“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden. (One of the best ways I’ve found to describe the importance of employee coaching in the workplace.)
Today's world requires people at all levels of a company to constantly improve. They have to learn new skills and push themselves to higher levels of performance. That’s where employee coaching comes in.
So, what is coaching exactly?
Coaching is about helping someone meet a short-term goal by giving timely feedback.
The phrase “short-term” is an important aspect to remember. Coaching is all about helping someone perform better right now. Of course, coaching can happen over a span of a project. However, it could also occur in the space of just one conversation.
Companies are seeing significant advantages from making coaching a key part of their culture. They're more likely to have stronger leadership, lower turnover, and greater engagement.
While the benefits of a coaching culture are significant, it can be very challenging to build. Many assume coaching only happens to lower-level employees from their boss. This is not the case.
Coaching needs to go both ways on the org chart. A coaching culture depends enabling everyone in the organization to become a coach.
The best way to overcome this obstacle is for leaders to become comfortable with getting coaching. (Of course, they should also be comfortable with giving it.) As asking for and giving feedback becomes a habit, it begins to be more ingrained in the company culture.
Leaders should seek out four different types of coaching, each of which plays a distinct role:
Leader coaches provide guidance
When a leader is getting coaching from a boss or another higher-level person, the coach should ideally be serving as a guide for the leader. The coach should be focused on providing both proactive and reactive coaching that will help the leader succeed.
Proactive coaching is focused on helping set the leader up for success. This could be something like the coach offering insights to get through a project they have had experience with previously.
On the flip side, reactive coaching is about helping the leader solve problems. For example, helping remove barriers standing in the way of success or changing tactics to better approach the issue.
One trap for leaders as coaches, however, is that they may be managing more often than coaching. While coaching is about helping guide people to solve problems, managing is telling people what to do. Managing involves setting goals, giving direction, and making decisions.
When coaching starts to become more like managing, leaders often get frustrated. While managing is necessary, it should occur much less frequently than coaching.
Peer coaches offer candid partnership
Many people struggle to be open with those who are above them on the org chart. Even if they have a good relationship, they may feel that they still must present their best sides to their boss. They don't want to risk sharing anything that may affect their reviews, raises, or job status.
Peers can help to fill this gap. This style of employee coaching pairs together same-level leaders for mutual benefit. Without the burden of rank dynamics, peers feel free to provide candid feedback.
Peer coaching can also help break down silos and improve collaboration across the organization. In addition, knowing how much their peers are counting on them boosts accountability.
Direct reports can coach on their areas of expertise
In the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, we learned leaders are getting little coaching from their direct reports. And that’s fine with them! Many leaders may be concerned that getting coaching from folks who report to them may make them appear weak or lacking in knowledge.
However, direct reports often have insider knowledge that can be valuable to their leaders. When leaders are promoted, they lose touch with the day-to-day issues and experience. Thus, direct reports often have much deeper understanding of what the team needs.
A critical aspect of building an employee coaching culture is getting coaching from direct reports. When teammates get to share their expertise and input with their manager, they are more likely to feel like a valued and trusted member of the team. This improves engagement, as well.
External coaches provide objectivity
A strong internal employee coaching culture is ideal, but leaders say they desire it from outside sources. In fact, they prefer this more than any other type.
External coaches can play a valuable role in providing outside perspective to leaders. Leaders can feel free to voice concerns without fear of damaging relationships with their colleagues.
Further, they gain perspective about how leaders in other companies may have dealt with similar situations. They can also be objective about the situation without concern for organizational politics.
Unfortunately, leaders are rarely getting these opportunities for external coaching. Many companies reserve external coaching only for leaders at the executive level. This can leave others struggling to gain outside perspective.
The good news is that technology is making it easier for these leaders to access coaching, such as by scheduling virtual sessions.
When leaders seek coaching from a wider circle of people, they not only help their own career, but help others, as well. As people begin to feel more comfortable with coaching, it will begin to become a way of (work) life, transforming your company not only into a coaching culture, but a high-performance culture.
Explore DDI's leadership coaching options.