What coaching means to me – part two

A coach is a person able to teach, train and advise someone, to improve skills and/or practice and to make his/her coachee reflect about achievements and how to improve from the lessons learned.

It takes some experience and skill to coach others, that’s why I am not comfortable hearing the words coach or coaching that often is business, these words being used way too lightly in my opinion.

>Read What coaching means to me – part one

Many of the alleged coachings are nothing more than a kind of facilitation or workshop moderation. Coaching may sound better and please the facilitator’s ego, but it isn’t coaching.

What coaching means to me is living a significant part of time with the coachee on the shop floor or gemba (can be an office, warehouse, hospital, whatsoever) and making use of real problems to help him/her to improve his/her ability to cope with unexpected and random situations.

It may well need a structured approach, a set of principles, methods and a toolbox, but real-life problems are seldom solved in the way the examples in training classes depict.

Many of the real-life problems need a bit of creativity because they may be similar to previously experienced ones, but slight differences can hinder the same solutions to apply. A coach should have the ability to find a way to overcome this kind of difficulty and design a suitable experiment for solving the problem.

When a problem arises, it is an opportunity for the coach to see how the coachee is approaching it, and if needed give some advice and later feedback.

The coach does not need to know the solution and have answers to everything, but at least have the ability to analyze and make out a way to attack a problem in a structured way, then help his/her coachee to do the same without too much interference. After all, it’s the coachee’s golden opportunity to learn.

Except when regulatory constraint, if so-called coaches keep sticking to the book or procedures and are reluctant to “experiment”, it’s usually a sign of lack of experience and/or maturity. The stronger the cling, the less useful the “coach”.

The “coaching” mentioned in part one is therefore more about procedure reinforcement than real coaching. Its value lies maybe in the rollout of the Lean program but not in developing people’s skills.

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What coaching means to me – part one

In business we hear “coaching” a lot, maybe too often. While passing over knowledge and experience or helping people to improve a practice is a good thing, the way I see coaching done is far from delivering this kind of value.

The latest case is with a large corporation having launched a Lean program – even it isn’t called Lean nor program – with a framework of principles and chosen tools, and “coaching” as a way to cascade it.

The coaching is much inspired by Mike Rother’s Toyota Kata and looks good on paper. The limitations and flaws appeared when I witnessed it being done.

The coaching starts from the top of the hierarchical pyramid and is supposed to be cascaded down by each layer to the next subordinate one.

The “master coaches” come from a central Lean Promotion Office, young brilliant people familiar with the theory and trained to support the corporate program. Very few have any practical experience with applying Lean methods, tools or techniques.

These coaches will set appointments with managers and train and coach those to gemba-walk and carry out a much scripted routine. The coaching is merely explaining the procedure or script, give some side explanations about purpose and consistency within the corporate program and most of all, stand behind the coachee with a kind of checklist and make sure the procedure is accurately followed.

Obviously what matters to these coaches is the compliance to the scripted routine. If the gemba-walker is unable to notice problems and improvement points it is unimportant as long as the routine is carried out correctly. I assume the coaches would not be able to spot the problems and improvement points neither, as so many problems are left unattended even after series of scripted gemba walks.

Once these routines are consistently carried out in appropriate manner, the coachee is qualified to coach his/her subordinates in a similar way.

The cascading coaching is planned over the year and it will take about that time to get a department through the whole cascading process.

Unlike Mike Rother’s recommendations, these coachings are not everyday practice, but scheduled events. As you can guess, the middle management considers it as additional chore, and goes through it dragging feet just to be compliant and avoid trouble.

>Read part two

You may also like: You don’t give me answers, you ask questions

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12 tips for leading in a downturn

Slowdown, downturn, crisis, recession, words and condition that are around for some time now and for some businesses it seems to be the new normal.
I witnessed several companies’ and their leaders’ reactions when facing difficulties and I’d like to share my list of dos and don’ts.

Elevate your ambition


Chris HOHMANN – Author

When time is hard for business and everybody in the company gets anxious about the future, the ambition should be more appealing than the disappointing “live another day” and its variants. Yet how many times did I came across a similar sounding “ambition”! Frightening.

The leader’s skills, including inspire others, are supposed to show in troubled times. Gather your staff around a higher ambition, prepare all together the exit of the crisis and the turning of the vision into reality.

If the crisis is severe, people are more open to challenges and changes. Go for a leap, not a timorous step.


When times get tough for your business, it’s time to (re)consider what your business is. instead of trying anything in order to meet the plan or budget, take a moment to (re)state what the purpose of your organization is.

With purpose clarified, the organization’s precious (and scarce?) resources can be focused on the purpose and deliver more, better.

I strongly believe that this exercise, in many cases, is enough to re-energize the staff and get better through the hard times.

Tip: with the Goal (re)set, the Goal Tree is a great tool to define all Necessary Conditions and on what to focus to achieve the Goal. Using the Goal Tree is a framework will help to break the new strategy down into concrete, meaningful and strictly necessary actions.

Search your blue ocean

The slowdown may be the result of recession and/or of competition. It may be the right time to question your offering and how it ranks compared to competition. You may be swimming with sharks in the blood-red ocean and then it is the right time to think about leaping into a quiet blue ocean, free from shark-like competition.

Make a side step, reinvent, do different

If you are to remain in the same business, and chances are you will, then what would distinguish your product, service, offering or company from competition?

Be bold. It’s about disruption, not small incremental change. You’ll have to surprize your customers, outmatch your competitors and inspire your staff.

So what sidestep would get you out of the war of attrition? How can you reinvent your business, products, services and get a wow effect in your market? What can you do different?

Ask your staff, all of them. Those closest to market and customers may have the right answers.

Sometimes brilliant ideas unexpectedly originate from people or departments you would not think about: accounting, finance, HR, delivery truck drivers…

Improve. Revisit your processes and create more value

In tough times customers are pickier, more demanding. They may be worried just the way everybody is but still have needs and problems to solve. Revisit your processes and improve in order to create more value for your customers.

Again, be bold! Competition may adjust to minor improvements and keep up. They may be afraid or unable to follow a bolder move.

Show confidence

Keep your worries for yourself or a very close circle. To all others, show confidence. Staff nor customers don’t like worried bosses/suppliers/partners. They are worried themselves. If you can’t show confidence in what you stand for, employees may seek more secure haven for themselves and customers will seek alternate suppliers or solutions.

Trust your staff, it’s not your enemy

Concentrate your energy to outmatch competition, not to harass your workforce. Too often worried managers turn their disappointment or anger towards their staff. Chances are few the situation is the staff’s fault, so why bother them?

Better build up a task force engage your team in finding and building a way out. Your staff is your ally, not your enemy.

So far for the dos , let’s see some don’ts

Don’t harass your staff because they have less to do in the downturn

When activity slows down it is normal to have more slack time. Consider using this freed time for training or creating new value for the customers, finding a way out of the crisis…

Refrain from micromanagement.

Constantly looking over the shoulders of your staff will not help getting out of the crisis, but will only stress your workforce more, show your lack of consideration and confidence.

Again, you cannot get angry with your staff just because business is not that good anymore.

Do not be unfair

If you are disappointed about some of your workforce not taking initiatives, first ask yourself if they ever were encouraged to take some or if this is a sudden expectation of yours.
Second, ask yourself if you gave enough insight and direction for people to understand where you want the organization to go, what the Goal and objectives are.
Third, if people are not the self starters you’re hoping, why did you / your organization hire them? What did you / your organization do to develop them?
If you objectively did everything to have autonomous self starters and they don’t behave like this, you may further ask questions about their attitude, by using the BlessingWhite X model for example.

Chances are that your workforce is nothing more than a representation of the general population, with some brilliant people, a bulk of average people and a some below average but still good enough for coping with their chores.
And chances are that your competition is not better off.

Don’t change direction every morning

In difficult periods doubt may surface about the strategy, the pricing, the customer relationship, about almost everything. Keep your cool and do not change direction too often. First because it will only confuse everybody, second because it will show your state of panic. Remember: people expect to have a self-confident leader.

You may conduct some experiments, but structure them with some consistency, show an overarching logic. If you can’t link the different ideas with some straightforward logic, some elements may have to be questioned.

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How sound logical thinking improves fishbone diagrams

Fishbone diagram is known by different names: Ishikawa diagram, cause-and-effect analysis or cause-and-effect diagram. Fishbone diagrams are popular on shop floors as they are easy to understand visual tools.

The principle of a fishbone diagram is to list all possible causes leading to an effect (usually the problem to solve) and to sort them into “families” sharing commonalities.

These families are the main bones of the diagram. In order to get a fishbone diagram started a common way is to go for the famous “5Ms”, standing for Man, Machine, Material, Method, Mother Nature.

The five Ms are common families of causes of trouble experienced in industry and became a kind of standard to start a cause and effect analysis. Typically, one draws a triangle (the fish’s head holding the effect to analyse), a horizontal line which is the fish’s backbone and five slant bones from the horizontal one with the 5M’s at their end.


Note that a fishbone diagram must not be limited to these five Ms and it is not mandatory to use them. The 5Ms are just a convenient mnemotechnic.

A fishbone diagram is an appropriate support for brainstorming and ordering the outputs. The different named main bones will lead to explore the relative families of causes and propose ideas of potential causes. Then, the various ideas can be sorted according to the family each main bone stands for.

Yet too often I see fishbone diagrams cluttered with listed causes that are not likely to influence the effect. This is maybe where nicknaming the cause-effect diagram / analysis “fishbone” leads to forget what should be looked for: cause-to-effect relationship.

Now a true cause-effect relationship should respond to the “if [cause] then [effect]” sentence. If the proposal makes no sense, the cause-to-effect relationship is questionable.

A variant may be “if [cause] then [effect] because [justification]”


If the issue to solve is a frequent drive motor overload on a conveyor belt causing a circuit breaker to shut off. The proposal “rain” as such will not be valid: “if (it) rain(s) then drive motor gets overloaded” is not logically sound, as nobody can understand a direct link between rain and circuit breaking.

The proposal may be refined and rephrased. It could be that the person thinking about rain was actually considering the supplement of weight of transported goods when they get soaked by rain: “if it rains, then goods get heavier when soaked and if goods are heavier, the power required to move the belt may cause the breaker to shut off”.

If no logical relationship can be established between the proposed cause and the effect under study, the proposal may be discarded for the sake of efficiency.

Using the “if [cause] then [effect]” sentence will filter out irrelevant proposals and get better diagrams.

A valid proposal would be “worn out ball bearings”, expressed in full sentence like: “If ball bearings are worn out, then the drive motor gets overloaded because the belt dragging increases”.

Improving the cause-effect analysis

When using a cause-effect diagram, it can be improved in two ways:

  1. Ask participants to bring ideas compliant to the cause-effect relationship, which somewhat constrains the brainstorming
  2. If the brainstorming phase should be kept uncensored, collect all proposals and then check each of them with the “if [cause] then [effect]” sentence before placing it onto the diagram

An additional benefit of using the “if [cause] then [effect]” sentence is to improve the proposals’ statement. Too often elder cause-effect diagrams are undecipherable because of the way the proposed causes have been stated. Using full (short) sentences with sound logic will help anyone to read the diagram, even if not involved in its construction. Such diagrams will still be understandable long after they’ve been drawn.

Final reminder

Having nice logically sound causes in a cause-effect diagram does not insure the causes actually exist. Therefore after populating such a diagram with possible causes, it is mandatory to check their existence and reality on the spot. In Lean-aware companies, we would say go to the gemba!

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