Coaching has been a buzz word since the 1990s in almost every industry. Coaching in its most simple form goes back to the earliest human settlements. In order to perpetuate the community, older group members would teach younger members how to hunt, trap, and scavenge. Religion and philosophy continued this practice and ensured that helpful knowledge was passed on from one generation to another, especially through simple stories or metaphors. These are still common in almost every culture and society today.
Modern employee coaching has its roots in coaching of students for exams and worker apprenticeship programs in the trades. Manufacturing adopted a coaching model during the Industrial Revolution to help develop employee skills and it grew into the developmental coaches of the second half of the 20th Century. The 1980s brought further specialization of coaching in the areas of life, success, issue, business, and executive and has created a very large industry. The Executive Coaching industry alone grew to $1 billion as of 2008 and should be approximately $2 billion in 2010 according to the Economist (July 2008). This does not account for significant dollars spent on employee coaching per year.
We hear about the need for coaching all the time, but what is it really? In the most basis sense, a coach is a person who encourages an employee or team to improve his or her performance. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development identified nine factors that are increasing executive coaching worldwide:
- Rapidly evolving business environment
- Individual responsibility for development
- Financial costs of poor performance
- Popular development strategy
- Supports other learning
- Employees request coaching
- Need for lifelong learning
- Improves decision-making
- Targeted, just-in-time development
Like a sports coach, the coach needs to combine the following roles:
- Knowledgeable Resource
A strong leader has to have a vision, develop a plan, know what it takes to accomplish the plan, serve as resource, and motivate others. A coach like a leader has to be confident in him or herself and be willing to empower others to reach their full potential. Being a coach is very rewarding, but it requires a certain degree of selflessness. I worked with a very progressive organization a few years ago that had a well developed coaching and mentoring program. Executive leadership was very proud of the system and received a lot of attention in its industry due to its efforts. However, when employees were surveyed for satisfaction, most rated the program very poorly. The focus groups with employees revealed that the program was well conceived and desired by employees. However, the coaches failed to be good leaders: most interaction involved telling stories about the past, attempting to solidify political alliances, and focusing on recounting office gossip. A coach needs to lead an employee through the process of gaining knowledge and improving skills as well as performance.
Coaching requires job knowledge and experience. The very credibility of a coach is tied to the coach’s personal history. It is very hard for a coach to be successful if those that are being coached are not led by example and someone worthy of respect. Just like in sports, some of the best coaches are those that can say, “I have been there, felt the pressure, and know what it is like to win and lose.” This credibility and knowledge creates confidence in the coach and more importantly provides real world experience the coach can draw on in assisting his or her employees.
When an employee comes to a coach for advice, he or she approaches the person like one would a counselor. The coach not only needs to describe the best method of action, but also address personal or professional insecurities and increase motivation. A coach needs to have energy that is contagious to the employee. We all can probably recount a teacher that taught a subject of little interest at the time that due to the teacher’s attitude and energy encouraged us to become excited about the topic and material.
A coach has to set that fire that helps an employee want to learn new things, change perceptions, and alter behavior. If an organization or leader does not embrace coaching, then performance levels will not meet potential. A coach can make an incredible difference in an employee’s personal and professional life not just while they work with the coach, but in the future as well. A successful coach can improve performance, satisfaction, engagement, productivity, and workplace culture.
Over the next several post, we will examine coaching in more detail and address some of your questions.