One of the most significant shifts in learning and development is the growth of the role of the line manager as a sponsor of learning in the workplace. As illustrated in Chapter 7, the new styles of learning encompass many different routes, and to support them effectively the managerial and supervisory structure needs to be different.
Traditionally many large corporations have provided training/learning development support through either internal training functions or external consultancy support. Increasingly, driven in part by the growth of leaner organizational models, organizations have recognized the need to focus learning and development through the line management structure.
As head office or centralized training functions have reduced in size or disappeared this has meant a fundamental change in the role of line managers. They have needed to develop new skills and different behaviours. Where organizations have embraced this opportunity and provided their people with nourishing development experiences, there is the indirect impact on the bottom line noted by Goleman (see Chapter 4). This is further endorsed by the comment by Marcus Buckingham of The Gallup Organization that 'people join companies and leave managers'.
If you are developing a coaching infrastructure or are becoming a coach yourself it is important to recognize what this new coaching entails. From a practical perspective there is potentially a limit on the scope and scale of this coaching. As discussed in Chapter 6, the coaching conversations that are carried out in the workplace are limited by the amount of time, the location and the individuals involved. What is important is trying to create a coaching relationship that is as natural as possible; people should not feel that they are taking part in some kind of role-play. The coaching behaviours should become embedded in the day-to-day activities within the workplace.
If we think about workplace coaching and profile the role, there will be certain behaviours that will identify those individuals who most naturally adapt to the role of a coach. There are the attitudes and behaviours that are demonstrated by the very best leaders and managers, and are built on a genuine interest in others.
However, to develop effectiveness as a coach it is helpful to understand more about how people learn, how people react and adapt to change and what motivates people to want to do things differently. This was covered in Chapter 3. From a personal perspective it is worth identifying and understanding some of the tools and techniques used by coaches.
They are trusted and respected.
They role-model behaviour and live the values.
They have relevant experience, which adds value.
They have good communication skills - they question, build, clarify, summarize.
They offer encouragement and support.
They take time to listen.
They let people figure things out for themselves.
They work in partnership.
They have a strong belief that improvement is always possible.
They focus on an end goal.
They take joint responsibility for the outcome.
They build a positive environment.
They ask questions to analyse needs.
They use open questions to probe.
They focus on the needs of the individual.
They offer suggestions to build on the views expressed by learners.
They listen actively.
They seek ideas and build on them.
They give feedback.
They agree action plans for development.
They monitor performance.
The give ongoing support.
They focus on improving performance in the current job.
They assist in raising performance to the required standards.
They emphasize the present.
It is important that you should also establish your own personal code of practice, for example:
Respect confidentiality at all times.
Respond by coaching not counselling.
Work to create a supportive and appropriately challenging environment.
Be prepared to build an enduring relationship with the learner.
Equally be prepared to end the relationship and/or refer on to someone else if you and the learner feel it is appropriate.
Focus on a holistic view.
Have the desire to want to model and challenge development.
Be curious - stimulate curiosity in your learner.
Recognize that the individual is in charge of his or her own destiny.
This is only the starting point. Before embarking on a coaching role it is important to think very carefully about what it entails and to identify what you believe is important to include in your own code of practice. As highlighted earlier, coaching behaviours are important for anyone to develop either to self-coach or in a relationship with others. It is also important however to seek support and training for the role. This resource only highlights key areas to consider. It cannot replace the learning required to become an effective coach.
If you are thinking about becoming a coach you may want to consider the following questions:
How well do you know yourself?
Can you accurately describe your strengths and areas of development?
Do you really understand how you will react in different circumstances?
Do you listen to advice from other people?
Have you received feedback that has helped you to gain insight into your personality or the way you react to others?
Are you someone that others turn to?
Do you inspire trust?
Do you help others through the tough times? Giving an impression of quiet confidence can inspire others.
What could you do to be more consistent in your support?
How aware are you of your communication style? Would others describe you as an effective communicator?
How easy do you find it to switch off? How often do you take time to socialize with others informally both in and out of work?
Do you seek to broaden your perspective by taking time to mix with people with different interests and backgrounds, people who may challenge you?
As part of our research into the role of a coach we have identified some key stages:
Create the climate. This stage relates not just to the initial meeting, but also to subsequent meetings. Often when people are being coached for the first time they may be unsure what to expect. They may have very limited experiences of what it is like to be coached. For the new coach too, particularly if it is in the workplace, the surroundings may not naturally be conducive to creating the right learning environment. However with experience a good coach can create the feeling of intimacy even in the busiest conditions. What is important is the attention to the individual and the application of coaching behaviours. A good coach needs to help the learner create his or her vision, and is able to work in partnership with the individual to build an infrastructure to support coaching. A good coach should also be able to contextualize the learning, i.e. help the learner to develop the right skill in the right context.
Build relationships. The ability to build relationships is at the core of being a good coach. The need to have enhanced interpersonal skills and to develop emotional intelligence is critical in the development of the role of the coach. As mentioned earlier the ability to develop a natural coaching style while at the same time being able to use different interventions can be invaluable. Transferring knowledge while understanding how people learn can make the learning experience much more effective. Structuring the learning so that you take account of the needs of the learner and adapting your style to suit the learner are important stages in building a relationship. Being open, responsive and having a genuine interest in the learner can also help to build a relationship. Using the right interventions at the right time is another important skill to develop. In a coaching relationship a coach is often accompanying a learner on a journey. It may be a journey towards developing a particular skill, it may be a journey towards achieving a particular ambition or it may be the completion of a specific action plan. Tuning in to the learner and identifying how the learner may be feeling, knowing when to check on progress or simply to call just to remind him or her of your support is an important part of the role of a coach. There is also another important ingredient in a good coach that really can make the difference between success and failure: it is the ability to inspire. There may be many moments when as a coach you doubt your ability to inspire anyone. However ultimately this is what makes the difference in the coaching relationship. It is the intuitive ability to say the right thing or take the right action that elevates the learner into that ultimate achievement of self-belief.
Open to experience. Although not immediately apparent when thinking about the role of the coach this stage is equally important and often is responsible for some of the breakdowns in coaching relationships. Everyone is different and has different hopes, dreams and aspirations. One of the reasons why ambitions are sometimes capped is because of the views of others. Teachers, parents, partners, managers are often responsible for limiting individuals' belief in their ability to achieve something. As highlighted in the stage above, part of the role of the coach is to be able to inspire the learner and so when an individual learner is testing out embryonic ideas with a coach it is important for the coach not to make assumptions based on his or her own experience but to remain open minded and to listen to the ideas of the learner. This is why it is important for a coach to understand his or her own ability to generate ideas, to be creative and innovative, and why sometimes there may be a need to identify with the learner other colleagues who may be able to offer alternative suggestions, advice or support. There may also be a need to help the learner reset assumptions. If the learner's experience to date has resulted in low self-esteem, a coach can help him or her challenge assumptions and help the learner avoid self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.
Solution partner. A coach needs to be able to rise above the issues, to be able to help a learner to work through opportunities and challenges, to act as a sounding board. Coaches work at many levels within an organization. You may be working with a new employee or you may be working with a senior manager. If it is part of a transformation process you may be working with very senior and experienced managers. To be taken seriously as a business partner it is important that you really work to understand what the business is trying to do. Coaches do not necessarily have to have the same professional skills and knowledge as their learner, but they do need to know how to coach and how to help the learner work towards a solution. It is important to be able to have a mature conversation, to be able to offer meaningful advice, to be able to use problem-solving tools and techniques and to help the learner to generate alternatives or solutions. Another important area is to help the learner to manage risk appropriately. Some learners will be risk averse; others may be risk takers. A good coach will encourage the learner to make an accurate risk assessment. Ultimately however the decisions will need to taken by the individual, who has to own the solution. A coach's role is to help the individual to take steps forward, and to support the individual if he or she falls back.
Collaborative. Ideally a good coach can help the learner to network, suggest other support and contacts, help the learner to make connections and if the coach cannot provide the contacts will know someone who can. It is very easy within one-to-one coaching relationships for the focus to remain on the learner or the coach. However most individuals are part of a much bigger group of people and helping the learner to make the connections with others is an important part of the role of the coach. Traditionally mentors within organizations were often seen as people who could provide high-potential employees with the opportunity to meet contacts as part of their development. However there is a much more natural process of communication within organizations, which can enable people to share ideas, build on the experience of others and work collaboratively on projects. It does need to be stimulated, however; it is all too easy for people not to share information. A good coach can link people either individually or in teams to share information and best practice.
Appropriate closure/maintain relationship. This is an important stage, the ability to know how to complete conversations. As identified above, timing is everything in a coaching relationship. In a coaching conversation it is important to understand the point at which to pause or stop and encourage the learner to go and put his or her thoughts and discoveries into practice. Often when people find a supportive coach who is genuinely interested in them, like thirsty plants they drink up the attention and may be reluctant to stop the session. However the learning will be more effective if it forms part of a cycle of input, practice, feedback. This stage takes on a new importance in an ongoing relationship where the learner is encouraged to move forward with less coaching support. In any coaching relationship there will come a time when the coaching relationship has run its course, when perhaps a new coach should be found, enabling the learner to move on while at the same time maintaining contact. Identifying this point and handling it appropriately are important. There has to be a combination of reassurance, encouragement and inspiration to encourage the learner to move forward.
Identifying your preferred coaching style can be an important part of your development as a coach. Here is a sample of statements for you to consider:
Create the climate:
I am able to create an environment that is conducive to learning.
I am able to focus on the needs of the learner.
I am not easily distracted by my surroundings.
I believe learning can take place anywhere with the right coaching skills.
I have taken time to identify my interpersonal skills.
People have given me positive feedback about the way I interrelate with others.
I am a good listener.
I am able to ask questions to determine learning needs.
Open to experience:
I can rise above the immediate situation and see new opportunities.
I am not constrained by past experiences.
I can often encourage learners to take explorative steps forward.
I can inspire others to look at situations in a new light.
Other people often use me as a sounding board for their ideas.
I can often see new ways of approaching a problem.
I enjoy working as a partner with the business.
I can encourage others to work through issues constructively.
When I am working in a coaching relationship I encourage the learners to plan for their future independence.
Once I feel that I have offered learners as much as I can, I encourage them to develop new coaching relationships.