When it comes to helping employees realize their potential, leadership coaching can be one of the most effective Talent Development practices out there. Under the right conditions, coaching helps high-performing employees advance and equips under-performing employees with the skills they need to improve. An effective coaching engagement can also provide a framework for goal setting and subsequently drive organizational growth.
That said, many organizations misunderstand what it takes to create effective employee coaching. The focus is often on developing an appropriate coaching cadence or structure and providing the right tools, but research tells us these things don’t matter as much as we might think.
Recent scholarship compares the “active ingredients” of coaching to those of psychotherapy and sheds light on what is important if we want to create successful coaching outcomes.
The primary predictor of success is not surprising; it’s the client. A person’s skills, motivations, experience, thought patterns, defense mechanisms, relationships, and current environment all have a major impact on how ready and willing they are to be coached. Essentially, if people aren’t prepared to change, they won’t.
The quality of the coaching relationship is the second-biggest predictor of success. To create necessary buy-in, coaching relationships should be based on reciprocity, trust, collaboration, and consensus. Coaching participants feel more at ease when they respect the credibility and character of their coaches. Without the foundation of a solid coaching relationship, learning isn’t likely to land at all, let alone stick in a way that drives sustainable results.
Creating Effective Employee Coaching
Experts agree that of the factors that significantly impact successful outcomes, “theory and technique,” which is generally where organizations invest their time and resources, have as little influence as “hope and the placebo effect.” If organizations want employees to benefit from coaching, they need to be less concerned with the coaching process and more concerned with making sure employees are ready to be coached. To create successful outcomes, companies need to cultivate a coachee’s motivation, readiness, and relationship with their coaches.
Motivation is related to a person’s willingness and desire to do something. Though we often use the terms “motivation” and “inspiration” synonymously, motivation is not just about being a cheerleader, but about understanding people and what makes them tick. Effective motivation strategies involve understanding and appealing to a person’s drivers. Leading motivation expert Dan Pink suggests that there are three main drivers that motivate people at work: Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery. Purpose is about contributing to a greater cause, autonomy has to do with independently creating results, and mastery involves becoming an expert. Discovering and appealing to these drivers can be a powerful way to prepare someone for an effective coaching engagement.
Setting the stage for an effective coaching engagement also requires creating space and providing tools that will foster a coachee’s ability to develop. Highly-motivated employees may fail in coaching relationships because they lack the capacity to (1) self-reflect on their development, (2) practice tools or techniques that they are being coached to use, or (3) build the feedback networks, mentors, and alliances they need in order to bring about lasting behavioral change. Organizations can get a much higher return on their investment by creating an environment for coachees that sets them up for success by making them ready to develop and apply what they learn.
Cultivating the Employee Coaching Relationship
Once motivation and readiness have reached a good place, the best way to drive effectiveness in coaching is to cultivate the relationship between the coach and coachee. There are three stages to this relationship that deserve an intentional focus by those who are overseeing leadership development efforts.
Before the relationship begins, careful attention should be given to pairing coaches with coaches that can meaningfully impact them. Common ground, previous experiences, social styles, and learning styles are just a few of the factors that ought to be taken into account when these pairings are made.
During the coaching relationship, both parties need to create an atmosphere that encourages accountability as well as candor around the obstacles and challenges that are holding a coachee back from reaching his or her full potential. Establishing ground rules, assuring confidentiality, and being open with each other about challenges are just a few examples of ways this can be done. This requires a significant investment of time and preparation on behalf of both parties.
Finally, effective employee coaches put mechanisms in place to ensure that learning and development continue to happen long beyond the formal coaching engagement. Books, action plans, accountability partners within the organization, and a variety of other resources exist to give real staying power to the progress that begins in a coaching relationship.
At the root of cultivation is preparation, creating a set of circumstances that enable the various tools and techniques of coaching to lead to genuine growth. Addressing motivation, readiness, and the coaching relationship are key elements to get the best impact possible from the coaching experience.
At PRADCO, we have the experience, drive, and tools to be your partner in hiring and developing talent. We’ll take the time to learn about your organization and customize solutions for you. We’re ready to help you hire and promote with confidence. If you’re ready to get started, let’s talk.