Ever wonder where the word ‘coaching’ comes from? The etymology is hazy but one source links it to conversations that people would have in horse-drawn coaches and about being ‘in transit’. I like the idea of this as coaching is about a journey of sorts and being in transit as a person. We have developed this idea a little further to encompass the 21st century world of work and have developed a solution to enable managers to deliver feedback more effectively.
Working with professional services firms there is one theme that comes up time and time again and that’s around feedback. Many organisations run Employee Engagement Surveys or use apps to take ‘pulse’ checks from employees, and one of the areas that is frequently highlighted is that employees want ‘more feedback’. A Magic Circle law firm said to us “What do they mean by this? What are they looking for?”. We researched and found that, rather than being “Needy Millennials”, as some Partners characterised them – “always looking for praise and affirmation” – the Associates actually wanted more feedback to become better lawyers – for their own career development. This is not rocket surgery. Sure, they received their annual appraisal, and they received technical feedback on their drafting. But what the Associates wanted was feedback on their softer skills. Maybe the canniest one had an eye on the near future when AI will fulfil the role of many lawyers. What the robots won’t be able to do is the touchy-feely stuff.
What the Associates wanted was real-time ‘in-flight’ feedback. Many said that the Partners were so time-poor that they didn’t want to ask them for feedback or they couldn’t find the right moment to have the conversation. Many were intimidated by the Partners and didn’t want to show any vulnerability given that the prevailing culture was ‘no news is good news’.
We also found that some Partners were not comfortable giving ‘difficult’ feedback and that is was easier to avoid the conversation. This was an area that we also sought to address.
When we questioned Partners and Associates further we found that there was a very good place to have these feedback conversations – in a Black Cab on the way to and from client meetings. In may ways the Black Cab is an ideal space to have confidential and contained feedback discussions after a client meeting.
So we have the space (back of Black Cab), we have the time (en route back to the office), but we also had to demonstrate to the Partners the power of enabling the Associates to reflect on their experience to develop greater self-insight. Our suggestion is that the Partners should ask their Associates three questions and then they need to listen to the answers. The three questions are inspired by Carole Dweck’s research into growth mindset.
This type of question removes limiting assumptions and focuses on growth mindset, increasing self-insight, and shows attention to some very intelligent people by listening to them and providing support and encouragement to help them work things out for themselves.
The important point here is that the Partner should listen and reflect back what they hear from the Associate. Listening and reflecting are some of the core conditions for good quality coaching conversations and the Black Cab creates the physical space and a reasonable amount of time to be able to have these confidential conversations.
We have been working with clients to demonstrate how these Black Cab Conversations can be beneficial and integral part of developing a feedback culture that pays dividends through in-flight learning and development – which is what nearly all of the Associates were asking for.