When to Call in the Coach: Working Together to Add Value


By Donna Howes, CHRP

While HR has never been a single service department, demands on HR professional are rising significantly. According to the Human Resources Management Association’s (HRMA) HR Trends in BC 2014 Survey Report, “employee/leadership development has firmly entrenched itself as the area requiring the most time or financial resources, while issues such as recruitment, as well as employee engagement, are more acute than ever before.”

Similarly, a review of global surveys on human capital management identifies leadership as the biggest challenge facing companies and organizations around the world. In 2014, Deloitte named a number of critical human capital trends that fall within the scope of most human resources departments, namely to lead, develop, attract, engage, transform and (sometimes) reinvent. Their survey of 2,500 businesses and HR executives in 90 countries suggests that traditional performance management is broken—and that ‘rank and yank’ should be replaced with coaching and development.

These findings support the 2013 International Coaching Federation (ICF) Organizational Coaching Study which identified a rising trend towards utilizing coaching as an effective response to leadership development, succession planning, organizational transformation and ‘executive burn-out’.

In a nutshell, coaching creates awareness that translates to workplaces becoming more effective at the individual, team and organizational levels.

Leadership Development and Learning Agility
Working with HR to effectively enhance individual and organizational potential, coaches are optimally positioned to enhance both learning agility and leadership effectiveness respectively. Sharing a common bond of leadership through learning, their combined potential to positively impact people and process alike speaks directly to buoyed bottom lines.

Evidence that “the best leaders are the best learners” is strongly supported by the authors of The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner; they are not alone in finding a strong correlation between leadership effectiveness and learning. This capacity has been called ‘learning agility’ and defined as “the ability to reflect on experience and then engage in new behaviours based on those reflections.”

Such learning agility is at the heart of each and every coaching conversation and is defined by ICF, as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Learning agility is closely linked to developing capacity for a growth mindset. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck says we learn best by experimenting, reflecting, reading or getting coaching. Learning is the master skill—coaching is the learning partner.

Coaching Individuals, Teams and Organizations
Among the many applications, individual coaching supports:

  • Leadership—for those who are actively committed to the ongoing development of their personal leadership presence, competency and effectiveness;
  • Development—a foundational learning opportunity for new leaders and managers to improve communication, deal with conflict and focus on what really matters; and
  • Performance—for development in critical areas of leadership; to identify and leverage core strengths, attain stretch goals, and prioritize so that work and life are in balance.

At the team level, coaching can:

  • Accelerate performance and team effectiveness through improved collaboration and decision-making;
  • Support training and development (e.g. communication skills, time management, prioritizing); and
  • Inspire synergy and creativity as integral aspects of cross-functional teams.

Developing a high-performing team requires the efforts, contributions and coordination of everyone on the team. Team coaching stresses that everyone’s contribution is important towards achieving the organization’s goals and objectives. Coaching questions help individuals see not only the purpose of their work, but also how each team member’s work influences and relates to the purpose of the organization and its outcomes.

At the organizational level coaching:

  • Supports complex, system-wide initiatives—the way people relate, behave and interact;
  • Cultivates vibrant and sustainable cultures—more consistent commitment and accountability; and
  • Sustains and extends the benefits of training and succession planning.

Addressing the broader organizational opportunity, at this level coaching focuses primarily on optimizing strategic business development initiatives, by creating a culture of trust and a willingness to engage in meaningful conversations within and between all levels of an organization.

A Credited Case for Coaching
Providing one-on-one coaching for employees at all levels is becoming a benchmark of leadership development initiatives as a means of ensuring sustainable organizational results—while unlocking the innovative potential of the individual.

Consider the case of a major British Columbia credit union which is currently implementing a leadership development initiative to “ignite its ability to grow, collaborate, innovate and serve members, employees and communities.” The first phase of the initiative is being piloted through a coordinated series of off-site workshops, and one-on-one coaching for 29 leaders and managers across the province.  Herein, each participant interviewed and then selected their coach from an external pool of seven certified coaches sourced by the credit union’s organization development firm.

In one case, an experienced manager is working with a coach on ways to motivate her team with an emphasis on increasing commitment rather than compliance, in keeping with her department’s new direction. In another, an executive has begun coaching around what he believes may be his blind spots; having identified a number of unwanted consequences from prior poor handling of difficult situations with colleagues, he is seeking change.

Such is the organization’s confidence in the benefits of coaching, that once the pilot is complete in January 2015, they plan to support all 650-plus employees through a coordinated program of individual coaching—a clear example of coaches becoming part of the foundation in successful organizations and teams.

How HR and Coaching Increase Credibility
The perceived value and credibility of coaching are at all-time highs , with research confirming that as coaching takes hold, it changes individuals, teams and corporate cultures through the way people relate, interact and behave.

There are multiple ways HR and coaching professionals can combine efforts to best effect for any organization. These include introducing peer coaching practices, working with external coaches, and developing internal coaching programs.

HRMA most recently reported on this trend in the 2013 research briefing, Embedding Coaching Skills in the Workplace, which highlighted that many organizations have embraced internal coaching skills development programs. These programs encourage individuals and teams to work with an internal coach to “increase work?related goal attainment, enhance solution?focused thinking, and develop greater change readiness and leadership resilience.” (Grant 2009)

As per the words of The Leadership Challenge, “coaching is an essential part of exemplary leadership.” As understood by coaching and HR professionals alike, that leadership potential can be developed throughout an organization to the betterment of workplace culture and business results alike.

Donna Howes, CHRP is principal of Humanity at Work, a coaching and organizational development firm devoted to creating proud and productive workplaces.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2014)

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