This post was updated recently. Original post published 04/2020.
The popularity of coaching has been accelerating for some time now. According to estimates from the International Coach Federation, there were about 17,500 coaches in North America alone in 2016, 92% of whom were actively working with clients. When a coach who is ready to work with your organization is available on every corner, how do you ensure that they will address the challenges that you are facing? Coaching is not one-size-fits-all; it is very context-specific. In this post, we will take a look at the ways that you can deploy business coaching in your organization, virtually or in-person, to get the benefits you are after.
What business coaching is all about
As the name might imply, business coaching focuses strictly on skills, competencies, and behaviours impacting the workplace. A business coach enhances the individual’s capacity as a leader, drives performance, and transforms the way that individual works with their direct reports, peers, and more senior leaders. To accomplish this, the coach takes the leader on a guided journey of exploration and discovery, and can also serve as a thought partner and sounding board, particularly when working at the executive level.
Throughout the process, the coach engages key stakeholders to ensure close alignment to the business context. This usually means involving the individual’s leader and a representative from HR, alongside the individual, to align on the goals at the beginning of the engagement, checking in with the stakeholders in the middle of the engagement to keep things on track, and conducting a wrap-up meeting with the same group at the end of the engagement to assess outcomes.
A business coach is not a psychologist, a social worker, or a therapist. Although an individual’s personal life inevitably can bleed into their work life, a business coach would limit themselves to sharing tools that can address personal challenges, but would not counsel the individual on how to resolve those challenges. Notably, though, the benefits of business coaching can transfer to one’s personal life as well. For example, one executive we coached on communication skills deployed those skills to improve not only his work relationships, but his family relationships as well.
Sparking transformation with coaching
Do you have a leader who needs to cultivate resilience and move forward despite adversity? Transformational coaching helps leaders reflect on challenges in a new way and shift their approach to have their intended impact.
During the pandemic, we worked with a sales manager at an IT company to help him balance work and self-care to show up as mindful and prepared to navigate uncertainty. Like many leaders at this time, this individual was trying to drive results with limited information and resources. The coaching engagement helped him create and maintain clear boundaries between work and home life and develop a healthy daily routine. The leader was able to feel heard and validated, which empowered him to get to a place of resourcefulness. In this case, the coach served not only as a sounding board but a thought partner. The individual learned how to focus on one specific challenge at a time to eliminate ambiguity from his work.
Supporting a transition to a new role with coaching
Do you have a new leader to the executive level, their functional area, or the organization entirely? When leaders make this type of transition, they often find it hard to leave the old behind and focus on the unique demands of their new role. Transitional coaching targets this challenge by helping the leader to shift away from their old area of focus and zero in on their new mandate.
For example, we recently worked with a newly-promoted Senior Vice President at a rapidly-growing investment management firm. His challenge was to quickly move to a more strategic role, learn to delegate effectively and know the details but not do them. The coaching helped the leader understand the nature of an SVP role relative to his former role. The individual began to define the areas on which he had to focus by looking at issues from a broader perspective. Through this, he determined how to work with a more senior peer group effectively. The coaching also enabled him to build a cohesive team and delegate to his key team members.
Accelerating development with coaching
Do you have a rising star in your organization, and you want to prepare them for a more advanced role? Developmental coaching can help them move up the learning curve quickly and get ready for that next challenge.
We’ve been working on a number of developmental coaching engagements with a rapidly-growing manufacturing organization. The company needed to promote individuals quickly into more senior roles to sustain its expansion. One of the leaders with whom we worked rapidly rose through the ranks to a plant manager role due to his high potential, landing in that role with much less prior experience than would be common. The organization leveraged developmental coaching for this individual to get him up to speed for his new demands quickly and to provide him with a thought partner who would challenge his thinking.
Tuning-up performance with coaching
Do you have a strong leader who might have one or two behaviours that need to shift to make them even more effective? Performance coaching can be a great solution for that challenge. This type of coaching allows the leader to zero in on those specific areas where they might have gaps, helping them become more well-rounded in their role.
We partnered with a healthcare organization on one such engagement to support a leader who had been in her role for some time. Although highly effective when things were going well, this leader had a targeted gap in her ability to deal with conflict. The leader focused too much on the details of the situation and was unable to pull back and look at the bigger picture objectively. She also felt that she needed to respond right away when in conflict, which created situations where she needed to backtrack. In the coaching engagement, we focused on helping the leader develop new strategies to close this gap such as listening to understand, not jumping in with a response, and slowing down on making commitments or decisions until she has understood the situation in its entirety.
Sustaining learning gains with coaching
How many times have you held an internal training to develop skills and change behaviours only to find that nothing stuck after the training was over? Without regular reinforcement and opportunities to apply what was learned, team members will not develop habits around using their newly-learned skills. This is where follow-up group coaching can help, which provides participants with regular checkpoints after the training, reinforces what was learned, and holds them accountable for application.
We leveraged this approach in a recent leadership development engagement for an international beverage company. Leaders first completed a half-day workshop on effective one-on-one conversations with their direct reports. Leaders learned how to shift their style from a very directive one-way conversation, where they tell their direct reports what to do, to a more open-ended two-way discussion, where they ask the right questions to foster independent problem-solving. Because making this shift requires diligent practice to develop new habits over time, we split the leaders into small groups to meet for three follow-up group coaching sessions after the workshop was over. Leaders brought real scenarios to the coaching sessions, shared their successes and challenges, and the group worked through them together. The sessions reinforced what was learned in the workshop and increased accountability for developing new habits.
When not to use coaching
Considering all of the powerful ways that coaching can impact individuals in your organization, you may be tempted to deploy it as a last-resort emergency measure when someone is significantly underperforming. We would encourage you not to. Using coaching as the last opportunity for someone to improve before being let go from an organization sends a negative message about coaching inside your organization. Instead of a development tool, it becomes a threat or a punishment. Leaders go in thinking, “I’m probably getting fired anyway,” ending up with a closed mindset that is not conducive to turning around their performance.
Coaching also should not be used if the individual is not bought in. If the individual does not think that they need coaching, they will not be open to the guidance provided by the coach, and will not benefit from the engagement. Before kicking off a coaching assignment, consider whether the individual is curious and open to learning, whether they are ready to make a change, and whether they are open to exploring things that might be uncomfortable for them.
A strategic investment for tangible business benefits
When deployed strategically, business coaching has the power to support transition into a new role, accelerate the development of your high-potential talent, tune-up specific behaviours, transform the way leaders show up, and sustain developmental gains long after a training session is over. The key to attaining these benefits is avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, be intentional with how you use coaching in your organization. Take time to understand your business context and get the relevant stakeholders involved. This will help you identify the kind of coaching you need to address your specific business goals.
Facing some of these challenges in your organization? We are here to help. Learn more about our business coaching services.