By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
The perception of what coaching is has evolved in the past 20 years, as has the way it is delivered. Years ago, coaching was reserved for executives who fell into one of two categories: strong leaders who understood they could hone their skills further or executives who were seen as having a “fatal flaw” and needed to be fixed. Unfortunately, the latter tended to be more common and, as a result, coaching was considered somewhat of a stigma. If it was suggested you needed a coach, the assumption was you were on your way out.
There are a couple of reasons why coaching was reserved for top leaders. The main one was cost: A good executive coach can cost upward of $3,000 an hour. The other was more of a philosophical mindset: that coaching was for the “most important” members of an organization. Today’s more flattened, less-hierarchical organizations along with the recognition that engaged, developed employees add significant value to a company’s performance have raised awareness that coaching should be utilized to improve performance at all levels. Coupling that understanding with advancements in technology, the cost of coaching has come down, and accessibility has gone up.
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A fresh and more honest commitment to diversity has also created a new demand for more democratic coaching as organizations realize it is not enough to hire women and minorities. They also need a solid retention strategy to ensure their investment and efforts are worthwhile. Coaching is one way to help ensure the ongoing success of diverse hires.
Finally, organizations are faced with increasingly rapid change and shifting priorities. They need to get all employees up to speed faster so that they can fully contribute sooner. Coaching is a proven way to speed development in a complex world that requires hard-to-teach soft skills, such as resilience, emotional intelligence and collaboration.
Coaching drives engagement because it can make people feel valued, boosting morale and motivation. This, in turn, improves productivity, not only because you have inspired in others the desire to succeed, but you also provide them with skill enhancement and greater insight into their strengths and opportunities. In fact, according to research by the Human Capital Institute, 54% of organizations classified as high performing have a strong coaching culture as compared with 29% of all other organizations.
Therefore, the key question is, how can organizations create an environment where coaching is more democratic and available to more of their employee base? Another way to think about this is how can organizations create a coaching culture?
There are three primary strategies for delivering coaching democratically: external professional coach practitioners, internal coach practitioners and managers who have been taught to use coaching skills.
A culture shift needs to start at the top, with executives making the initial commitment. This can be problematic because many executives still have the mindset that coaching is to fix people or that it is somewhat punitive in nature. They themselves need to make a mind shift. Yes, the purpose of coaching is to help you improve, but that does not mean that you are bad. Then, they need to truly believe that every employee adds value and that everyone can benefit from development. Unleashing people’s strengths has a direct bottom-line impact and requires leaders to equip people with the means to develop such strengths.
One way to help executives recognize the value of coaching is to provide them with a positive experience. Such an experience is often the linchpin to persuading them to support coaching as a valuable development tool. Most commonly, this sort of coaching is provided by external professional coaching practitioners. Such practitioners provide several advantages: the frequency with which they can provide coaching, their ability and experience with coaching executives and their accessibility to the organization.
Organizations need to then determine the best strategy for providing coaching to other levels of employees. One highly effective approach is to identify a group of employees that acts as internal coaches to managers and high-potential employees. Such coaches can be selected from various roles and departments; they do not necessarily need to come from Human Resources. A robust selection process based on soft skills strengths is important, as is solid training (plan on about 30 hours). The other requirement is allowing those selected to spend most of their time on coaching, rather than expecting them to be internal coaches while also being accountable to another role. These internal coaches become critical components of leadership development strategies as well as improved performance management.
The third strategy for creating a coaching culture is to focus on front-line managers as coaches. When front-line managers receive training and development on how to coach their teams, coaching truly becomes available to every employee. This is not easy. From my observations, most managers are not particularly good at coaching, which requires sophisticated listening and questioning skills as well as the ability to allow the “coachee” to come to their own conclusions. Such skills are teachable and worth the investment, as anyone who has had a manager who was a good coach can attest. By introducing and supporting such skills, we significantly improve a manager’s leadership capability while helping every employee perform better. Managers will need coaching on how to coach, which is why a cadre of internal coaches is so valuable.
The business environment is not going to get any easier; unprecedented challenges are guaranteed to continuously present themselves. Coaching has a rapid and effective impact on performance and ongoing improvement. In fact, a study by Bersin & Associates demonstrated that equipping managers with coaching skills can yield a 130% increase in business performance. This is one way to stay ahead of your competition and develop greater agility in a challenging world.