’s another reason other than WIIFM to embrace a coaching leadership and culture:
“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership,” said
Harvey S. Firestone. Coaching provides a path to this highest calling.