Coaching in the workplace: what’s the risk?
The philosopher Schopenhauer said that there were three phases in the evolution of a new idea. Firstly, it is ridiculed. Then it is violently rejected. And finally, it is universally accepted. This is true of many things – in thinking, fashion, human behaviour. And it is true about coaching in organisations. In the last 25 years, coaching within organisations has gone through all three of these phases. In some sectors and organisations it is still in stage 1 and 2! Let’s look at some of the objections that organisations have to coaching, and find some ways to overcome them.
Coaching in the organisation: problems for leadership and the company
There are standard concerns that organisations have about new initiatives (time, money, fear of change). Specifically about coaching organisations often cite these reasons for not engaging:
- It’s impractical and wouldn’t work for our particular circumstances.
- We will lose control of the direction of the company, behaviours of colleagues, quality of outputs.
- We may train up people to be great coaches, and then they leave.
- Isn’t it just a bit soft and fluffy?
All reasonable points, and worthy of discussion. It is great when organisation can be as clear as this with their objections. It means that we can have a frank dialogue about what they want to change, and what they don’t.
Coaching in the organisation: problems for team members
If the organisation has worries about coaching being used, then so do people who work in the company. (with the notable exception of people who have been coached well, and who know what the benefits are). Common objections that we hear include:
- That it won’t be for everyone, and only senior leadership will get coaching.
- It will be used as another way to manage people out of the business, or label them as underperformers.
- That they know someone who had some coaching, and they really didn’t like it.
- That they are too busy, they know their jobs and they don’t need someone bothering them with coaching.
Again, some great and clear concerns, and all have validity. And no coach wants to disappoint or find that people don’t want to be coached by them. So, it is our obligation to answer these concerns.
Introducing coaching: what mistakes are typically made?
If the points above aren’t addressed properly, then one of two things happens. Either the organisation walks away from coaching, or they implement coaching badly. Typical poor implementation includes things like:
- Not having a plan or strategy in how coaching is going to be deployed
- Under training coaches, or bringing in external coaches without having a real system or process.
- Not explaining to staff how coaching will work in the organisation.
- Not enough time allocated for coaching, so it only happens sporadically.
- Using coaching for underperformance, having coaches report back content of sessions.
So, what are the solutions?
Did you read the last blog on this topic, about the benefits of creating a coaching culture? If so, you will know that it is worth putting time and effort into the planning and organising stages. The mistakes above can be avoided with good planning and some organisation. Many organisations are very good at this (and if not, then the coaching organisation can support this stage). But before that, we have to address the concerns that leaders and team members may raise. Let’s do that here:
Concerns from leadership: and our responses
- It’s impractical and wouldn’t work for our particular circumstances. Many organisations who have high levels of compliance and risk also embed coaching. These include the military, oil industry, pharmaceuticals….. not everyone in the organisation is in the “firing line”.
- We will lose control of the direction of the company, behaviours of colleagues, quality of outputs. They will gain more than they lose. The autonomy allows for greater levels of responsibility and accountability. Coupled with good management, it works very well.
- We may train up people to be great coaches, and then they leave. Or we don’t train them, and they stay!
- Isn’t it just a bit soft and fluffy? This is the “feelings illusion”. Just because there is a gentler, feelings-based approach to development, doesn’t make it fluffy. Good coaches are brilliant at challenging, holding people to account and bringing the focus to actions.
Concerns from the workforce
The concerns from the workforce are slightly easier to address, with a bit of planning. When setting up coaching, make sure the coaches are well qualified and experienced. Have a strategy that uses coaching for everyone – senior and junior, high performing and struggling. And make sure the coaching is good enough that everyone sees the value that it adds that it helps performance, wellbeing and sense of fulfilment.
Setting up a good coaching programme takes time and a bit of planning. Addressing some of these issues, and some of the risks of putting a programme in place, always pays dividends. If coaching is worth investing in, it is worth doing well and overcoming all of these potential risks.