Ready to coach? Making use of new skills

By Hugh Alley   

Industry Manufacturing Coaching Lean manufacturing traing

Obstacles and escalating priorities can sap a team leader’s will to learn.

Coaching provides structure.

Lean expert (Modele Consulting) Dorsey Sherman’s presentation at the KataCon6 conference in February questioned the meaning of the word “coach.” During the discussion, Mike Rother, author of Toyota Kata, asked how much managers, supervisors and team leaders really wanted to develop their skills. Did they want to learn to coach, or were they just doing it to respond to pressure?

Many answers reflected disinterest. One attendee reported a coaching program where 30 managers/supervisors finished a 90-day program but only 15% of them actually carried on using their new skills.

What can we learn from this? Here are five possible conclusions:

  1. The employer didn’t measure or reward the behaviour so they ignored it.
  2. Only outcomes were rewarded, people development is ignored.
  3. Frontline managers face so many ‘priorities’ the initiative got lost.
  4. Frontline managers were previously chastised for the new behaviour.
  5. Participants felt discouraged by the obstacles to using their new skills.

But two factors point to the best answer.


The first is something Deming talked about 60 years ago. A lot of people discouraged by obstacles put in their way give up.

The other comes courtesy of a 2015 Gallup study. It found while executives typically have 10 priorities, at the front line they become over 40 ‘priorities.’ With that many, there are no priorities, only urgent requests.

If you are frustrated your latest initiative is floundering, ask yourself the following questions:

• What unintended obstacles make it hard to do what is asked?

• Are your front-line leaders clear about priorities?

Go to the production floor to ask the front-line leaders directly, “What do you understand to be the priorities of the organization right now?” and “What things are currently preventing you from addressing those priorities?” Don’t argue or correct their answers. Just listen, then thank them.

These answers will provide more clarity about what to do next.

Hugh Alley is an industrial engineer based in the Vancouver area who helps organizations achieve significant performance gains. Call (604) 866-1502 or e-mail

This feature originally appeared in the October 2020 print issue of PLANT Magazine.


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