Coaching and the Fan: What Happens when Challenges Arise?

Coaching is big business no matter what industry we are talking about.  It seems that each year the compensation of sports coaches go up while the tolerance for losing goes down.  Compensation varies by sport and league, but most professional coaches make in the millions with a few exceptions.  Similarly, our tolerance for failure has become shorter lived and it is a real rarity to see a coach given a chance to coach his or her way out of any type of slump.  Sports psychologists have researched this issue fairly regularly since the 1960s and most studies find that the average tenure is decreasing over time.  The average tenure of a North American sports team coach is approximately 2.5 years.

Emulating sports in business is one of the great metaphors of human nature and clearly part of American culture.  We talk about “hitting home runs, running the course, getting over the goal line, knocking the competition out,  scoring a goal, and taking the ball and running with it” to just name a few.  Although more recently sport is starting to emulate business more, influence has been much greater the other way.

This immediate gratification or rapid expectation that permeates so much of our lives apply to interaction with coaches well.

Figure 1: Concerns with Coaching Effectiveness

What happens when coaching does not produced the desired results?  Although most organizations simply want to start a coaching process or program, once it is in place many find out that having a program is only the beginning.  Figure 1 captures the results of a survey of 1500 employees and their most common complaints about their internal coaches.  The primary reasons the employees are dissatisfied with their coaches according to the survey include:

  • Not enough time for interaction
  • Lack of personal connection
  • Lack of knowledge of how to help

None of these reasons are surprising and correlate with a number of the core reasons employees tend to be unhappy with their leaders.  Consequently, the weaknesses or limitations that hold us back as leaders spill over into coaching efforts as well.  It is interesting to note that when the question set included the option of “you failed to meet your personal goals” the percentage of agreement with this answer surpassed all other responses (88 percent). Although this is more of an outcome of the other elements, this result substantiates that (at least among this sample of employees) if an employee is not being successful, a large portion of the blame is being allocated to the coach.

If you are a coach that things are not going as expected, there are a few things that you can do improve the situation:

  • Strengthen the connection
  • Devise new methods of interaction
  • Do your homework

Strengthen the connection

A big part of successful coaching is creating that sense of security and confidence that goes along with feeling like someone that is knowledgeable and supportive is on your side.  Human beings as social creatures want to know that they are not alone.  As an employee grows, there are a variety of emotions that he or she progresses through: excitement, anxiousness, anxiety, and fulfillment.  If a coach does not address each of these emotions appropriately, the employee will feel the vacuum.  An employee needs to feel that the coach can be trusted, has his or her best interest at heart, and is sharing the struggle.  How is this accomplished? Some of the best ways are the most simple: spend time together, get to know the employee at a more personal level, listen, and be supportive.

Devise new methods of interaction

Although we all have certain styles, sometimes there are cases where it just does not work and we need to try another approach.  I worked with a group of employees that likened their coaching experience to male and female relationships.  More than a few of the employees felt that the leaders involved in coaching were being very “male” or results oriented.  They described the sessions as almost a diagnostic process where the employee started to talk and almost immediately the coach wanted to solve any issues and complete the conversation.  Different people have different needs and appropriate styles.  A good way of assessing this is for the coach to ask the employee how he or she feels that coaching sessions could most benefit them.  This exchange builds confidence and trust while helping the coach better understand how best to interact with the employee.

Do your homework

When in doubt, sometimes we have to do our homework.  There are going to be challenges that our own experience or what we have observed will not sufficiently address.  Moreover, not every employee will be interested or motivated by what we are.  As the nature of work, major processes, stakeholders, and organizations change, new methods and approaches need to be adopted. A little research about how best to deal with an issue, barrier, or challenge can assist a coach in answering questions or encouraging discussion, but also demonstrates to the employee that the coach cared enough about the employee to spend time and energy on their concern.   This combination of knowledge and interest can go a long way to strengthen the coach-employee relationship.

The key to dealing with most coaching challenges is commitment and customization.  All employees and especially those working with a coach want certainty and reassurance.

“I plan on staying at Alabama for the rest of my career. I guarantee that I’ll be here for you through it all, regardless of what happens.”

Paul “Bear” Bryant

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