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Chapter 2: Shaping a Coaching Landscape


One of the most effective skills that you can develop in your workforce is the ability to coach. Coaching underpins all the great advances of our time, that unique ability to share knowledge and understanding in such a way that the learner takes ownership and moves on. Think of it as a synchronous baton change in a relay race, or the way rowers gain momentum when all the oars touch the water at the right moment and the boat surges forward. Developing a joy of sharing knowledge and wisdom is one of the most natural behaviours that needs to be incubated and developed. Think of the way that a grandparent sits with a child and shares his or her wisdom. Think of the special teachers that you have known and how they inspired your learning. Then think of a normal workplace with all the tensions and pressures and challenges of delivering bottom-line results within a limited time-frame. Is coaching really achievable within this context? Many organizations believe that it is and in its value in developing potential.

The rationale for this resource is based on change and how coaching can support that change. The change can be at many levels, organizational, team or individual. Change in an organizational context may be far reaching and part of a global or national strategic plan for transformation. Change may involve the need for a team to operate differently, to work together more effectively or to coordinate their activities with other teams. Change for the individual may be the need to be more personally effective, to fulfil potential or to change direction.

The corporate world is changing quite dramatically. Businesses are facing challenges on an unprecedented scale and the retention of key employees is a major ongoing challenge. Employees equally are looking for organizations that value their contribution. One major way of helping all individuals fulfil their potential is to develop a coaching environment; this is not something that will be achieved overnight, but if you can engender a sense of sharing wisdom you are more likely to create a real sense of personal development. This is very different from the process of 'managing'. Coaching can play a very important role in enabling transformation.

There are key areas to focus on:

  1. Identify organizational readiness for coaching.

  2. Identify potential coaches.

  3. The role of the coach.

  4. Develop the right attitudes and behaviours.

  5. Equipping the coaches with the right skills and knowledge.

  6. Coaching to support the change process.

  7. Learn from the experience; share the wisdom.

Identify Organizational Readiness For Coaching

As highlighted in Chapter 1 it is important to identify whether your organization is ready for coaching.

Introducing a coaching environment may have a very far-reaching impact; individuals need to think about their very best learning experiences, to remember what inspired them, to think about how they can recreate special learning. Managers need to forget about being in control, and instead help their team members to explore by asking open questions and being provocative, and although individuals should never be taken unsupported outside their comfort zone they can be encouraged to push their boundaries beyond their normal learning experiences. Equally trainers could also perform the role of coach and may need to recognize that in the future classroom training may become much more focused on the individual, and as a result small discussion groups or one-to-one coaching may occur more frequently than classroom sessions.

Traditionally coaching was something that might have been offered only to senior executives or fast-track employees. However as more and more people become aware of the benefits of one-to-one support coaches may be found operating at a number of levels within an organization. Another major advantage is that if people really begin to adopt coaching behaviours the organization becomes much more of a learning environment. People really do start to learn from each other, but it needs attention to survive, and this is one of the major challenges. In any large organization it takes constant attention to maintain any initiative. Too many are introduced to an idea, process and way of working, only to find that it is not sustained.

Coaching if it is to be successful has to fit into the broader context of business development within an organization. Importantly it should not be seen in isolation. It represents one of the most naturally evolving processes of developing your human capital. In today's working society individuals are often absorbed into an existing culture rather than create their own working environment. Therefore any strategy to introduce or extend a coaching culture needs to be considered carefully and positioned within the broader context of not just attracting, retraining and motivating talent, but also addressing the business requirements of ROI and cost savings.

You may find it helpful to gain an overall picture of your current coaching environment by identifying answers to the following questions:

  1. How does your organization talk about learning and development?

  2. Is HR/OD represented on the board?

  3. Who receives coaching?

  4. How does your organization develop coaches?

  5. Is access to external coaches encouraged?

  6. Are line managers encouraged to coach?

  7. Is coaching a natural and ongoing process within your organization?

An important part of your consideration could also be based on answers to the following:

Identify Potential Coaches

A coach guides rather than manages; throughout history there have been instances of guidance being given by 'elders'. What if instead of creating 'managers' we created guides? What if we gave respect to the wisdom of our experienced workers? The very best supervisors and managers are those who share their wisdom and give guidance to new employees. The very worst managers are those who play it by the rules with no flexibility or explanation.

What is interesting is that if you examine the development programmes in many organizations it is very likely that you will see references to coaching. However if you probed further and looked at job descriptions for senior managers or members of the board or looked at the performance measures, how often is coaching included? How much real coaching takes place on a day-to-day basis? How is knowledge transferred within an organization? How much real scope is there to create a coaching environment? How much real opportunity is there to reshape the landscape to become more focused on individual development?

The Role Of The Coach

Coaching is not a passive activity. Coaches tend not to meet with someone and just talk. The most effective coaching relationships are based on proactivity, on action. There also has to be an element of vision and energy, and a belief in the individual, team or organizational capacity to change. Sir Clive Woodward, the England rugby coach, is a great example of someone who not only had to inspire his players but also had to convince the sponsors and the nation that the team had the capacity to achieve their ultimate goal. What is important is the ability to help people sustain their goals even when they do not achieve them at the first attempt.

A coach may also have to overcome resistance or disbelief from the organizational management or the individuals themselves, who lose confidence or feel that it is impossible to achieve a dream. This is often particularly true in the context of more significant change. One of the interesting facts about change is how often people give up when they are just in sight of the winning post. 'Most people give up just when they're about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one-foot from a winning touch' (H Ross Perot, The Best of Business Quotations). 'Every search begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victors being severely tested'.

Here the role of the coach will be critical in terms of giving an injection of energy to keep going. Understanding the process of change can help to sustain an individual, team or organization through the different stages. The change process is dealt with in more detail in Chapters 1 and 3.

Develop The Right Attitudes And Behaviours

Coaching could be described as enabling, i.e. supporting another individual to achieve his or her personal goals. Within this context it uses a skill set that is similar to mentoring or counselling. To coach someone successfully it is likely that you will draw on the following: questioning, listening, observing, giving feedback, and that you will work within a coaching model of support and challenge. Although this mode of coaching is often used by senior executives the approach is relevant to anyone.

The coach, or skilled partner, will delight in your learning, helping you to move forward with encouragement and giving you positive feedback. What distinguishes the experience is that it's different, it's memorable and it forms an important part of your development. Find the right time, the right place and the right person to guide your personal understanding and it will enable you to experience learning that is so profound that the memory will stay with you for ever.

Role Of The Personal Coach

The difference between personal coaching and coaching can be made clear in considering that the concept of a personal coach is similar to the concept of a personal sports trainer; the coaching offered very much focuses on the needs of the individual; it is driven by the individual and often looks holistically at that person's needs as opposed to being purely work related. With an increased emphasis on the importance of achieving work/life balance, encouraging individual learners to acknowledge and address the opportunities and challenges in their overall personal development is becoming more important and appropriate.

Often a plan is worked out between the coach and the participant, which sets personal goals and targets and enables the participant to prepare for and take control of challenging situations. It is often very proactive and the relationship is built up over a period of time, which enables the coach to really develop a support and challenge approach.

Being a personal coach is like accompanying someone on a journey; in this way being described as a personal guide could be more accurate. As in any journey it is important to prepare, to have an overall sense of direction and then to build in special stepping stones. In acting as a guide there is the need to recognize that at certain times the individual will want 'guidance', and at other times will be ready to enjoy a process of self-discovery. Coaches have a responsibility to get close to their learners and to help them to know themselves.

By understanding how people learn and building that knowledge in those whom they coach, coaches are actively demonstrating the saying, 'Give a man a rod and teach him to fish.'

Equipping The Coaches With The Right Skills And Knowledge

As a personal coach you will find yourself using a number of techniques, many of which are used in other applications, e.g. counselling, mentoring, facilitating or managing others. What is important is the way in which you use the right techniques for the right people, and also the way in which you build the coaching relationship so that the individual is not aware that you are actually using techniques, and the conversation feels natural.

A personal coach is someone with whom an individual learner can develop an ongoing relationship, which enables the individual to explore his or her personal thoughts in more depth, someone who will help the individual to achieve insights and who will continue to be there for the individual over a period of time.

The key point about coaching is that when it is done well it achieves the following:

The most skilled coaches have enhanced skills of questioning, listening and observing and consequently people relax and are willing to talk to them. All the skills involved in coaching are based on natural behaviours, showing genuine interest, having normal conversations with people. However, subtly underneath there is a process of asking open questions, listening carefully to the responses and enabling the transfer of knowledge or, alternatively, acting as a sounding board, helping someone to take action and make choices, or problem-solve within a safe environment.

The role of the coach, tools and techniques is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.

Coaching To Support The Change Process

The change may be driven by a number of factors, for example:

At a strategic level coaching can help to prepare people before and after a significant organizational change. With ongoing individual or team change a mature and thoughtful coach can develop enduring relationships, which can help sustain personal change. Using training with coaching support can increase the impact of the intervention: training can communicate and illustrate; coaching can support the action and implementation; taken together the process can inspire and motivate. As highlighted in Chapter 1 there are a number of key stages in the process of transformation, and coaching has a role to play at each stage. Coaching can also support the individuals involved in the process. So many individuals have received more negative than positive feedback in their careers. Encourage individuals to build their self-esteem and acceptance of praise for achievements through setting SMART goals and then celebrating success.

Learn From The Experience; Share The Wisdom

For many organizations, teams and individuals there may be examples of change not working. One very real issue can be about communication. Logically and organizationally there should be an overall process built around the model of 'developing an employer brand' (see Chapter 4). However in many organizations change isn't sustained. The process is either too slow or it is uncoordinated, resulting in a lack of commitment from the workforce because to them it is just another spin on the wheel. Therefore at an organizational level it is critically important to develop a process of connectivity illustrating how the business is evolving. In this way change can be normalized and it can be shown how each initiative links to the last. Even if part of the process does not work it is better to show honestly how the organization has learnt from its mistakes and moved on rather than ignoring it.

Taking time to communicate the impact of change is very important and shouldn't be underestimated. Developing an effective internal communications plan can make all the difference in developing a successful change strategy and ensuring 'buy-in'.

Sometimes in this context there may be a need to challenge the change or the timing. This should always be done by using a reasoned argument and with a positive approach. Thinking through the pros and cons of change before implementation means that you are more likely to be able to overcome resistance. Coaching can help enormously in achieving the right activity, by the right people, at the right time, in the right place.

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