Coaching: Do we need it in the workplace?

Since the mid- 1990s, coaching has been continuously developing with increasing implementation in organisations over the past decade.  The benefits of coaching within the business setting can be significant with 92% of HR practitioners confirming a positive impact on the organisation’s bottom line (CIPD research), and a reported 5.45 times return on investment at executive level (Manchester review, 2001).  In support of this, professional bodies such as the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and International Coaching Federation (ICF) have made great strides in standardising coaching training, approaches and ethics.

Organisations face increasing pressure to adapt to their competitive environment and they must build their capability to manage exceptional levels of uncertainty and its subsequent impact on the workforce.  The application of professionally qualified and experienced coaches can promote effective change which is more rapidly cascaded throughout the organisation.

What’s the purpose of coaching in organisations?

One of the founders of the earliest and potentially most widely used coaching model, Sir John Whitmore, provides a clear definition of the core objective of coaching:

“Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them” (Whitmore 2003).

Coaches support ‘learners’ (often called coachees) to achieve their potential by enabling them to develop or learn new skills and capabilities most likely to enhance their performance long-term.  The complex nature of coaching is perhaps a consequence of its range of influences from fields such as business science, psychology, neuroscience, mentoring and philosophy.  Executive coaches will draw on these disciplines to varying degrees according to their personal coaching style and approach, but each will look to facilitate individual, team and organisational change.  The key to successful coaching is dependent on the skill with which the coach is able to inspire confidence, accountability and ultimately independence in their coachee.

Although considered by some organisations as purely remedial in its implementation, coaching is rapidly being utilised as a positive development tool, enabling senior leaders, managers and other high performers to explore their career and business goals by applying new and innovative approaches in practice.  This is especially important for organisations undergoing complex change initiatives.  Developing employee resilience and resourcefulness is essential to enable companies to emerge successfully and continue to thrive in increasingly competitive business environments.

What happens during coaching?

Coaching usually occurs within a series of one to one, confidential ‘conversations’ to identify and work towards achieving clear and tangible objectives.  The coach creates a safe and trusting space for the coachee to explore their current situation with a fresh perspective.  Effective listening, skilful questioning, relevant use of tools and techniques, observations and feedback all provide a firm foundation to enable coachees to more fully understand their challenges and to stimulate commitment to action and positive, long-term change.

Within organisations, coaching is firmly focussed on personal development and achievement of individual and business objectives.  Although drawing on some comparable methods and tools used within counselling or psychotherapy, an ethically competent coach will initiate the appropriate referrals when the coaching client indicates a potential need for support outside of their professional competence.

What are the key indicators of a need for coaching?

Coaching has been proven to show significant benefits to facilitating positive change in individuals, teams and the entire organisation.  It is therefore advantageous for organisations to be acutely aware of some possible signs and symptoms which might trigger a coaching initiative.  In many businesses, these signs present as the normal behaviours or approaches that are simply accepted as ‘the way things are’ or the ‘culture’ of the company.  These behaviours may have been firmly embedded over a number of years but they directly contribute to poor development and growth of the business and people within.

Here are some of the potential organisational symptoms which commonly trigger the implementation of targeted and professional coaching support.

Resistance to change

Change can be a constant within organisations that are continually competing in complex and demanding business environments.  The uncertainty that follows change often results in resistance within the company.  The tell-tale signs of resistance (rumours, absenteeism, low moral, reduced productivity etc) should never be ignored if change implementation is to have any chance of success.  Coaching through change encourages a conversation where concerns are heard and decisions made on how individuals should productively manoeuvre through the process.  By supporting the coachees’ specific needs and maximising their resourcefulness, coaching offers critical support to build resilience and adaptability at senior leadership level and throughout the workforce.

Poor communication and business relationships

Tension and conflict between key employees can result in low productivity as well as ruin moral and create a poor company culture.  Those engaged in a professional coaching are empowered to take a broader viewpoint on conflict situations and communication challenges which might be stifling opportunities for growth.  Skilful questioning by the coach provides new insights and clarity of thinking.  This offers opportunities to develop interpersonal skills required to improve business relationships for all involved parties.

High staff turnover and poor retention of talent

Recruiting and retaining new staff drains resources and can take its toll on HR, managers and the business as a whole.  This is of growing relevance for the millennial generation within your workforce who are acutely aware that they have a choice of employer and if left feeling undervalued, may proactively seek out roles with the competition.  A confidential, listening ear from a coach encourages disgruntled employees to share frustrations and adopt a more positive course of action.  This investment in employee development provides a positive step-change in demonstrating their individual value to the business.  Furthermore, coaching of company leaders can build authentic leadership which inspires motivation and commitment throughout the workforce.

Lack of creativity and innovation

It’s all too easy for organisations to become complacent; approaching tasks and challenges the same way as they’ve always done.  Coaching encourages a fresh perspective and supports new ideas and innovative attempts to resolve key business issues.  By enabling individuals to engage with their own resourcefulness and developing strong personal resilience, companies are more likely to stay competitive by creating opportunities for innovation.

Poor implementation of training and development initiatives

The high cost of delivering organisation wide training to embed new skills, processes or systems can often deliver a disappointingly low return on investment if new learnings are not routinely practiced and developed within the business environment.  Coaching retains a strong focus on developing a strong cycle of continuous learning within individuals to promote more proactive application and embedding of new skills and capabilities.

Low performance from individuals and organisation

Individuals may simply not be delivering to expectations or failing to act on feedback.  This might be reflected in the hard facts of the organisation consistently missing key goals and objectives.  Coaches will work with the key business leaders to build their leadership capability and ensure clarity of business goals in support of the overall organisational strategy.   This supports individuals to then explore how personal goals and ways of working can authentically be aligned to deliver progressive business benefit.

Poor productivity or effectiveness

Leaders (particularly those new to leadership positions), senior managers and high performers face the continuing challenge of delivering to their full potential.  Within the coaching relationship, a sharp focus is placed on exploring a clear, long-term development strategy aligned to the individual’s ambitions.  By developing structured and motivational goals, the coachee is inspired and often constructively challenged to continue growing within their job role which translates into improved performance and overall effectiveness.

High stress and perceived lack of work-life balance

The competitive work environment can often leave leaders and senior managers, in particular, in a state of high stress and demotivation if left unchecked.  A coach works with an organisation to support needs and ambitions on an individual level, based on the coachees own core values and beliefs.  By specifically pinpointing where change is required both personally and professionally, coaching enables employees to secure an improved work life balance and an overall more satisfied and productive workforce.

Tammy Windsor

Tammy is a professional coach, trained at post-graduate level and also holds Ph.D in Pharmacology. She spent 14 years in the pharmaceutical industry leading global clinical teams as well as supporting strategic and culture change across these organisations.

Tammy founded InnovaCoaching after seeing the significant and positive impact of change on individuals and organisations which coaching and mentoring provides,.

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