As organizations face down levels of unprecedented disruption, coaching has acquired a new value. Learn how coaching now offers fresh support for talent development, executive improvement and raising the agility of all top performers.
— By INGRID JOHNSON
Once, working with a coach – needing to be coached – was seen as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Now? Not only has coaching become a “must” for top performers, those flying solo without the support of a coach, or even multiple coaches, are now viewed as less than ideal.
What changed? A big shift has been the acknowledgement of coaching’s exceptional value in times of rapid change and disruption. This was taking hold before 2020, but the pandemic impact has accelerated the new consensus that coaches fill a desperate need for developmental support, intellectual stimulus and adaptability training.
Coaching as a Developmental Imperative
Right now, organizations are facing unprecedented disruption in every part of their business, from day-to-day operational models to recruitment and long-term talent development. Blanket, one-size-fits-all recommendations fail to account for regional differences, diverse employee populations and shifting regulatory requirements. As a result, targeted coaching opportunities have become developmental imperatives.
With targeted coaching, employees can work to grow the skills needed to face their unique personal and professional challenges and hit their goals. Delivering this kind of more personalized coaching effectively to a broad population means that firms must build coaching capability. It is no longer optional – it is mission critical for survival.
The Learning Solutions Alliance (LSA) notes that 90 percent of general training spend is wasted, because what is learned in classes and seminars is rarely transferred back to co-workers or the workplace at large. By focusing on building coaching capability instead of general training attendance, organizations can move from improvised coaching models to models that bridge adoption disconnects and application disconnects to achieve meaningful performance outcomes and positive ROI on training spend.
Coaching programs that link strongly to organizational results and align with the organization’s mission are said to be “mature” coaching systems and can provide deep competitive advantages and measurable talent-driven growth. Thus, by focusing on shifting their coaching systems up the maturity curve, firms can move from wasting training dollars on programs that achieve little to having a robust coaching framework that can be relied upon to get results.
Coaching for Executive-Level Intellectual Stimulus
Another area where coaching can deliver both stronger individual leader performance and leverage leading-edge coaching models to adapt to workplace disruption is by providing executive-level intellectual stimulus. All too often, high-level executives are isolated from safe conversational spaces where they can debate ideas and test-run solutions without needing to worry about the discussion becoming public or creating internal strife. As a result, executives can stagnate in their role or become locked in less than ideal patterns of thought and behavior.
One unusual coaching approach to this dilemma is known as the “sparring partner.” The term, popularized by futurist consultant Venkatesh Rao, describes a coach hired specifically for the purpose of challenging, playing devil’s advocate, or otherwise providing opposition practice to CEOs and other senior leaders who may be surrounded by “yes men” or who have a need to solve complex problems with confidentiality.
Working with a sparring partner provides an opportunity for private mental gymnastics and can help shake leaders out of established thought or behavioral patterns. It can drive deeper adoption of high-performance standards because sparring partners ensure that executives feel supported as they develop themselves (as opposed to feeling exposed for revealing weaknesses or faulty mental models). As a result, executives who have used a sparring partner report feeling more engaged and confident in their work, and better able to respond to systemic challenges and ongoing disruption.
Coaching to Build Resilience and Adaptability
Of course, it is not just those at the top who need support in managing ongoing disruption. While it is not economically feasible to provide a sparring partner to everyone in the organization, firms can still offer access to useful coaching that can help individual employees build mental resilience and become more adaptable.
One of the most useful coaching experiences at present is group coaching around mental resilience and flexibility. The COVID-19 crisis has pushed many individuals to the brink of their capacity to manage stress, making it hard for employees to handle the additional mental load of work, much less do any innovation or grow for their firm. Thus, by coaching team members on effective mental self-care and offering safe practice spaces to build mental resiliency, firms can see dramatic increases in engagement, morale, and day-to-day job performance.
Having employees with greater resilience also means that workers will develop a greater capacity to perform and succeed in agile, shifting environments. When workers are better able to modulate their own emotional responses and can manage their mental stress more efficiently, they have the bandwidth to be more creative innovators and solution providers. An added bonus? Workers can often see and feel the results of resilience coaching quite quickly, creating a positive feedback loop that reinforces accepting more coaching.
All in all, organizations are facing unprecedented disruption at all levels. Fortunately, coaching can help and provide deep value along the way.
Coaching offers firms the chance to redirect training spend away from low-ROI classes to high-ROI coaching experiences. Coaching can reinvigorate the entire organization from the top by giving executives and CEOs the chance at “sparring partners” for safe mental gymnastics and mindset resets. Finally, coaching can help firms build a more resilient and adaptable workforce, benefiting both individuals facing stress and organizations facing a world of change.
Thus, the question is no longer “Who should have a coach?” but “Why are we not coaching everyone?”