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Positive Encounters With Learning and Learners

Bob Little 

July 7, 2017

Many of us will have positive memories of learning from our favorite schoolteacher. Chances are that he or she fostered our love for the subject that he taught by force of personality, as much as anything else. And that likely influenced our life path, since we often base our career on the school subjects that we enjoyed most.

The favorite teacher – like the coach or mentor – likely focused on “Appreciative Coaching” (AC). This is an approach that encourages people to use their strengths to succeed (rather than focusing on how to overcome their weaknesses).

Ken Blanchard’s book, “Whale Done!,” taps into the same idea. It outlines techniques for accentuating the positive and redirecting the negative, and improving the learning experience.

Learning About Appreciative Coaching

AC’s developer Sara Orem, of San Francisco State University, co-authored – with Jacqueline Binkert and Ann Clancy – a book on this subject in 2007. AC focuses on four stages – Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny – and is based on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a technique that approaches issues by looking at what’s going right, rather than what’s going wrong.

Applying the positive principles of AI to individuals, Professor Orem realized that people are more productive and effective when they focus on their strengths. Using AC techniques in the workplace can help people to become more productive and to achieve their potential. These techniques can also help you to become someone’s “favorite teacher.”

Positive Aspects of Performance

Focusing on the positive aspects of performance to enhance it embraces a more holistic L&D philosophy than merely “doing AC.” It involves a four-step learning process:

1. Encounter

First – as in any relationship – you need to meet and get to know the person, or people, you’ll be trying to help. This will likely be via a face-to-face meeting. But, in today’s technology-driven, globalized workplace, it could also be by video.

In any case, you can’t have a relationship with someone you don’t know. That is likely why some  learning isn’t as effective as it might be since, usually, the programs’ developers don’t know – and, so, must make assumptions about – each user’s motivations and preferred learning style.

2. Enthuse

Enthusing the learner to learn and, so, improve raises the issue of what motivates learners. People have published various theories of, and approaches to, individual, team and organizational motivation. Prominent ones include Theory X and Theory Y and Motivation Theory (or Motivation Calculus).

3. Encourage

Encouragement in the workplace – as in all areas of life – is vital, believes business coach Amy Deane, of Encourage. Deane  says, “Failing to encourage those working for, and with, you leads to diminished loyalty and commitment – and rising absenteeism. All of this affects the organization’s bottom line.

“David MacLeod and Nita Clarke’s 2009 Report, ‘Engaging for Success: Enhancing performance through employee engagement,’ argued that employee engagement was fundamental for organizational success. Their report quotes the Hay Group’s 2001 Report, ‘Engage Employees and Boost Performance,’ which states that ‘engaged employees generate 43 percent more revenue than disengaged ones.’ While employee engagement has a broad definition, without doubt one of the main descriptors is that employees feel valued.

“While there’s growing interest and uptake in reward and recognition programs which rely heavily on modern technology… workers are becoming disenchanted with something that’s predominantly computer-generated. There’s a growing need for an emphasis on person-to-person encouragement skills.

“Something else that doesn’t quite work with the focus on reward and recognition is that it’s easier, for example, for a salesperson to be noticed for exceptional results than those in the support roles – the cogs who keep the whole machine running – who can easily go unnoticed for their continued good or great work.”

4. Empower

Following the previous three steps correctly should provide the conditions for empowering workers/learners. That should find expression in their increased engagement, enthusiasm, productivity, and profitability. To empower workers, you should ensure that they:

  • Are trusted.
  • Aren’t blamed when a process fails.
  • Are listened to – and guided (coached).
  • Receive frequent feedback.
  • Have authority to make decisions that relate to their jobs.
  • Are recognized and rewarded (encouraged) for empowered behavior.
  • Feel valued – encouragement plays a key part here.
  • Look beyond themselves and their job to appreciate the organization’s strategy.
  • Provide key data that influences organizational strategy and tactics.
  • Take part in goal setting and planning.

Holding People Accountable

Hugo Heij, head of IMLS Coaching & Consulting, says, “Receiving frequent feedback raises a key point about empowerment, which also reflects on AC. While I agree that a key to coaching success is to focus on people’s strengths, it’s easy to confuse this with a lack of accountability.

Not focusing on people’s weaknesses shouldn’t be the same as not holding people accountable. Getting people to grow comes by pushing them, albeit encouragingly, to go that little bit further – so that they’re able to do more.

“Yet you can’t have empowerment without accountability. In other words, you must keep asking those you’re coaching, ‘Are you doing what you said you’d do?’ and, ‘Are you doing what you should be doing?’ Asking those questions regularly means that, as a coach, you tread a fine line between being loved and feared by those you’re helping. Coaches need to encourage but they also need to push.

“It’s a bit like what your favorite teacher at school used to do for you.”

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