Coaching in a sporting context has been used throughout history and has acquired a high status. It was the tool used to enable the athlete to run that bit faster, throw that bit farther: In essence, to win. In the business world, coaching is increasingly seen as one of the tools to enable an organization to achieve winning results. Coaching involves a one-to-one relationship between the coach and the learner, and aims to enhance the performance of the learner. Anyone from new frontline employees to experienced executives can benefit from coaching. Each has different starting points and needs but the outcome is likely to be similar: Overall improvement in performance and increased personal and job satisfaction.
Coaching involves a simple process that helps the learner identify and select the most appropriate course of action. By asking questions and giving support, feedback, and direction when necessary, the coach is able to encourage the learner to think through their own answers and make their own decisions. The following stages are typical: (1) initial fact finding—assessment of the learner’s skills, attitudes, and motivation; (2) stage setting—a mutual agreement is established on ways of working together, on goals and desired outcomes for the coaching sessions; (3) defining the challenge/problem—the learner is the best person to define the challenge and to get to the root cause with the coach’s help; (4) gaining agreement on facts—discussions are regularly summarized as an aid to understanding; (5) considering options—too often people use the first idea they think of, but the coach will encourage the learner to explore a range of options before selecting the preferred solution; (6) action plan development—specific steps are outlined in order to achieve the preferred solution; and (7) evaluation—of how successful implementation was, of the learner’s performance, and on what has been learned from the process.
For the learner, the main benefit of coaching is in gaining greater competence and confidence. This should result in better performance, which in turn may lead to greater independence, increased job satisfaction, greater reward, and a higher status. The coach can often be the learner’s manager, and where this is the case the coach can benefit from improvements in team performance that result from competent staff. It can also lead to a reduction in management time spent problem solving and increased self-esteem for the coach as they see people blossom under their guidance. For the organization, coaching can result in greater all-around effectiveness, productivity, and quality through more competent staff. It can also lead to increased awareness of the talent within the organization and an enhanced reputation as an employer.
Effective coaching is about relationships. If the coach’s and learner’s styles or personalities clash, coaching may not be effective. Coach selection is therefore important. The coach needs to have a specific set of skills to be effective. The emphasis in coaching is on giving support and asking questions.
If the wrong person acts as coach, or if solutions are dictated to the learner, then they may not be fully committed to implementing their own learning. Some believe a learner’s manager is the best person to be the coach. Depending on the goals and required outcomes of coaching, this may be true, but care needs to be taken with the unequal power relationship that exists and the level of openness and honesty possible. For these reasons, coaches from outside the organization may be preferred. Coaches must also have sufficient skills and experience to have credibility in the learner’s and organization’s eyes. Another difficulty is the time and cost involved. Coaches most often work one-on-one with people and over a period of time. Telephone or computer based coaching can sometimes be used to reduce the direct face-to-face contact needed.
Coaching in a business context can be used for a variety of reasons. In business coaching, organizational developments or supporting learners through a change of role or career can often be best achieved through coaching. Executive coaching is targeted to people at board level within the organization, or to people who have the potential to progress to this level. Performance coaching is used to enhance the learner’s performance, and it has been shown to be highly successful in this context. Skills coaching focuses on the core skills employees need in their role. Coaches here need to be highly experienced and competent in performing the skills they teach. In personal or “life” coaching, coaches work in supportive roles to learners who wish to make some form of change in their lives. Business coaching is always conducted within the constraints placed on the learner by the organization, but personal coaching takes purely the learner’s perspective.
- Ian McDermott and Wendy Jago, The Coaching Bible—The Essential Handbook (Piatkus Books, 2007);
- David Megginson and David Clutterbuck, Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring (Elsevier ButterworthHeinemann, 2005).
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