Innovation is the new black. But what is it? Innovation is simply a change that adds value. Ok, so what’s coaching? In my view, coaching is a facilitated growth process that helps individuals develop and improve under the guidance of an objective 3rd party – clearly, a change that adds value.
Starting from this premise, it should be easy to spot the overlap between managing innovation and coaching an individual or team.
In both cases we’re trying to get from A to B. From our current state to one perceived to be significantly better (or at least better enough to justify the effort and expense). In a nutshell we’re talking projects.
Back in the 1980s Whitmore et al developed the GROW model which provides a widely adopted framework for the coaching process. This model encourages the examination of Goals, Reality, Options and Way Forward. It presents a well-worn formula of “what outcome do we want?”, “what is the current state and capability in this context?”, “how might we move forward?” and “what we’ll commit to doing, when and how we’ll measure success?”
Critically, this model does not explicitly consider the underlying ‘Why?’ but one would hope this gets thrashed out when looking at the goals (check out my post discussing the 5-whys). Also, there is no explicit appraisal of the capability gap although this is implied by the need to come up with credible options before deciding on an action plan.
Comparing this to my framework for successful innovation we find the steps are very similar. (i) Confirm the underlying values and the game plan or overall strategy? (ii) Envision the future once those goals have been achieved and identify candidate solutions to get there? (iii) Understand how this vision compares to the current reality and develop a projectised, evolutionary implementation plan that progressively closes the gap, (iv) Establish the necessary resources and infrastructure to set yourself up for success, (v) Deliver the initial capabilities by pro-actively managing the risks, monitoring progress, learning and adapting, (vi) Use the new capabilities to evolve and to improve successive iterations, (vii) Make sure the wins stick. Reiterate.
In my view these steps are universal and, as usual, “the devil is in the detail”. I have written before how this approach can be adopted in an operations context (read it here) and clearly the level of complexity is different for an individual compared to a business. Critically, however, many of the most useful tools can be scaled to serve both ends of the spectrum and often it’s the simplest ones that work best. One simple example is SWOT analysis that can be used at multiple levels of abstraction to quickly identify important gaps and solution enablers. I find this a great way to kick off a coaching/mentoring engagement because it encourages honest introspection and, more importantly, it unearths key skills and attributes that can be exploited to underpin the steps that follow. Of course, to be effective, it needs to be done in the context of the goals under consideration.
The bottom line here is that coaching, projects, programs, change, and innovation all follow a similar path and can, therefore, benefit from adopting some of the tools and techniques normally associated with any one of those specific domains. A carefully crafted hybrid approach can be a game changer and is something that I advocate strongly.