Are you using the right approach for coaching process improvement practitioners? Coaching is a frequent and appropriate facet of helping a workforce learn and develop. It can be a key component for supporting an organization’s process improvement system, and the personal development needs of practitioners. Coaching is often provided for people in the roles of Black Belt, Green Belt, Lean Facilitator, Project Champion, Process Owner, and other related roles. The coaching duties may belong to a functional expert, such as a Master Black Belt, rather than the person’s immediate manager.

Coaching approaches can vary based upon the specific or immediate need of the person receiving the coaching. Key factors in deciding the best approach include the current competency and goals of the person receiving the coaching, and the needs of the organization.

Process Improvement Coaches need to be aware of the various approaches, and apply the most appropriate one to the situation at hand. Coaching approaches for process improvement practitioners can be categorized as follows.

  1. Assisting – The act of helping a person accomplish a specific task. In this role, the coach may be assisting with analysis and other tasks which are challenging or beyond the current knowledge/capability for a person. This approach may be appropriate to keep an improvement initiative moving forward, and there is no immediate need or not enough time for the person to develop their skills to complete the task at hand. An example may be advanced statistical analysis for a person with only basic statistical training.
  2. Teaching – The act of helping a person learn specific skills or techniques. In this role, the coach may be utilizing reference materials and examples to help the person learn. The coach may answer questions with a direct response or guide the person to where they can find answers. This is especially appropriate when there is a need for a person to learn a specific skill, but needs assistance to supplement other instruction or self-learning.
  3. Evaluating – The act of comparing process improvement work to established standards. In this role, the coach is providing feedback about the accuracy and thoroughness of the process improvement work. The coach provides recognition for very good work, critique for sub-standard work, and suggestions for improvement. The purpose here is development, and not necessarily as part of a performance management system. The coach may ask the person for a self-appraisal before providing the coach feedback.
  4. Developmental Coaching – The act of helping a person discover answers to facilitate learning and development. In this role, the coach is asking questions rather than giving specific advice or answers. This is the highest level of coaching and the most effective for enabling people to reach their full potential.

Some would say that developmental coaching is the only approach of these four that is true coaching, and that the others are tasks performed by experts and/or managers. Even if this is accurate, many who are in coaching roles are expected to satisfy all of these needs. It is important for the coaches to know and use the correct approach for each specific coaching engagement. With skilled and appropriate coaching, learning and development will be enabled for process improvement practitioners and the organization as a whole.

About Er Ralston

Er Ralston is an accomplished coach, trainer, and advisor, specializing in business process excellence, strategic and tactical business planning, Lean management systems, Six Sigma improvement methodology, and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria for performance excellence. Er brings more than 30 years of experience in numerous operations and quality leadership interventions. He is a Lean expert and certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt.