I picked up an assignment to design and implement a talent strategy for a 2,000 strong sales driven organisation. I was convinced that embedding a coaching culture could reap great benefits in raising employee productivity and business bottomline. It was new to me and this organisation was a perfect playground to discover the why, what and how of coaching as a strategic initiative. As I look back, these are my reflections and learnings.
The Business Case
Organizations of the future require every person to not only feel truly empowered but to also act empowered. The truth is traditionally we have been bandying around the word “empowerment,” however, have operated pretty much on a “tell mode.” Further, the reality is that leaders need free time from supervision so they can focus their time and attention on future vision and a disruptive marketplace. They need employees to shoulder on more accountability within a very demanding and autonomous climate.
This is where coaching can play a role.
Coaching talent helps shifts the needle from telling to asking. It helps a person to think on their feet; stretch their thinking abilities, find answers on their own, and develop the bandwidth to not rely on a tell mode. Does it help build a capability to act empowered? Yes, it does. Does this lead to less need for supervision? Yes, you are right it does.
Coaching focuses on developing the person for who they are - not who the organisation wants them to be, thereby unleashing huge talent and potential. They build on unique natural strengths and help them maximise their potential inside out, which complements traditional L&D initiatives. This is a significant shift and, in my view, is essential for organizations who wish to attract and retain exceptional talent in a marketplace where we are seeing career transitions being made in favour of being an entrepreneur.
In addition, a coaching culture not only fosters employee engagement and effective collaboration, but it also nurtures the spirit of transformation; which is absolutely essential for a VUCA world. A culture where people truly listen to each other and ask powerful questions - working towards a common goal and a powerful vision. Is that a definition of an organisation of the future? Yes, it is. It is also the definition of a coach–client relationship, so why not use it for its benefits?
The Four Building Blocks
#1 Leaders as Coaches: In any culture change initiative or in setting up a coaching culture leader role model, top level direction and governance must be Step 1. It is absolutely vital in not just initiating but also in sustaining a coaching culture. Note of caution: While leaders may think they are coaches, they aren’t really. They mistake “mentoring” at best or “telling” at worst as coaching. We know both styles are not deemed as coaching. It is counterintuitive for many so you have to help them. Take time to expose them to the right kind of coaches and then train them with coaching skills.
#2 Effective Storytelling: What are the successes? What are the outcomes? What is the journey? What does a coach–client session look like/sound like? What are the anecdotes? The more stories you tell, the more you sell the excitement of a coaching culture and the commitment required to sustain and embed it. Key insight: Begin with storytelling over internal employee communication channels for a period of time before you go public to attract talent or strengthen your brand. And share not just the stories but also the outcomes and metrics.
#3 Capability Development: So yes, we know coaching is the new age development intervention. The key strategy we adopted at design stage was to follow a “Less is more” philosophy. We chose high impact employee groups. My reflection is don’t begin with the sales force; while it is high impact, it is a tough one to sustain. Instead begin with high potential talent who are in the succession pipeline for senior roles—this is a highly responsive and influential group. Make it part of their blended learning/growth pathway. In parallel to coaching them, train them to coach front line/ sales/operations managers across functions and their own teams.
#4 Rewards and Recognition: Yes, the carrot and stick approach works—in this case it is more the carrot and ice cream approach. The carrot is reward metrics achieved such as hours of coaching, outcomes coachees achieved, business/operations targets achieved, etc. Use dashboards to maintain, track and showcase these metrics to senior leaders as part of sales and operations metrics review. The ice cream is high profile coaching awards and certification, with data points being linked to coach certifications, coachee feedback and employee engagement metrics. Use technology to enable this.
Reena Dayal is an author, coach, speaker, mentor and trainer based out of India and UK with a track record of 22+ years working as a HR professional across 26 countries before she founded The Collaborators. A transformational business coaching firm aimed at corporate leaders, entrepreneurs and teams who wish to master the game of leadership in every aspect of their lives and experience personal and professional success. You can access more insights through her book on effortless leadership The Brilliance Quotient.