What does it take to be and stay successful as a lean innovation coach? Aaron Eden talked with award-winning entrepreneur and lean innovation coach George Ankomah this fall for our Entrepreneurial Spirit in the Enterprise Innovation Coach Spotlight series podcast. Here are the highlights of what George had to say.
Start with the basics: training, communication, fearless self-awareness
George’s first step with any coaching team is to build a solid, common foundation with lean innovation and creative ideation training. This may seem redundant, but it ensures that the team members are on a level playing field (and repetition of the basics never hurt anyone). As a coach this also helps George assess team members’ level of skill, expertise and motivation. The second step is good communication, clearly stating his role and goals as a coach along with what the team wants and needs to achieve. He also constantly evaluates his role, performance, content relevance and evaluation methods, even to the point where he regularly asks himself if he is the right fit for the team and if coaching is still the best use of his skills and talents.
Avoid these coaching pitfalls
George regularly keeps in mind two mistakes that coaches make, and that he made himself early in his career: You’re not a team member, and you’re not a guru. It’s critical to maintain the external perspective of being the coach. He reminds us, “You’re not there to do it. You’re there to support the team in their ability to do it. You don’t want them looking to you for their performance instead of looking to themselves as a team.” This is rewarding in the end; as he explains, “You’re kind of like an angel working from the shadows. One of the biggest compliments you can get is when an organization has the opinion that they’ve achieved a success on their own. It’s not a bad thing when a customer claims their success and doesn’t mention you.”
Overcoming innovation team success roadblocks
One of George’s solid tenets is that “Pure intrinsic motivation fuels the success of the team.” He finds that the following factors often stand in the way of that pure motivation: lack of support from management, politics and heavy stakeholder management. “If the team knows that their work isn’t being carried by the rest of the organization 100%,” he explains, “they’ll just do their own thing.” He recommends that coaches deal with these common factors head on and ahead of time. “You need to know what forces are at play within an organization before you start working with a team or on a project,” he advises, “Who are the innovation champions? Who are the potential deal-breakers?” He adds, “You need the full buy-in of the one hiring you as well as the one above the one that hires you to make sure you have that full support upfront.”
It also requires a high level of creativity to keep that team motivation strong. “Sometimes my challenge as a coach is making sure that a team is creative enough to find solutions to roadblocks within the rules of corporate departments like compliance and legal,” he remarks, “Especially within heavily regulated industries like banks or venture funds.”
Keeping fit as a coach
When asked how he keeps his coaching skills sharp and continues to grow personally and professionally, George repeats his three-word mantra, “knowledge, network and reflection.” He makes sure he knows the business he’s working in, stays on top of technology and understands what’s happening in the wider world of enterprise. Maintaining his network within and outside of his clients and among his coaching peers is also critical. “It’s all about good relationships,” he advises. And for the reflection piece, as mentioned above, George is fearless about his own self-evaluation, to the point where he regularly asks himself if coaching is still the right fit for his skills. He and his coaching peers regularly evaluate one another’s performance, and George is also evaluated by the teams he coaches.
The multifaceted aspects of coaching are what make the job rewarding. “You’re a tightrope walker and a clown at the same time,” George explains. “You need to keep them positive. You’re not only the coach; you might be a consultant at times or a teacher or Mr. Miyagi. And sometimes you just need to be a pain in the ass to make sure that people push themselves and raise the bar.”