Coaching versus criticism

By Matt Kepple 2 years ago . 5 minute read

“Using performance data for the sole purpose of determining whether someone or something has passed or failed is like using a smartphone solely to make voice calls. There is so much more that a smartphone can do if you are willing to embrace its apps. Similarly, there is so much that any kind of performance data can tell us about our work if we are willing to embrace its insights.

Fundamentally it comes down to our mindset. Our relationship with data is driven by how we see ourselves. For people and organisations that believe in their ability to continually develop, performance data is a source of insight that drives strategic decision-making across the board. Whereas among people and institutions where they define their ability by what they are able to achieve in the here and now, performance data is merely another yard stick to determine whether they have succeeded or failed. And with that comes the associated behaviours of blame, criticism and defensiveness when bad results are published. But when bad results can be hidden, it gives rise to other behaviours; fudging the numbers, deflection and corruption.

Too many organisations find themselves in the second camp. Toxic for company culture and an anathema to collaboration, the fixed mindset puts people and organisations on a pathway to decline. When you are avoiding the signs that things are going wrong because you are more focused on the face, you feel you need to portray to the outside world, you deny yourself and your organisation the opportunity to turn things around.

And turnaround is possible. Just ask any successful athlete. They belong to the first camp that feeds on performance data as fuel for growth. According to Carol Dweck whose research explained the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset, the growth mindset comes down to a single decision: whether you choose to believe the science that says that when you go beyond your comfort zone to try new things, your brain forms new neurons and you become smarter. There are pressures on us that make us not want to believe this because it introduces a risk: what if the potential improvement does not happen? Yes, but what if it does and moreover, what if you could stack the odds to increase the likelihood that it did?

That’s the role for coaching versus criticism. You have a wealth of expertise at your disposal that can be used to catalyse improvement in performance. Consider internal experts within your organisation, consider your peers in other organisations who have faced and overcome similar challenges. And for the challenges that involve breaking new ground in places forerunners have not trodden before, lie the tactics of innovation and experimentation. These three growth accelerators can be used with a growth mindset to coach better performance out of your teams and your partners.

If you are a senior leader in any organisation, are you cultivating a growth mindset among your teams or is there a culture of hiding poor results? If you are a funder in the civil society sector, do your grantees and contract holders know that you expect a growth mindset of them or are you using their performance data purely as a yardstick for success and failure?

The reality is that we live in a world where we spend more time on criticism than we do on coaching. We put more emphasis on saying whether something is right or wrong than on understanding how to make things improve. This isn’t the path to progress. But as with all journeys, we can change the path we take.

About Matt Kepple

CEO, Makerble

Matt Kepple is founder and CEO of Makerble, the world's progress platform. Prior to starting Makerble and launching its first product for social impact measurement, Matt developed the global Pawprint campaign for World Animal Protection, became a Social Enterprise Ambassador at the appointment of The Cabinet Office, cofounded both The Commission for Youth Social Enterprise and The Youth Funding Network, and became a Fellow of The RSA. One of Matt's anchoring beliefs is convinced that people are inherently good and that when people don't participate, it's our responsibility to innovate. This theme was explored in Matt's TEDx Talk at Cambridge University; Our Dreams Were Made For Sharing.