The job of the process excellence coach is to help develop skills for problem solving and continuous improvement.  Coaches can play a critical role in developing capability of both individuals and organizations to pursue and achieve excellence.  Training alone is not enough.  People need coaching when they are learning and practicing new skills until they gain confidence and habit for utilization of systematic problem solving skills.  All individuals and organizations are unique and because of this, process excellence coaches need to ask effective questions to gain a better understanding of their coachees and the challenges they are facing.

Process excellence coaches can help coachees with a multitude of challenges.  Following are some of the most common challenges and potential questions that a process excellence coach may ask.

General Questions and Goal Setting:

Coaches may begin by asking very general questions to gain insight on the organization and the organization’s goals, not all questions are centered around a specific topic.  These questions may include the following:

  • Overall, what would you like to accomplish through coaching support?
  • What would you like to accomplish in this coaching session?
  • What would be a good first step that you could feel good about?
  • What else?
  • How did you decide that?
  • Does this feel like the right decision?
  • How confident are you?

Problem Focus:

After getting to know an individual or an organization, coaches should begin to focus on particular issues within the coachees organization.  One issue that organizations often struggle with is knowing what problems to focus on at a given time.  In this instance, coaches should ask questions that help coachees focus on issues that are important and well understood.  The following are effective questions that a process excellence coach may ask.

  • What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  • How do you know it is a problem?
  • Have you confirmed the opportunity with data?
  • How do you know this is an important problem to address?
  • Have you considered other improvement opportunities?
  • Will this initiative be supported by key stakeholders?
  • Are team resources available?
  • What issues do you anticipate?

Creative Thinking:

Another area where process excellence coaches can aid coachees in is helping to better their creative thinking skills.  Effective creative thinking skills will help generate innovative solutions.  By asking questions, coaches can help coachees think beyond initial solution concepts and explore what else could be considered.  The following are questions that a process excellence coach could ask when attempting to build creative thinking skills.

  • What specific factor are we focusing on?
  • Does that idea make value flow?
  • How else could you solve this problem?
  • What other possibilities are there?
  • What would help you to generate additional ideas?
  • How could we combine these ideas?

Coaching through Roadblocks/Barriers:

Dealing with barriers and roadblocks is an issue that most individuals and organizations face.  Process excellence coaches will help their client effectively identify roadblocks, determine if they are real, figure out why they exist, and help determine what the realistic alternatives are for getting beyond a road block.  Following are questions that a process excellence coach could ask when dealing with roadblocks.

  • How do you know?
  • What can you do?
  • What can you control?
  • Why can’t it happen?
  • What can you do to get past the barrier?

Leadership Engagement and Support:

A key success factor for continuous improvement is gaining leadership engagement and support.  Process excellence coaches should help coachees develop strategies and approaches for managing upward to gain active support for process improvement work.  Coaches may ask the following questions to help the coachee engage leaders to support improvement activities.

  • Are your leaders committed to the company?
  • Need help coming up with sufficient questions?
  • What are some of the most important things to your leadership?
  • How important is this initiative to your leader?
  • How do you know?
  • How does this initiative align to leadership priorities?
  • In the past, what tactics have been successful for getting leadership support for key issues?

Workforce Engagement and Support:

Another key factor for an organization to be successful depends on the workforce and employee engagement in improvement activities.  When an organization’s employees are engaged and supportive of one another, continuous improvement becomes ever more likely to occur.  Coaches can ask the following questions to help the coachee engage co-workers to support improvement activities.

  • Are you giving the employees something of value or importance to strive for?
  • How does this initiative benefit the workforce and those affected?
  • What are the reasons that employees may not be supportive?  How do you know?
  • In the past, what tactics have been successful for getting employees to support key issues?

Converting Ideas into Action:

One of the final areas that process excellence coaches can help is by helping coachees convert ideas into action.  This means that coaches should help coachees translate ideas and potential actions into specific actions they will take with committed deliverables and timeframes.  The following are questions a process excellence coach could ask a coachee when attempting to convert ideas into action.

  • What are the steps you need to take to make this idea a reality?
  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • When do you plan on achieving your first deliverable? Second deliverable? Etc.
  • What will you do to keep on track and ensure completion?
  • What obstacles do you expect?  How will you mitigate the risk from potential obstacles?

When process excellence coaches ask effective questions, they will have a better understanding of an organization as a whole, their processes, their employees, and their desired outcomes.  By gaining insight into an organization, process excellence coaches will be able to give professional advice and push an organization in the correct direction towards continuous improvement and effective problem solving skills.

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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.