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Coaching as lever for better performance

Sam Isaacson Sam Isaacson

How can coaching help in achieving strategic goals? We spoke to Microsoft's coaching lead about emergent strategies and how they can be used to drive culture change.

Andrea Wanerstrand is Global Head of Coaching at Microsoft and Director on the board of the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is currently running a programme for over 16,000 managers across more than 100 countries.

At a recent online event, she shared her insights with us on coaching strategies and how they can drive strategic change within organisations.

Based on her advice, we’ve put together five steps for effective coaching:

1 Design a coaching strategy aligned to your purpose

First, you need to know and set out your organisation's purpose.

For example, Microsoft’s publicly stated mission is "to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more", which they do through the use of their tools and technology.

Managers are key to Microsoft's success, according to Andrea, so it's imperative that they balance knowledge and skill with good character. That's where a coaching strategy can empower people and also align them under the purpose.

2 Find clarity and generate results

Fostering an environment of clarity and empathy is key if coaching is to impact an organisation.

Microsoft’s cultural transformation began with a growth mindset, in which everyone in the organisation was open to constant learning and risk-taking, and leaders had to shift from a 'tell first' to a 'learn first' approach.

Simplified leadership principles, such as creating clarity, generating energy, and delivering success led to a coaching framework that revolves around staying curious for longer, giving advice slowly and pro-actively showing empathy.

Andrea says these skills have been heightened during the COVID-19 situation, creating deeper connections with colleagues. Capturing the desire to reduce confusion and excite people for greater impact will ultimately translate into a coaching strategy that helps achieve more.

Find out more about helping leaders build resilience and new thinking skills through coaching >>

3 Build culture and drive strategic change

As part of its shift to a learning culture, Microsoft has developed a suite of solutions focused around managers’ individual purposes, leadership principles and results in order to accelerate the impact of coaching in the organisation. For example, it encourages all managers to use coaching skills as a matter of course.

Microsoft's coaching programmes are aligned to three pillars:

1 Coaching capabilities for all employees

Leadership behaviour that facilitates empowerment, learning and activates a growth mindset.

2 Coaching as a service

Co-ordinated, global solution for engaging with point-in-time, development-focused coaching.

3 Coaching champions across the globe

A framework to create and support a community of internal coaching champions held to common standards and practices.

Driving strategic change and purpose is key to develop a coaching culture embedded in greater substance, capacity, engagement and confidence. This will enable emergent coaching behaviours that create new insights, understanding and actions built around increased awareness, supportive behaviour and empathy.

4 Build coaching capability

Coaching is much broader than career development, and it involves moving towards innovation and achievement through a growth mindset. In its push to become a learning organisation, Microsoft encouraged moving away from precision-questioning, to a more coaching-oriented approach. 

Microsoft’s coaching programme was developed based on Michael Bungay-Stanier’s work, being run as a five-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) using a deep-learning principle focused on performance development and business impact.

After the programme is complete, coaching re-inforcement plays an important role. An online community connects graduates of the programme, 86% of whom are active participants. Surveys are embedded before and afterwards, and include questions directly focused on beliefs associated with coaching and their impact on business outcomes.

An important impact of increasing coaching skills in managers has been less micromanagement, says Andrea, as Microsoft is seeing a shift towards empowerment. The focus of coach development is on key principles, such as showing up with more curiosity and incorporating coaching into the day-to-day. The ideal outcome is for people to show up in an integrated manner, using different conversation techniques: feedback, teaching, mentoring and coaching.

5 Remote coaching

Remote coaching is more popular than ever before, and Microsoft made use of it even before the pandemic. 

Video calling can be particularly intense for coaches for several reasons. For one, silence is a skill that can take a while to feel comfortable with and to master. While this can bring a sense of vulnerability, there is opportunity to build connection virtually.

Leveraging the virtual space to create trust can be just as powerful as in-person coaching sessions, if not more so. Remote leadership provides the opportunity to stay curious for longer and give advice slowly, fostering clarity and empathy.

If you'd like to discuss coaching strategies further, contact Sam Isaacson

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