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How to Slay the Advice Monster With a Not-So-Natural Move

Can data really make leaders better at leading their organizations? Can it make them better at creating a better workplace culture for their teams?  Absolutely – provided they have access to the right data and a handle on how to listen and inspire. For mentor-maestro and best-selling author Michael Bungay Stainer, there’s a pattern of behavior we need to shift. And that shift comes in the form of quelling advice in favor of questioning and curiosity.

Collecting data, downloading people analytic reports and expecting that information to cascade throughout your organization and lead to some kind of outcome is a thing of the past. It just doesn’t work anymore. Not when work environments nowadays are zeroing in on building better relationships among people managers and their people, among peers and colleagues. Not when technology is redefining expectations inside your organization and out.  Not when you need to know how these relationships and technologies are being perceived and what kind of impact they’re making. How else is your organization to pursue continuous change? To achieve optimal success – whether that success is measured by employee engagement scores, customer satisfaction scores, fiscal year-end performance or any other KPI?

What Stainer is looking to do (and Employee Voice methodologies support), is to stir up curiosity so we stay inquisitive a little bit longer, and rush to action and advice-giving just a little bit more slowly.

Action is, of course, a huge part of the Employee Voice equation. It validates voiced concerns.  It demonstrates a commitment to the experience of employees.  But those actions need to come from a place of genuine insight and understanding.  And we need to know what areas of concern hold the greatest potential impact on our organizations, and to prioritize actions accordingly. These measures help us become more nimble, make faster decisions and seize opportunities before they pass by.

Soliciting feedback from census employee engagement surveys and regular follow up pulse polls give us the lay of the land. Training managers and leaders to be more coach-like (and to mentor based on findings, team goals and individual career paths) is a scalable, sustainable and robust approach to driving change and improving performance. Ultimately, what this takes is asking a few more questions and offering a little less advice.

advice monster - coaching

Why would we want to ease up on advice? Don’t things get done faster when we provide guidance and shortcuts?  Well no, not exactly.

“When managers and leaders make coaching part of their everyday work,” says Stainer, “they help their employees learn, develop, increase focus, resilience and impact. They also minimize their own workload because, as their employees learn, those employees become better at their jobs and less dependent on their managers.”

As the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations transform from advice-driven to curiosity-led, Stanier advocates that coaching is a leader’s fundamental raison d’être.

Decades of research support his way of thinking.  In 2000, Daniel Goleman, the psychologist and journalist who made the concept of emotional intelligence popular, wrote an article titled “Leadership That Gets Results for Harvard Business Review. In it, Goleman outlined how coaching was a key leadership style shown to have a markedly positive impact on performance, culture and the bottom line. But it also turned out to be the least-used leadership approach. That’s where Stainer comes in.

An Oxford Rhodes Scholar, Stanier has written a number of books. His last, the Wall Street Journal bestseller “The Coaching Habit” has sold over 700,000 copies (and been praised as one of the few business books that make people laugh).

advice monster - coach

His newest book “The Advice Trap(slated for release later this month), is all about slaying the advice monster in all of us.  It’s an inherent part of human nature, right? Most of us are advice-giving maniacs. We love it. Somebody starts talking, and within a handful of seconds, we want to share our ideas, opinions and insights. It’s an old, deep-seated habit.

But a good question Stanier asks us to ask ourselves, our leaders and managers goes to the crux of where advice lets off and coaching kicks in “What’s more important – you being right, having the best idea – or giving the person you are leading the opportunity to come up with their own idea, doing their own thinking and claiming ownership of their own insight?”

The same can be said when it comes to acting on Employee Voice. Someone can sit at their desk and draft an action plan for your entire organization. Or your organization can give employees the opportunity to come up with their own ideas, do their own thinking and buy into the actions that surface as a result.

Curious for more? On April 22nd at 1:00 PM ET, join Michael Stainer and WorkTango for what promises to be a lively discussion about wrestling our natural inclination to give advice, by revitalizing curiosity, honing in on listening, and using a not-so-instinctual move, called coaching.

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!


Read great blog posts on workplace culture, employee engagement, employee surveys and other great workplace topics.


Want to learn how to slay your advice monster? Join us for our webinar session, How to Tame Your Advice Monster with Michael Bungay Stanier.