The Issue with Coaching

Coaching is under lots of critics down here in brazil, the critics started to happen around ~5 years ago around 2015/2014. As time pass more and more Coach role is being criticized for several reasons.  This kind of theme always gets me with mixed feelings in regards to blogging and videos because they are often flamewar subjects therefore I try no to blog about. After lots of considerations, I decided to blog some thought about it. I was wondering to blog about it last week but it was a super busy week so that why I'm writing today. During COVID-19 time my blogging activities had increased a lot since there is no place to go. Back to coaching, IMHO is not a bad thing, actually, it's good however I deeply understand why people are trying to avoid as much as possible. For these blog post, I want to talk about the Good and the Bad things about coaching and also about some forces behind it and problems which need to address no matter if you do coaching or not. I believe there are cultural aspects deeply related to coaching and other subjects that I will address today. So let's get started!

Coaching: What Went Wrong? 

Basically, coaching got totally wrong down here in brazil because people often did a 1-2 week course and start "helping" people with zero or less shallow knowledge, skillset and experience. New Things spread like fire in brazil as fast as you get but as most of the things they are shallow and often people give up before getting to be a pro. There is a standard expectation that a PRO has at least 10k hours of experience in something. However, just spending time does not mean you will get better or improve. The issue which happened with Carrer Coach, Life Coach, Agile Coach is pretty much the same, lots of demand, few people knowing what they are doing, shallow knowledge and lack of science. 

Scrum got super popular for several reasons, one of them was the fact that in 2 days you could become a certified scrum master. Certifications are often dangerous. For certification companies, it's a source of revenue and you let the market training professionals for you which are good but being an expert or a PRO cant be achieved without TIME and lots of DELIBRATED PRACTICES. 

Most of the time people and companies want to eat the cake and have the cake. This means all companies love new methods, approaches, tools and the benefits which come with them, however very few companies and people really will pay the price and long journey to really change. At the end of the day what happens is the change is all shallow, superficial, maneless. Tern is being used without changing USER / EMPLOYEE / CUSTOMER behavior. So you get a coach to help you out, however, you can't have good results with just one side of the coin.  In order to have great Impact and outcomes you need to have the 2 sides of the coin: To have a good Doctor you need good patience, to have a good teacher you need a good student, to have a great lecture you need a great audience. 

What happens at the end of the day, High expectations to results, however, zero real commitment with behavior change and expectation to use new names and terns but keep doing the same things, having the same structure, the same roles, the same process BUT with better results. It does not work that way. 

We are living in Medieval times, where the lack of science and understanding of what we are doing is literally killing us. The issue on the other side of the coin is that often coaches are not prepared to change others and deliver the change which they suppose to help. The rationale is simple, there is lots of demand(at least before COVID-19) and few people on the workforce to take care of the demand, this equation end up forcing several side effects like:

* Get inexperience people in a position which would require more experience
* Rush to deliver results, resulting in bigger projects, more people and more waste and issues
* People who dont know what they are doing teaching people and so on and on like a pyramid scheme
* High demand means people choosing where they want to work since it is so easy people end up not studying and not improving and with first issues end up switching jobs so turn up grows up a lot.
* Companies are losing faith in the coaching and wondering if just traditional management is not a better answer
* People get salary raises super fast and get promote pre-maturely 

These phenomena happen because companies need to change since they are not digital yet and digital transformation is needed. Remote work will be the default soon thanks to the CODVID-19, As the tech debt pilled up and lack of talent is huge might lead us to questions like would we be better off by just doing Go Horse or Extreme Go Horse?  

Coaching The Good Parts

USA Sports like the NBA had coaches for decades and always worked super well.  Agile Coaching done right can be quite powerful. Coaching is a process it's not about management. I find super rewardful have 101 weekly coaching sessions with people who I mentor.  There are 2 kinds of people, the ones who can self-taught and do not need structure and the ones who need more structure, north, process and more support. Needing more support does not mean a bad thing. We are not all the same, people are different which is cool and fine. 

In general around technology and product, you should be more towards self-taught and able to take care of yourself without much support, however, having someone who has more experience than you and could help you thought your journey not only can be very valuable but also could be an accelerator factor. However, there is no magic most of the things are about TIME. 

As we need more and more teams, there is a need to support the team, remove the bottleneck, help the customer to managed expectations and to change(if the customer wants to change) it's a real need. Ideally, we should have a self-managed team, cross-functional but these teams do not form themselves, there is work with is needed to be done

Real Coaching helps you to learn how to deal with problems and improve. However, due to the complexity, we need to deal with, coaching is not enough. 

Mentoring and Support

We need Mentoring. You can't just work with Coaching. Mentoring was never underfire and keeps being something super valued. There is lots of mentorship in Product Discovery, Startup and Business sphere. Why mentorship is never under the fire like Coaching? First of all, because it requires hard work, time and experience and for some reason, I dont know did not get destroyed by industry like coaching. 

Mentorship is different than coaching, it's more direct and is based on personal experience. Instead of helping people to get to the answer, you lead the way and point paths and shortcuts. Mentorship is not a silver bullet but it might work better these days.  Support means provide feedback, critical thinking reasoning, saying hard things and doing hard things and understand we cant achieve great results in a short time.

Cultural noise

There is a lot of cultural noise everywhere.  The digital transformation landscape is lots of people, poor technical solutions, low DevOps maturity, low automation, low architecture isolation, low talent density and rush to get results for yesterday.  Changing is not something easy, it's hard and takes time, some changes will take years. Coaching won't deliver magical results overnight. 

It will take some time for us to learn that we need new mental models for management, organization structure, and value. At the end of the day, we dont focus on value, we focus on to keep people busy, list of huge outcomes and forget out our user's problems and needs. 

Having said so, what do we need in order to thrive? Several specialized people working in different teams? Sure that can work, thats the SV way. However, that will require great alignment, great content and amazing architecture and isolation in place. We can also work with the other model having more things being done by fewer people which also works however we need to master more than just technology but also product, devops, management. So what the coach needs to know? How many coachs you know who master product and technology? 

There is where we land another good part of the problems, We have solutions for 1 kind if problem when in reality there is a huge variety of problems that need to be fixed. Who many problems can you coach help with? Companies are often lost not seeing the majority of the problem they have and using the wrong solutions for the wrong problems. 

Problems to be solved: Team Development, Carrer Growth, Team Tuning

So if you just forget about coaching. Just never mind it. There are problems you need to address and I'm not saying that coaching is the answer to all these problems uniquely. But let's just remove the coaches and think about how we will deal with the following problems: 

* Carrer Development: How people learn new skills and improve attitudes?  
* Team Development: How the team works as a team effectively? 
* Team tuning: How the team increases the value delivered and improve cadence/flow? 
* How you manage dependencies between teams? 
* How to you discover better ways to serve your users? 
* How do you make sure you are improving? what thinking and review mechanisms you have? 
* How do you keep people motivated and retain talent? 
* How do you change people's behavior? how to you make sure the organization learns? 

The way to go

IMHO we will always have managers and managers should be coachs. Coaching done right is super valuable. Be careful about making decisions without science and data. Be as much deep as you can, like amazon has the value of Being deep or do Deep Dives.  There are different targets for coaching like Projects coaching, DevOps Coaching, Carrer Coaching and so on If you prefer to call your self a mentor in order to feel better, go for it(I get it). But at the end of the day what is wrong? Words like Coaching or Mentoring or people's attitudes and mindsets? 

How often we talk about organization learning? Do we have the same focus on attitudes and values/principles as we have with outputs and deadlines? Learning is about practices and changing, how people and companies will grow and re-invent themselves without real change? 

Real change requires hard work, solid background, constant study, Humility and TIME. It's not easy to change but no matter if we like or want change will happen and adaptation is the essence of Agile principles but also a must-have skill for survival nowadays. 

Diego Pacheco

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