Catalytic Coaching: This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Recipe

by Gary Markle

The secret sauce behind the transformational performance management program

It’s not uncommon for an enthusiastic auditor of my CEO workshop to declare he’s identified what makes Catalytic Coaching so unique and effective. “It’s the Yellow Sheet!” he’ll say definitively. Another sleuth will deduce the magic is buried in our training process, wherein we teach employees to be coachable. Both of these hypotheses contain an element of truth. But neither identifies the true essence of what makes Catalytic Coaching a total game changer.

Catalytic Coaching is a recipe for success

Like most who bake cakes, we use flour, butter, milk, and sugar. We put ingredients together in a specific sequence and make judicious use of time and temperature. At Energage, we’ve baked scores of cakes and we’ve given detailed instructions on how to produce outstanding results time and time again. We even have classes to teach others how to replicate our success and scale it for large, complex organizations by repeating this simple formula. In other words, the secret sauce is the Catalytic Coaching recipe.

“The big surprise for me is how the employee, through the process, discovers things about themselves that they didn’t know. And through the process, I’ve also discovered how much they care about the company and how much they really want to be here.”  Ronn Cort, President, Sekisui SPI

Now, here’s the rub. Much like baking, many of the Catalytic Coaching ingredients are familiar. The process is pretty intuitive too. But sometimes, well-intentioned would-be bakers get the urge to mix and match. They attempt to combine parts of the process with elements from other familiar programs. They exclude steps they don’t understand, even before they’ve investigated our reasoning for inclusion. And almost invariably, they dilute the end result rather than improve it.

If you’ve tasted flour and find it unappealing, you can leave it out of your cake baking experience. You can add more sugar instead. You can cook at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. It’s your kitchen. You can do what you want. Just don’t expect what comes out of your oven to resemble what comes from mine. That’s because the real magic happens when a specific selection of healthy ingredients are blended together in a way that creates an end product far greater than the sum of its parts.

The temptation to add a pinch of this and a pinch of that

I travel the globe speaking to small groups of entrepreneurial CEOs because they are — as one former U.S. President once described himself — “The Deciders.” They decide things, often very quickly. When I tell them a traditional performance management system weighs a lot and produces a little, they nod their heads and say in unison, “I see that.” When I give them brief exposure to Catalytic Coaching and demonstrate that the process weighs a little and produces a lot, they say, “I see that, too… and I want yours!” They return to their offices, corner the HR leader and say, “Make it so!” I love these people.

But sometimes there’s a downside to talking to empowered decision makers. Many are quick to tinker with the recipe that’s the special something they want. While many believe Catalytic Coaching to be radically contrary to the status quo, it’s actually built on a very rational — and quite conservative — foundation. It’s designed to be practiced consistently, using a firm set of rules. The recipe is what makes all of the difference. It’s what makes Catalytic Coaching safe, scalable, and always successful.

“For me, the turning point was actually experiencing the Catalytic Coaching process. It can — and should — be transformational for everyone. As a result, we can build a high‑performing, sustainable, and exciting organization.”  Jeffrey Newman, CEO, Boyd’s Coffee Company

One of the greatest things about adopting an intact system — and using it without making tweaks or adjustments — is that it allows you to take advantage of a process and training that was created by experts without having to invest countless hours and dollars crafting a half-baked version of the same.

This is what makes the Catalytic Coaching cookie crumble

When I hear, “We tried your system and it works okay,” I know the recipe was changed. Someone mixed its key ingredients with something else. Either that or they didn’t bake it into their culture properly. How do I know? I know because this system works way better than okay when you follow the instructions. I’ve never personally experienced mediocrity in any application for an individual case, let alone on a collective. When you follow the recipe your results will vary from good to great. There is no other possibility.

Five ways to benefit from the secret recipe

  1. Perfect and protect: We are what we do. Obsess on your own work processes and write them down. Develop a methodology that mandates mastery for all who represent your brand.
  2. Focus on results: You often don’t know what you don’t know. If you’re a leader looking for bottom-line impact, hire someone who produces it consistently and let them do what they do to get those results for you.
  3. Don’t be your own doctor: Resist the temptation to instruct your dentist on how to extract your tooth. If you listen properly, you might even find it doesn’t need to come out at all.
  4. Avoid bells and whistles: Strive for a minimalist design. One of the things that make Apple products special is the lack of excess. Well-conceived simplicity beats complexity any day.
  5. Join a user community: When you find a good system, figure out where other users congregate and then go there. Contribute to the conversation and leverage off the work of others.