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How to Turn Managers Into Coaches

Cornerstone Editors

At the core of a successful company, you'll find great culture. When employees unite around common goals and core values, they create a positive and productive work environment.

Organizations are increasingly moving away from traditional training in favor of building coaching cultures. Rather than the customary process of management delegating assignments and solving problems as they arise, coaching empowers employees to work through challenges by guiding them to a solution. With this method, employees creatively problem solve, assume responsibility for their actions and feel a greater sense of company identity.

Strong coaching cultures can lead to increased employee engagement, productivity, improved team function and increased revenue growth.

We spoke with Magda Mook, CEO and Executive Director of the International Coach Federation (ICF) to learn more about the impact of coaching and how organizations can integrate this philosophy into their own leadership programs.

How does coaching differ from traditional training methods?

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

The individual or team being coached sets objectives, and the coach provides guidance on the process.

Training, on the other hand, is based on objectives set by the trainer or instructor. It follows a linear process, and adheres to a distinct curriculum. In other words, coaching is about the learner, not about the teacher.

What benefits can companies gain from implementing a coaching culture?

ICF's research with the Human Capital Institute (HCI) has shown that organizations with strong coaching cultures consistently report higher employee engagement and revenue than peer organizations without strong coaching cultures.

Companies are losing millions of dollars per year due to low employee engagement. Anything that can improve this situation is definitely worth the investment, as the return is significant and long lasting.

What challenges come with creating a coaching culture, and how can organizations overcome these obstacles?

The greatest obstacle reported by organizations is lack of time. It's absolutely true that building a coaching culture requires a significant investment of time on multiple fronts: sourcing external coaches, internal training and coaching engagements.

We've found two ways organizations with strong coaching cultures can overcome this obstacle. First and foremost, ensure the buy-in of senior leadership. If there are vocal coaching champions in the uppermost echelons of an organization, they ensure that building a coaching culture is a priority and promote this mindset throughout the organization.

Secondly, don't treat coaching as an add-on to existing training and development programs or employee calendars. Instead, integrate coaching and coaching skills into existing offerings.

How can organizations integrate coaching into their own leadership programs?

First, it's essential to be clear with employees and senior leaders about what coaching is and what it isn't. As you design your organization's coaching culture, take care not to confuse coaching with other modalities such as mentoring or consulting.

Second, invest in a combination of external coach practitioners, internal coach practitioners and managers or leaders using coaching skills. Not all styles are appropriate for all situations—for example, someone in your C-suite might feel more comfortable with an external coach practitioner.

Finally, set the bar high from day one. Invest in external coach practitioners who meet high professional and ethical standards, and utilize accredited training providers to help your internal coach practitioners meet the same high benchmarks.

Can you share an example of when coaching has helped a particular organization?

Every year, we use the prestigious ICF Prism Award program to recognize organizations that use coaching to yield discernible and measurable positive impacts, fulfill rigorous professional standards, address key strategic goals and shape organizational culture in sustainable ways.

This year's Prism winner, GlaxoSmithKline, incorporated coaching across their global enterprise. Coaching is integral to their Accelerating Difference (AD) program, an initiative that aims to get more women into senior leadership roles within the organization. Approximately 46 percent of 2013 AD participants have been promoted by at least one level, compared to 26 percent of women and 27 percent of men at the same grades across the organization. AD participants are more likely to stay at the organization, and their direct reports indicated that AD participants improved in manager effectiveness more than three times faster than a control group.

Even if your organization's current training and development offerings are working well, coaching can take them to the next level by enabling participants to personalize what they're learning in the classroom and think about immediate application.

Photo: Twenty20

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