Business

View from HR: How to get the most out of a workplace coach

There are more coaches working in corporate America than in all of college sports. What are these workplace coaches doing?

So many kinds of workplace coaching exist because individual circumstances vary greatly. Generally, internal coaches are experienced mentors or managers assisting an employee. Internal coaches tend to focus on performance improvement or career advancement (succession). Staff coaches know so much more about the business and how it works than external coaches.

External fee-based coaches generally focus more on employee behaviors. Of course, behaviors affect performance but in different ways than a lack of job skills or experience. External coaches usually have more experience with assessment tools and helping an employee understand the role of behaviors in their success.

Whether called coaching, mentoring, managing or succession planning, the idea is a coach can help someone see what they cannot see by themselves. The coach is there to help create a pathway for change and growth.

Bring awareness

The best workplace coaches are great listeners. Before employees trust a coach’s process or guidance, they have to feel heard. This is especially true in behavioral coaching. Behaviors are so personal and emotional, change often requires an equally strong emotional counterweight created with the help of a coach.

Great coaches are always looking for ways to bring awareness to the employee. Until we see what we do not know, how our behavior impacts others, or how our role (or future role) will test us, we cannot change.

Good mentors, managers and coaches are willing to devote the time needed, first to build a good relationship and second to create the space to process and learn. Performance coaching (managing) can be directive at times with steps and instructions. Behavioral coaching usually includes more questions than answers plus the use of objective personal assessment data. Mentor-style coaching might be mostly about providing a newer employee with helpful context and scope earned from experience.

Logic, emotion, listening, direction, awareness, venting, conversations, context, history-telling, role-modeling, sticks and carrots: all these and more fit under the big umbrella of coaching.

Offloading problems

Successful coaching matches the purpose of the engagement with the tools and techniques of the right coach. Is a coach needed to keep an employee’s career train from jumping the track? Or is a coach assigned to help a high potential employee grow into their next role?

The best managers in any organization are already coaches without the label. They use patience, conversations, relationships, listening and direction to provide employees every chance to succeed. Poor managers need their own coaches to help see the damage created by bad behaviors.

The mistake we often see employers make is offloading a problem employee onto a coach’s (or manager’s) plate expecting a miraculous conversion. Good coaching requires workplace reinforcement by leaders with skin in the game.

Employees sometimes reject the help. Behavioral change is key to success as responsibilities increase, but it is hard.

If offered a workplace coach or mentor, seize the opportunity as a gift to you and your career!

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

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