Coaching as the lynchpin of Organisational Development
All organizations are concerned with performance. Where the profit-making enterprise will concentrate on the bottom line and creating value for its shareholders, the public organization will need to provide value for the communities it serves; who fund it in one way or another via taxation. Even the ‘not for profit’ organization will want to perform, because it is a ‘not for loss’ organization too. Coaching improves performance at the organization level, because organizations are collections of people and if they perform better as individuals and teams so does the organization as a whole. The bottom line will increase largely as a result of improvement in the top line – turnover and productivity – rather than swinging cost-cutting exercises.
Organizations that see coaching as a key management skill produce more, but with no loss of quality. Staff who are coached feel more valued and tend to care more about the quality of output they produce. Formal quality methodologies such as those provided by the International organization for Standardization (ISO) or Investors in People (IiP) are welcomed by employees and not seen with the cynicism that is otherwise often the case. Staff who are coached feel genuinely appreciated and respond in kind.
Many staff will have responsibility for resources; finance, time, equipment, staff of their own and so on. It follows that the organization will want to see these resources put to good use. Coaching has an emphasis on making people responsible and empowered and organizations that are benefiting from coaching know they can trust their staff to use resources wisely. Take for example an account manager with their own budget for client entertainment. Is there any reason to expect that they will be any less careful with the amount they spend than the executive in charge of the function? Coached properly, they’ll exercise as much discretion as the next person. Strangled by expenses claim forms and signing off procedures they’ll likely find ways of hiding expenses as a way of ‘getting their own back’.
I remember doing some follow-up work in an organization whose managers we’d trained as coaches and being told ‘you know, coaching makes people think as if this place was their own business’. What a wonderful outcome! One thing that follows this change in thinking is a definite improvement in customer service as employees begin to realize that the customer really is the most vital cog in the whole machine. Once organizations have been established with investor’s money, customers become the only real source of revenue and profit. Every other business activity is simply a different way of spending customer’s money. Customer facing staff can only treat customers as well as they feel treated themselves. Thus if we treat staff better through coaching they will in turn take more care of the customers.
A coaching organization will see relationships improve across the whole organization as people get together and have coaching conversations. Of course there have been conversations at work of one kind or another as long as we’ve had organizations, but a coaching conversation is different. It is firstly a meeting of equals where the tacit agreement is that anything can be raised and discussed openly and honestly. It is a conversation that looks ahead to what needs to happen next rather than one which dwells on what happened. It is one where every last drop of learning is sought but that also emphasizes taking action. In the end, coaching is about doing not talking, but talking means we do the right things.
With coaching as the prevailing management style, morale and motivation improves with a consequently dramatic effect on staff retention. Given that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimates the average cost – in the UK – of an employee leaving at £4625, this is clearly a significant gain.
It has been said that people join organizations but leave managers and there is probably a lot of truth in this. Listen to the conversations in coffee shops and bars where workers gather at lunchtime and take note of their moans and groans. Some will be grumbling about the lack of choice in the staff restaurant or the battle for car-parking, but I’ll bet the majority of complaints are about treatment at the hands of management. Of course coaching alone cannot fix otherwise destructive relationships but it does shine a light on where things are going wrong and what may need to change. So coaching not only helps us retain key people in the organization but also their skills and attributes. We’re constantly being told by the business gurus that we now operate in the knowledge economy, that the days of labouring in exchange for wages and salary are over and that firms live or die by their ability to change, learn and use their core competencies and knowledge. We need to cultivate the knowledge and skill that reside in the workforce, nurture and develop it and ensure it is passed on to the next generation. What better way to do this than through coaching?
There are counter arguments though. Some say that there’s no point in hanging on to staff that have reached the top of their salary scale unless you can offer them career advancement which isn’t so easy any more. Others suggest that investing in the development of staff is a waste as they’ll probably leave and their next employer gains all the benefit. I believe both these arguments are flawed. There is more to working life than climbing the greasy pole of career advancement and if people are earning enough to fulfil their needs, learning, developing and enjoying themselves the chances are they’ll stay. Some might leave for more money and good luck to them, that’s their choice and are they the people you’d want to hang around anyway? Some might leave after you’ve invested in the training, but that’s no reason to withhold development from everyone else. You can always insert a ‘payback clause’ in any agreement to fund say, an external qualification. If we’re having coaching conversations regarding people’s current situation at work and how they’d like to see that developing, recognize as well that from the organization’s point of view we’re capturing invaluable data for career and succession planning. Coaching also helps solve the conundrum of ‘I’m okay where I am and don’t want to progress’. This is not a normal reaction and in my experience has been caused by poor management in the past or external factors getting in the way now. Again, progress does not have to equate to a new job with a promotion; coaching helps people progress in terms of being the best they can be in their current role.
Many of the benefits we’ve considered until now are available in the short-term, but coaching also offers the prospect of building a foundation for new skills development as the organization becomes more used to learning, makes it part of what it means to work there and attracts people with a learning disposition. All of which will make the organization more competitive as the knowledge and skills needed to operate successfully in a market need constantly to be updated.
Some ageing managers may have been able to resist the technological revolution when word processing was all they had to worry about; after all they still had their secretaries to take care of such things, but what about the impact of the internet and digital communications? Managers and staff at all levels and in all organizations are having to get used to the new business models and ways of working that the internet has brought about. Teachers cannot afford to be left behind by their pupils. Business leaders cannot afford being overtaken by two young people on a laptop in a bedroom and we can none of us afford to ignore the opportunities and threats that the digital age presents. But all of this requires an ability to learn at speed. If, as has been suggested, high performers are simply those people (and organizations) that learn quicker then we are obliged to turn to coaching to make that happen. It follows that coaching also prompts entrepreneurial thinking as it encourages people to think creatively and offers rewards for voicing ideas
Coaching over the longer term also offers better value from learning and development activity. Classroom training, for example, has been shown to have a much grater effect when the trainee is supported by their ‘coach’ as they put into practice what they’ve learnt. Of course there is a time and possibly a monetary cost of putting the coaching in place, but this is a fraction of the amount lost through poorly implemented training or learning that is allowed to wither on the vine. If training budgets are tight, coaching represents the most efficient means of employee development, when perhaps more formal training or courses are not available. When line managers deliver the coaching, their staff are learning and developing every working day, not just at formal training sessions. I mentioned earlier the comment about employees behaving as if the business were their own. What if everyone in the business thought and acted as if they were self-employed. They’d be looking to be the best they can be, they’d be mindful of cost, and constantly alert to new opportunities. Coaching may not foster this spirit everywhere or for all of the time, but it’s certain that command and control won’t do it at all!