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What Too Many Leaders Get Wrong with Coaching Kata

by Elizabeth Carrington
November 14, 2017

What Too Many Leaders Get Wrong with Coaching Kata

by Elizabeth Carrington
November 14, 2017 | Comments (2)

Kata. It's a wonderful practice that gives us a scientific method for hitting our goals and building a robust lean culture. Yet LEI faculty Beth Carrington has seen too many leaders make a critical mistake that can undermine their Kata efforts at the roots. Today she shares that mistake and how we can avoid it.

Let’s start from the ground up. What is the role of coaching in Kata?

The idea of the Coaching Kata is to help embed a very specific and desired way of thinking and acting that a Learner habitualizes through frequent, intentional and course corrected practice. The desired ways of thinking and acting are built on the scientific method, where a learner experiments to learn how to recognize and overcome obstacles on their way to achieving goals beyond their threshold of knowledge.  This scientific approach builds an innovative approach to achieving goals as opposed to an implementation approach. Think of doing quick-cycle PDCA: laying out an experiment, then comparing our prediction with what actually happened and then learning from that moment before continuing on with a next PDCA cycle. 

So the role of the Coaching Kata is to teach this scientific approach through structured - short but frequent - coaching sessions. The Coaching Kata teaches the thought pattern (mental model) where a learner experiments to learn how to recognize and overcome obstacles on their way to achieving goals beyond their threshold of knowledge. The Coaching Kata is structured sessions between a Coach and a Learner that follows a very defined pattern, repeated frequently (as close to daily as possible) and gives the Coach an opportunity to give course correction feedback to their Learner.

We practice both the Coaching Kata and Improvement Kata during our two or three-day courses, to expose people to these routines to build their awareness and through Master Coach practice we prepare them for their own intentional or deliberate practice in their organizations.

Think of doing quick-cycle PDCA: laying out an experiment, then comparing our hypothesis with what actually happened and then learning from that moment before continuing on with the cycle.

So it stands to good reason that many managers out there want to Kata coach their own direct reports right away. But is there a pitfall in them doing that?

Oh yes. The common flaw in that rush to coach is that many managers will just jump in, believing they can teach this routine without themselves first making Kata a habit or learning the methodology behind it. When a manager takes the time to learn and habitualize Kata, they create what I would refer to as a mental construct, about what the improvement Kata actually looks and feels like so construct they can internalize it themselves. Then when they do the one-two-three of coaching, they will have a mental construct to compare their learners' behaviors against.

Kata isn’t exactly something you can just dive headfirst into. Why do so many managers think they can do Kata without learning and practicing first?

One, it's probably how they have been managed, and when we first enter the workplace. Every manager tends to manage a little bit differently and what we might do is pick and choose the behaviors we like and hopefully incorporate those into our own behavior. So as we become managers we're doing it - at least the way we thought an effective manager does it. And that’s a disaster waiting to happen.

For example, last week I was with an organization going through this exact scenario; they have three thousand managers, and they're of all sorts, all levels. That means they currently have three thousand different coaching routines going on.

What they desire is to have one routine, what they have made is a very concerted effort to create what we would call a Meta Habit. A Meta Habit is a routine that can be used against any content. Any kind of process, any level in the organization, it’s one routine to fit all. Unless the organization launches one consistent, concerted effort to build its own Kata or its own structured routine, they are going to have three thousand ways of coaching people, and it's hard to develop anyone that way. The idea of the Coaching Kata at its core is the idea of having one routinized approach to developing capabilities; to think scientifically; to act scientifically.

So what’s the remedy? What’s the best way for a manager to properly learn Kata so he or she can use it on others?

The first thing is to do it; it's to practice the routine - whatever routine you are trying to develop skills in - you have to practice it. There are some key aspects of that practice. The practice needs to be deliberate or intentional, meaning you have to actually be in the moment and think about the behavior that you are practicing. Sometimes I think it's an ignition – you have to want to do it and you have to be present in it to begin to actually habitualize yourself. You need to be deliberate in your practice; you need to practice it perfectly, which means you have to follow the routine very specifically and you should practice it frequently. These three elements are part of what the manager has to do; practice the Improvement Kata deliberately, perfectly and frequently. Hopefully, they practice under their own coach’s guidance so they're getting the corrective feedback they need to make their practice perfect.

And I also like to remind Kata coaches-in-training that the frequency of practice sessions is more important than the duration. When we begin to work with organizations embedding coaching Kata, we're talking coaching sessions that take just fifteen minutes, but they're done every day; or at least as close to every day as possible. Neural science tells us that very frequent, short bursts of learning, are better than one long learning session.

 Editor's Note: Learn more about Kata from Beth Carrington in her upcoming workshop, Improvement Kata / Coaching Kata, December 5-7 at LEI's Cambridge headquarters.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  coaching,  kata,  management
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2 Comments | Post a Comment
Linda Murphy November 14, 2017
4 People AGREE with this comment

Thank you for acknowledging the complexity of organizational culture. The Lean community talks a lot about culture change, but how do you make a company actually operate in a more entrepreneurial fashion? It doesn't work to just add (currently popular) scientific experimenting on top of the existing management approach and hope to arrive at the organization of the future. I think humans grow more comfortable with uncertainty by developing new habits to replace some of their old habits, and that's achieved through deliberate practice. Furthermore, as you point out, maybe the managers have to be the ones to go first.

And there's more ... you can't start with a 20-mile run. Instead, as BJ Fogg points out, you start by practicing some tiny habits, or *Starter Kata,* which begins a process of modifying deep-set mindsets that drive behavior. Starter Kata are especially helpful if you want to create a shared way of thinking and acting across a group of people—a deliberate culture—because everyone starts with the same basics.



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Jeff Liker November 14, 2017
8 People AGREE with this comment

Beth has some great points.  It is particularly interesting that managers assume they can already use a disciplined, scientific thinking process and therefore they are ready to coach.  Having tried to teach this to many managers they seem particularly bad at following the process and want to jump quickly to solutions to get results.  It is a bit like the statement that Doctors make the worst patients.  Many executives and managers seem to make the worst learners. So as coaches they transmit their biases and coach the way they think which leads to more of the same rather than a change in thinking.  This is particularly tempting when you have thousands of managers and "if we try to coach each one for months every day it will take forever."



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