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Need a Personal Coach or Personal Data?

Who needs a personal coach? Every top athlete has a coach. However, most world-class musicians don’t. While every clinician should, according to Atul Gawande. What can a personal coach teach you, that you cannot learn for yourself?

Personal coaching

Personal coaching is a booming $1 billion industry. Coaches come in all shapes and sizes, to help you succeed in business, with health goals and in your personal life. Research from the Coach Federation, published in the Harvard Business Review, provides a nice overview. As it turns out, coaching is expensive, but it pays off—though quantitative proof of its effectiveness is scarce.

Why are coaches used more in certain professions?

What intrigues me is while few will dispute that a top athlete needs a coach, most will wonder why the top executive in their firm needs one. World-class musicians seem to do without one too. Could it have to do with the availability, or lack, of personal data on your own performance?

Becoming a world-class musician requires years of training. On your way to the top, you participate in all kinds of competitions. These competitions have juries that provide you with specific feedback on your performance, your style, tuning, intonation etc. Each aspect of your performance gets evaluated, every time you perform. This continuous stream of very specific feedback, gives you the opportunity to improve yourself. Or to seek help if you’re not sure how to respond to a specific critiques.

Now take sports. On your way to the top you may lose some games, but you will probably win most, or be promoted to winning teams over time. What do you learn from winning and losing? They inform you about your strength relative to that of the competition, but says nothing about your personal performance. Let alone that winning comes with hints on how or what to improve. When you are a top athlete, detailed data on throws received, batting averages, etc. are available. However, on your way to the top such data can be lacking, which is why you need a coach—someone who can tell you where and how to improve.

Personal DataThe need for personal data

Having data on your own personal performance is pivotal for improving your performance. If such data are available, you can experiment and see what works and what does not. Is that not why we are all hooked to fitbits and weight scales? However, when such data are absent, how do you know how you perform and where you can improve?

What about you as a professional?

During your training, you probably received plenty of feedback on your performance, enabling you to get where you are. Now that you have been on the job for a while, are you still getting such feedback? Are there helpful data available for you to evaluate your personal performance? Do you know how to interpret the data, and do you know how to improve? If not, a coach is probably going to be helpful.

Quoting Gawande, “in Medicine, we have the—you learn, you get licensed and you’re good to go—method [of education]. Yet in the midpoint of my career, I had kind of plateaued. I wondered: What would it be like to bring a coach into my operating room? So I brought one of my colleagues in to tell me what I was doing well and what I wasn’t doing well. And it was amazing the things I hadn’t recognized. I wasn’t using the lights well. I hadn’t set up the field as well as I could have. There were these little things that he saw that helped me.”

Improving your performance

Many of us collect data on our health daily, weekly and annually, for example at check-ups. In sum, we collect data to monitor our health. Some of us don’t need help to interpret these data and know which actions to take. Others benefit from having a health coach to give them guidance and motivation, and to help them take appropriate action and change their behavior.

What about your work performance? Improvements, and innovation for that matter, start with recognizing what can be done better. Reflection may help you to realize what should be improved. However, without data, it all remains a hunch.

Also in your work, you need personal performance data. What is your contribution to the unit, to the firm’s revenue or to client satisfaction scores? Without such personal data, it will be difficult to get better at what you do. Or even innovate. When such data are available, a coach can guide you and help motivate you to improve.

Performance data are key to innovation. Why does one person perform much better than others? What can you learn from these star performers, and what can these stars performers teach others?

Interested in learning more about the importance of data for improving performance and innovation? Please contact us at info “at” organizing4Innovation “dot” com, or visit our website to learn more



Interview with Atul Gewande in Tuesday’s Health Section of the Washington post 10/21/2014

HBR 2009 review on coaching 

 Coaching myths