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Introduction to Coaching

Coaching is a popular approach to employee development, based on a relationship between two people, the coach and the individual.  The individual typically wants to improve his or her understanding of a situation, learn new skills, prepare for new situations, or improve performance areas.  The coach may provide a variety of services to help the individual improve his or her performance.  For example, the coach may help identify an underlying problem, provide tools that help the individual understand the problem, suggest activities that will lead to performance improvement;, share insights about the environment in which the individual works, and provide honest feedback about the quality of performance.  Coaching is especially useful during times of significant change or challenge, when individuals must acquire new skills or adapt to new environments.  

When should coaching be used?

There are many approaches to development training and education, new assignments, mentoring relationships, etc.  Each can be an effective tool when properly used in the right situation.  To determine if coaching is useful in your situation, consider the following questions: 

  • Is the nature of the problem understood?

Often, the nature of an individuals performance difficulties are not well understood, and coaching is used to identify manifestations of the problem and explore the root causes.  For example, an executive who works 80 hours a week may have difficulty accomplishing all of his or her tasks for a week.  A coach can help the executive determine what intrudes on his or her schedule and prevents the person from achieving desired performance goals. 

  • What competency is to be improved?

Some competencies can best be improved by coaching, others by some other developmental activity.  Coaching often works well for the development of skills that require feedback on actual behavior but may be less useful when measures of improvement are not dependent on someone elses evaluation.  For example, if an individual needs to acquire financial management skills, the best solution may be a training course focused on principles of financial management.  In contrast, if a manager has difficulty getting along with colleagues, a coach, who can give direct feedback and probe sensitive areas, may be more useful.  

Examples of competencies that are often coached include: 

Conflict management
Tact and diplomacy
Working across boundaries
Listening skills
Presentation skills
Time management skills
Strategic thinking
Decision-making skills
Interpersonal relationship skills

  • How sensitive is the problem?

Although everyone has strengths and weaknesses, exposing your weaknesses varies in acceptability.  While it may be OK to admit that you lack knowledge in an area to which you have never been exposed, it may not be OK to admit that you lack the interpersonal skills to build strong business relationships.  Some individuals are resistant to admitting they have any performance deficiencies.  Sometimes, just exploring the problem is a delicate matter.  For example, an executive who needs assistance evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of his management team may not want to share information about others to anyone within his organization and needs assurances that the information shared is kept confidential.  Coaching often works well when the problem or its resolution is a sensitive one.

  • What learning skills does the individual possess?

Acquiring new skills is a function of learning skills as well as the motivation to learn.  Sometimes a coach serves simply to help the individual discipline him or herself and spend time on development activities.  Other times, a coach assists the individual in analyzing a situation and pointing out the salient elements.  Coaching cannot add much value in situations where the person does not have the raw capabilities (e.g., intelligence) to succeed.  Job redesign or reassignment is more useful.  Neither is coaching the recommended solution when emotional or psychological issues are primary (e.g., depression, substance abuse).  In such cases, therapy or mental health counseling is recommended.

  • What motivations does the individual have to participate fully in a coaching relationship?

The essential requirement for effective coaching is simply the individuals desire to improve his or her performance and willingness to work at it.  Improving a skill is a challenging task.  Unless the individual is motivated to participate fully in a coaching relationship and make significant changes, coaching is not likely to succeed.

  • What resources does the individual or organization have?

Because coaching involves an on-going, one on one relationship, it can be a significant investment.  The organization or individual paying for coaching must have the resources to pay for it.

  •        Will the individual have the support of others in the organization?

An individual making major changes in his or her approach to work must have the support of the organization.  Sometimes, support is in the form of the boss providing detailed feedback.  Other times, the organization must be willing to accept new approaches to certain activities.  For example, if a manager is being coached to provide detailed performance feedback to subordinates, even star performers, the culture of the organization must accept the appropriateness of feedback.  Without organizational support, changes in the individual are unlikely to be sustained over time.

What makes coaching effective?

Coaching can make a difference in peoples performance for three key reasons. First, it is customized to meet each persons needs, so no time is wasted. Although books, classes, e-learning, and other approaches may be less expensive, they may not provide as much value for the learner because they cover a broad content area and are aimed at a diverse audience. Second, coaching can address the full spectrum of learning, from insight, motivation, and learning new skills to accountability and application in the real world. Finally, having a personal coach provides a relationship built on trust and openness that allows safe exploration of difficult topics and supports risk-taking in trying new behaviors.

In summary, coaching can be an effective tool for accelerating learning and dramatically improving performance across a wide range of skills that benefit both the individual and the organization. 

Coaching Table of Contents

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