The Slow Coach

giantI recently met an “Agile Coach”. “Agile” in its original guise is not new to me, nor is the way in which the word has been borrowed, and perhaps even abused by people, often senior leaders, who are looking for faster and cheaper results. The role of “Agile Coach” is new to me however.

When the Agile Coach talked about his work, it sounded as though he was part expert consultant in Agile methodologies, part trainer, part facilitator, part coach, part mentor and part whatever else is needed to support a software development team to deliver the goods.

The phrase itself, Agile Coach, seems fresh, relevant, appealing. Who wouldn’t want to work with an Agile Coach?

When the Agile Coach asked me what I do, I replied with a little hesitancy and some considerable shame, “well if you’re an Agile Coach, I suppose I’m a Slow Coach.”

I talked a little about my coaching work with individuals and teams and he was genuinely curious. There were similarities in the roles, but many more differences.

Why was I ashamed? That’s a pretty strong response. I’ve been reflecting on that since and I’m wondering if it is because, in the current climate of pressure for rapid change, ever faster, cheaper, and better, my approach seems slow, and anachronistic.

And yet it is what I have found to be helpful to my clients. Change, whether individual, team or organisational, is notoriously difficult and it often takes time. It is invariably punctuated by a few false starts, or middles. It can also be hard to maintain.

Most of my clients, Leadership teams and individuals, are going through significant change – starting new businesses, promotions to new positions, joining new companies, leading huge change initiatives, changing career, embracing mid-life. I work alongside them as they make their way through the equivalent of the open green spaces or the deep and dirty mires of the photo above.

Slow can be good. Some of the most delicious foods in the world have been marinated, cured or hung for a long time, or cooked very very slowly. There is an intensity, a sweetness, a richness, a deep satisfaction in such epicurean delights.

And “slow” is better than “no”. We all know the stats – that around 70% of all change initiatives fail to deliver their objectives.

Organisations fearful of losing their competitive advantage spend much time and many resources looking for ways to pick up the pace. Paradoxically, they should try slowing down instead. In our study of 343 businesses (conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit), the companies that embrace initiatives to go, go, go to try to gain an edge ended up with lower sales and operating profits than those that paused at key moments to make sure they were on the right track. What’s more, the firms that “slowed down to speed up” improved their top and bottom lines, averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three-year period.”

This is an extract from the May 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review. The article “Need Speed? Slow Down” by Jocelyn R. Davis and Tom Atkinson points out that these higher performing companies “became more open to ideas and discussion. They encouraged innovative thinking. And they allowed time to reflect and learn.”

For my clients, the “Slow Coach” approach seems to help. We take time to notice, to reflect, to learn, and then to apply that learning. Then we take time to notice, reflect, learn and apply some more.

For them, I will continue to be a “Slow Coach”, without any shame.

If you are interested in experiencing the Slow Coach approach for yourself, perhaps you might like to join the wonderful John Wenger and I in London on 6th October for “The Art of Emergence – a mid-life exploration”. Here’s the link;