With budgets tight, is coaching a worthwhile expenditure?
Thanks to Claire Collins, Director of the Diploma in Business Administration at Henley Business School.
There is no doubt that considerable sums of money these days are invested in coaching as a form of employee development in organisations. What is also true is that it is very difficult to know how effective this investment is or what is the best way to get optimum value for money from offering coaching to staff. The CIPD’s 2011 report, The Coaching Climate, showed that coaching is offered by 75% of the organisations surveyed and that, even in these straightened times, 84% of these are using it more than was reported two years ago. The two main purposes for undertaking coaching are stated as being; improvement in performance and employee engagement. Although it is problematic to try to quantify the beneficial effect that coaching in business has on the bottom line, research demonstrates that a number of indirect benefits can be realised that lead to improved engagement, better performance, greater efficiency and effectiveness and, ultimately, enhanced business results. Some of these indirect benefits include: lower burn-out rates, improved psychological health, better communication, reduced candour and denial, higher resilience, learning adherence, greater capability and capacity and improved interpersonal relationships. In addition, by persisting with these improvements, organisational costs such as sickness and high turnover can be reduced.
The many forms of coaching
What is less often understood is that there are different forms of coaching that can bring about these positive outcomes. The most common route is to engage coaches, either internally or externally sourced, to work with particular groups of staff as part of a formal development process. The coach and coachee sit in a private space and conduct a one and a half hour session in which deeply meaningful issues are discussed, options for change generated and an action plan agreed. While this is a simplistic view of a very sophisticated intervention, it is the most commonly used coaching format. However, an alternative way of embedding coaching is for the organisation to adapt to a coaching style of leadership. The skills of listening and questioning in order to address developmental issues become embedded in the organisation’s culture and it forms the prevailing philosophy behind key leader-follower interactions. By embracing a coaching culture as the bedrock of the organisation’s conversations, the indirect benefits listed above are achieved in a systemic way.
One to one relationships
However, let us return to the more conventional coaching approach; the one-to-one conversation. Are there ways in which the organisation can stack the odds in favour of getting a good return on its spend? Fortunately, recent research suggests that this is, indeed, achievable. One of the most vital aspects of a successful coaching intervention is that the relationship between coach and coachee is as positive as possible. Good rapport, openness and the establishment of trust are shown to lead to better coaching conversations and stronger outcomes. So as to achieve this, a deliberate process of matching the pair together should be undertaken. Coachees should be given a choice of who they would like to work with, ideally, from at least three candidates. In order to achieve this short list, some process of selection should take place in the organisation, based on a range of criteria relevant to the situation, which might include the coach’s experience, accreditation, previous clients, supervision and style. The coachee should then be given the opportunity to meet each potential coach. This does not have to be a long drawn-out process. In fact, it has been shown that a brief encounter of only five minutes is sufficient for this matching decision to be made. Once the match is achieved, a three-way meeting between the coach, coachee and the person commissioning the coaching enables clarification of the objectives of the coaching, and the expectations on each party. At the commencement of the coaching sessions themselves, a robust contracting conversation should establish important aspects, such as confidentiality and boundaries of the coaching. These preparatory actions strengthen the likelihood of a fruitful coaching relationship being formed, which itself is an indicator of better coaching outcomes.
Good coaching is worthwhile to the business
So, is coaching worth the spend? I believe that it certainly is, if an organisation approaches it systematically, sets up the coaching relationship well and makes the most of the indirect benefits that accrue this most surely builds performance, engagement and ultimately business success.