Organizations are increasingly moving away from employing traditional training methods and toward building coaching cultures. Rather than follow the customary process in which management delegates assignments and solves problems as they arise, coaching empowers employees to work through challenges by guiding them to solutions. It encourages and prepares them to solve problems creatively, assume responsibility for their actions, and feel more connected to the company culture. Strong coaching cultures can lead to improvements in employee engagement, productivity, team function, and revenue growth.
I spoke with Magda Mook, the CEO and executive director of the International Coach Federation (ICF), about the impact of coaching and how organizations can integrate it into their own leadership programs.
How does coaching differ from traditional training methods?
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The individual or team being coached sets objectives, and the coach provides guidance on the process. Training, on the other hand, is based on objectives set by the trainer or instructor. It follows a linear process and adheres to a distinct curriculum. In other words, coaching is about the learner, not about the teacher.
What benefits can companies gain from implementing a coaching culture?
ICF's research with the Human Capital Institute has shown that organizations with strong coaching cultures consistently report higher employee engagement and revenue than peer organizations without strong coaching cultures. Therefore, it’s definitely worth investing in anything that will yield significant and long-lasting improvements in engagement.
What challenges come with creating a coaching culture, and how can organizations overcome these obstacles?
The greatest obstacle reported by organizations is lack of time. It's absolutely true that building a coaching culture requires a significant investment of time on multiple fronts: sourcing external coaches, scheduling internal training, and planning coaching engagements. Organizations with strong coaching cultures can overcome this obstacle in two ways. First and foremost, they need to ensure the buy-in of senior leadership, because when the uppermost echelons of an organization are vocal champions of coaching, they can prioritize building a coaching culture and promote it throughout the organization. Second, organizations must integrate coaching into existing offerings and not treat it as an add-on to existing training and development programs.
How can organizations integrate coaching into their own leadership programs?
First, be clear with employees and senior leaders about what coaching is and what it isn't, and take care not to confuse coaching with other practices (such as mentoring and consulting). Second, invest in a combination of external coach practitioners, internal coach practitioners, and internal managers or leaders with coaching skills, keeping in mind that not all styles are appropriate for all situations (for example, someone in the C-suite might feel more comfortable working with someone outside the organization). Finally, set the bar high from day one: invest in external coach practitioners who meet high professional and ethical standards, and utilize accredited training providers to help your internal coach practitioners meet the same high benchmarks.
What’s an example of how coaching has helped a particular organization?
Every year, the ICF Prism Award program recognizes organizations that use coaching to yield discernible and measurable positive impacts, fulfill rigorous professional standards, address key strategic goals, and shape organizational culture in sustainable ways. The 2016 winner, GlaxoSmithKline, incorporated coaching across its global enterprise as an integral part to its Accelerating Difference (AD) initiative, which aims to get more women into senior leadership roles within the organization. The benefits of this coaching-driven program are evident: when compared to their non-AD colleagues, AD participants were much more likely to be promoted, stay with the organization, and improve as managers.
Even if an organization's current training and development offerings are working well, coaching can take them to the next level by enabling participants to personalize what they're learning in the classroom and to think about immediate applications for that knowledge. Giving employees such opportunities to create positive and productive work environments can help them unite around common goals and core values, thus strengthening the company culture that lies at the heart of every successful organization.
Charles Coy is the senior director of analyst and community relations at Cornerstone. Responsible for evangelizing about Cornerstone’s innovation in talent management technology solutions, he is interested in the ways that technology can affect how organizations evaluate, motivate, and value their employees. He can be reached via Twitter at @oleskoo.
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