There is a growing momentum with companies who are developing coaching within their organisations (Weekes, 2008), hoping to realise a wide range of benefits, that include business development, talent management, and the fostering of leadership and personal effectiveness. Within an organisation, where there is a developmental approach to coaching, the coach works with a coachee to help them grow personally and professionally, and there is trust that the coachee’s development will benefit all parties involved (Hay, 1995). In a developmental model, therefore, there is focus on the individual, as well as on the business, institutional and/or organisational goals.
One of the reasons that coaching might prove so effective for an individual is the notion of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1978), which suggests that opportunities can be provided where the gap between a person’s already assimilated knowledge or skills, and knowledge or skills yet to be assimilated, can be bridged when assisted by a more advanced peer and/or coach. In the process the participation and guidance are “mutual efforts...that can result in advances in learning for all participants” (Mentis, Ryba, and Annan, 2001, p. 3). These reciprocal benefits have been recognised and Ingleton (in Weekes, 2008) reports that they “have reciprocal coaching taking place across the organisation …. People really do value it and can see how it helps them” (p, 27). Often, the employees who move into reciprocal coaching roles are self-motivated leaders and change agents, who carry forward coaching skills, knowledge about a business, as well as other learning (Owen, 2015 b). In part, this is because of increased confidence in their own skills and knowledge (Owen, 2015 a). This tendency can result in a cost-effective approach for a company to work with team building and performance, as well as individual skills such as time management, and customer service provision.
When a company employs a coaching approach it can engender a positive environment that enables robust, informative discussions, where alternative points of view can be explored, as well as similar interests and goals. Coaches, using skills such as asking, as opposed to telling, and pulling rather than pushing, alongside rigorous frameworks and strategies for working with sustainable change, can help people develop the skills to meet and adapt to altering circumstances (Whitmore, 2009).
In part it is the gift of time and a “respite from the fast pace of many organisations” (Espin, in Weekes, 2008, p. 29), and an opportunity “to be heard and to be heard properly without interruption” (Espin, in Weekes, 2008, p. 29), that makes coaching so effective. During these sessions coaches can take on the role of “a sounding board ... and even from time to time [provide an opportunity to] vent frustration”. As one employee reported “It gives you [a] ... completely understanding and knowledgeable critical friend” (Owen, 2015 b). The reference to a ‘sounding board’ indicates that the coach is seen as someone who listens to their ideas, while also challenging their thinking and actions. One of the benefits, especially when an employee (and a company) are facing complex problems a coach can help as the questions that cause “dissonance that challenges our values, beliefs and ways of seeing the world. That challenge … makes possible our deepest learning and, from there, the biggest changes we are consequently likely to make….” (Robertson, 2015, p. 11). The coach might also offer alternative perspectives, and “see when...[a] leader is part of the problem and highlight when (s)he needs to consider their own contribution to the situation” (Perry, 2013, Para. 5).
An associated benefit includes the fact that a workforce feels heard and supported, while also developing skills that are valuable for the company. This sense of enhanced wellbeing can lead to increased levels of motivation and a sense of progression. In turn, this can positively impact employee retention, with an additional benefit that recruitment costs are reduced. In some cases a company may also become an employer-of-choice as their reputation for caring and giving their employees a voice, spreads.
Change in the form of new products, reorganisation, or a new approach, is a constant and necessary state for organisations if they are to remain current and viable. Robertson (2015) states that “it’s important for us to acknowledge that change or leading change processes will continue to be difficult unless we can fully understand that it is we, ourselves, who need to change first” (p. 11). Therefore, “no single leader, no matter how visionary, driven, or persuasive, can mandate such change to occur” (Harkins, 2005, p. 154). Rather, it is essential for a manager to help their team develop themselves, while also working on relationships so that they become a high-functioning team, which embraces dissonance, are respectful of diverse viewpoints, and can solve the most challenging problems with a minimum of conflict. While some teams may already exhibit all of these ways of working together, many will not, and this is where a coaching approach can be a great benefit (Harkins, 2005). The focus of the coaching relationship in these situations is likely to be the strengths of the team members, and the ways in which they are already working effectively together. Also, if the change or issue being faced appears to be overly-complicated, a coach can help a team develop strategies to identify bite-size next steps.
Working with existing teams and employees in a coaching relationship can be a more efficient way of fostering change, and supporting those employees who, for instance want to move into leadership roles. Whitmore (2009) outlines how people can be catalysed into taking opportunities that can lead to a change in attitude and viewpoint - both of which are fundamentally important in shaping outlook. Coaches can ask new questions about a person’s job, relationships and lifestyle that can help them re-assess their purpose, life, and values. As such, two primary products of coaching are a growth of a person’s awareness and responsibility, which apply to all aspects of life. As such, coaching has been shown to have longer lasting results, because it both encourages and supports an individual to change their behaviour while maintaining a positive level of motivation and sense of wellbeing. The individual, in turn, is more likely to use their initiative, share with their team, and be curious and innovative. An additional benefit is that those managers who develop coaching skills are more willing to delegate and pass on “responsibility to colleagues [to] ‘push accountability through the organisation”. As such, by “using coaching appropriately ... [they] give them[selves] more management time” (Espin, in Weekes, 2008, p, 29), helping to increase productivity and oversight of quality.
These are only a few of many, diverse benefits that coaching can bring to an organisation. The question that remains for me is, can an organisation afford not to embrace coaching?
Compass. CC ( BY ) licensed image by Vivek Raj: https://flic.kr/p/5CsUyY
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