The “coaching kata” is key to changing behavior and changing behavior is key to changing the culture. Implementing lean management or changing the culture of organizations comes down to changing behavior… habitual behavior. I define culture as the sum of the habits of a group, and those habits include habits of thought, emotion and overt behavior.

Most change agents struggle with how to change the habits of managers and front line employees. One shot training workshops do not get the job done. Behavior quickly reverts back to the previous norms. What does work is short intervals of training spread over time, followed by team assignments, coaching and positive reinforcement. If any of those elements are missing, the change is likely to fail. I developed my Team Leadership course at training course to provide a solution to training a large number of people, self-paced and over an extended period of time. But, coaching is essential to the learning process.

The Coaching Kata

Mike Rother, in his book Toyota Kata, has brought the word “kata” into the management lexicon. However, if you Google the word kata you will be directed to a long series of karate websites. It is in the marshal arts that the word kata is used most prominently. By far the best explanation of a kata, as well as a good example of coaching, is to be found in the Karate Kid. Take a look at these two videos in sequence:

The word “kata” simply means a routine that you practice deliberately and which results in the formation of habits. Coaching must be to a kata, and it must be done with the intention and understanding of how habits are formed. Imagine if you could write a script that would define the habits of continuous improvement for each team and each team leader. This is our task. But first, we must learn how to coach.

I have posted my lecture on the Coaching Kata on YouTube. I draw on my own early experience coaching inmates in prison, but the essential steps of changing behavior are universal.

From my own experience coaching managers, and from a great deal of research on behavior based training, I have outlined the following steps in the coaching kata:

  1. Positive Assumptions: I only made a positive assumption about the person I was coaching and never criticized him. He had been criticized enough in his life. I assumed that he wanted to learn, and could learn the skill of interviewing. Positive assumptions increase the likelihood of successful learning.
  2. Pinpointed Behavior: I broke the skill down into pinpointed behaviors, a behavior that is easily observed Coaching Kataand practiced. A pinpointed behavior is not a feeling, a character trait, or an impression like “he’s lazy.” It is an observable behavior.
  3. Know the Current Condition: I provided the inmate with baseline performance data – the video of his own first interview. This is to know the facts, observing the scorecard that establishes the current condition. In science, this current condition is called the baseline data.
  4. Modeling: I then provided a model, sticking out my own hand to shake his. He could observe this and easily imitate it.
  5. Practice Pinpointed Behavior: I invited the inmate to practice each component of the interviewing skill. Each pinpointed behavior was practiced repeatedly. The more practice, the more it becomes habit.
  6. Practice the Chain of Behavior: As each component behavior is learned, the learner can chain the components together into a fluid sequence that defines the skill.
  7. Positive Reinforcement: We all need it! Whether children or presidents of companies, we all need to hear praise and approval from people who matter to us. Each time you reinforce a behavior, that behavior is more likely to occur again. It is also likely to become pleasurable unto itself – and thus, intrinsically reinforcing.

The challenge now is to develop a cadre of internal coaches, or train managers and team leaders to provide coaching, within your organization. The most practical and cost effective model of training now and into the future will be watching instruction online and then coaching by an internal coach. This is the model that can effectively change the culture of your organization.