My #SHRM17 interview with Sara Noll Wilson

by John on June 12, 2017

With the annual SHRM conference just around the corner, the time has come to start planning what sessions you’d like to attend. As part of the blogging teams continuing coverage of the annual conference, I had an opportunity to interview Ms. Sara Noll Wilson, Talent and Development Manager for ARAG North America.

My curiosity was piqued when I was starting to create my list of sessions that I wanted to attend. I was really intrigued when I saw the title of her session “Creating a Coaching Culture”. This is one of those fundamental parts of our profession, and has far reaching implications across organizations.

Naturally digging a bit deeper, I was pleasantly surprised to see that what Sara and her colleague Erin will be covering in their session is not only incredibly relevant, but, becoming a skill set that is necessary in today’s incredibly competitive business climate as well as in the future.

Enough of my babbling, let’s get to the good stuff.

JN: Why should I consider tying to implement “coaching” into my organizations culture?
SNW: I think it is important to define what we mean when we say “coaching.” Coaching is a term used to describe everything from training to mentoring. We subscribe to the definition “through deep listening and thoughtful questions, you increase self-awareness, explore possibilities and inspire action.” If coaching can help us and our team members increase self-awareness, explore possibilities, and inspire action – then you can see there are many reasons to invest in coaching.

Here are three of those main reasons:

  1. Your talent is your competitive advantage. We know right now we are in an employees’ market, so to speak. The average tenure of employees is less than five years and it decreased significantly in younger generations. Not only do companies need to retain top talent, they need to develop team members’ full potential. Coaching is a powerful approach to help build necessary skills, critical thinking, openness to possibilities, resiliency, and self-efficacy. We have also found in our personal measurement that coaching can help increase team members’ engagement – especially their sense of vigor for their work.
  2. Increase relationships built on trust by decreasing the amount of telling/selling and growing the amount of co-creating. Yes, there is a time when you just need to give advice or tell someone information. But many situations could benefit from a deeper reflection and conversation. Judith Glaser has shown in her Conversational Intelligence research that behaviors like listening to connect and asking curious questions can increase the chemicals related to trust. It is a powerful experience to be heard by another person with curiosity and without judgment.
  3. Coaching works – I’ve been in the field of teaching/talent development for more than 14 years. I’ve not seen another approach that can consistently deepen learning and inspire action. Other talent development strategies, such as training, tend to be more event focused and suffer from lack of performance support and transfer of learning. Informal coaching allows us to connect with the learning, explore options and confidently move forward. Taking a coaching approach to conversations helps managers and team members more effectively manage those difficult conversations. Formal coaching (scheduled sessions for a period of time) allows for regular reflection and accountability.

*I feel the need to clarify that coaching takes both parties to be interested in improving. It is difficult to coach the unwilling. But even if someone is unwilling, you can still give them your full attention, listen deeply, and ask powerful questions.

JN: What are some of the top skills a manager must have to be a good coach?
SNW: Coaching is simple not easy. There are two main skills a manager should work on to build his or her coaching muscle:

  1. Deep listening – Listening is like driving – we all think we are better at than we really are. In my experience, most people feel they are good listeners until they experience what deep listening feels like. Often, we are listening for enough information to solve a problem, listening for a break so we can talk, or listening to gather information so we can prove a point. Most of us listen from the perspective of “What does this mean to me?” That isn’t bad or wrong but it will not serve you as a coach. Deep listening means you are focused on “What does this mean to them?” You are listening to what the other person is saying, what are they not saying, what does their body language say, etc. Your focus isn’t on you, but on them.
  2. Powerful Questions – Ask questions from a place of curiosity and exploration to deepen the other person’s learning. For example, ask open-ended question vs. closed-ended questions. If the person can answer with a simple yes or no, that is not a powerful question. For example – Instead of “Did you talk with your manager?” ask “Who have you talked with? Who do you need to talk with?” Ask questions to challenge a new perspective like “What do you think the other person might be feeling right now?” or “What role did you play in this situation?” Sometimes the most powerful question or statement is “Tell me more” or “And what else?”

JN: I’m already a great communicator, why should I attend your session to learn how to be a “coach?”
SNW: When I hear “great communicator,” I think of someone who is really good at talking and explaining their ideas – which is different than coaching. While the skills of coaching are the same as great communication skills, what makes it different is your intent. Your goal is not for you to be understood, but instead for the other person to better under themselves and the situation.

As a point of clarification, while we will facilitate a powerful coaching exercise for attendees, we will not teach people how to coach. Instead, our focus is on the larger company strategy. How do you create a coaching culture? People who are interested in coaching in their organizations should attend because we will we share our strategy in detail, they will experience an exercise that will help them and their managers’ listen more deeply, and we will answer questions. Not to mention we also have a few surprises for the participants.

JN: I always like to close with this question, what do you like to do for fun?
SNW: Play is an important value in my life, I call it Plurpose (play with purpose). I love playing games of all types with friends and family. My husband and I collect vintage Nintendo games and have an ever-growing game room we like to share with others. I LOVE learning and am prone to inspiration so I have an unhealthy addiction to books in my field of work. Another fun fact is I have performed improvisation and stretch that muscle whenever possible for the past 13 years.

JN: Thank you Sara for taking the time to chat, I truly appreciate it!

Sara Noll Wilson and Erin Barfels of ARAG North America will be presenting “Creating a Coaching Culture” on Monday, June 19, 2017 at 10:45am and on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 7:00am. Two sessions, an amazing topic, you have no excuses to not make their session. Heck, with Sara’s improv background I can already tell you that this is not a session to be missed (No pressure Sara…jk).

Sarah Noll Wilson is an innovative and creative talent development specialist with a passion for helping organizations, teams, and individuals discover their greatness and live intentionally. She has more than 13 years of talent development experience representing key organizations in the central Iowa business community. Sarah holds a master’s degree specializing in leadership development. She is an adjunct professor at Drake University where she teaches graduate classes on leadership development, and a guest lecturer at the University of Northern Iowa’s School of Business. Sarah is a trained coach and when she isn’t facilitating, learning, or performing, she and her husband are puppy parents to Seymour and Sally.

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