When faced with shrinking budgets, a leaner workforce and the need to transfer knowledge from impending retirees to young up-and-comers, coaching can help organizations stay competitive and boost productivity. Yet, well-intentioned coaching programs struggle to get off the ground and maintain momentum.
Consider the following checklist when designing or re-designing a coaching program to increase the likelihood of success.
Technical expertise does not make a great coach. While technical expertise is certainly important, it is at best only half the battle. Great coaches are empathetic, patient, good listeners and good teachers.
Post-mortems from failed programs reveal that many coaches feel frustrated that participants couldn’t just catch on to what they were describing, while the participants feel frustrated that coaches just couldn’t explain how to do something.
By making sure coaches are more than just technical experts, talent managers stand a good chance of avoiding the frustration and failures that come from poor coach-participant communications.
Bad behaviors transfer just as easily as good behavior. While on the topic of what makes a good coach, it is important to realize that program participants will learn to be just like their assigned coach — even if that means picking up some of the coach’s bad behaviors.
Typically, the coaches who are selected are some of the most tenured and respected employees in the organization. As such, they know all the loopholes and ways around the system and they could easily (in the name of expediting work and shortcuts) pass these along to the participants.
Make it clear that the goal of the program is not only to allow participants a chance to experience how the coach realizes success, but also to teach and reinforce company standards and policies.
Coaching efforts must be treated like real work. A common complaint when evaluating failed coaching programs is that there just wasn’t enough time for coaches and participants to have meaningful engagements. Effective coaching relationships take concerted efforts from both parties and, as such, require time away from day jobs. Good coaching is more than just having lunch or coffee once a month, and it is more than just the ad hoc, office doorway conversation. Leaders must realize that in some instances, coaches may require some leeway such as a project extension.
Plan, agree, act and measure. Coaching relationships are business endeavors. As such, they demand the same amount of rigor that’s expected in any other business arrangement. Discussions should be predicated on mutually agreed-upon objectives, aligned to a mutually accepted plan of action, which demonstrates observable and measurable results.
Failing to effectively plan, agree, act and measure within the coaching construct is the quickest way to develop great relationships but poor results.
Ensure new coaches are coached. Being a coach may not come naturally to many; for this reason, many successful programs implement a coach’s coach for those individuals who are new to the program.
The coach’s coach has experience on both sides of the relationship, has proven that his or her coaching ability delivers results and has the emotional intelligence to help coaches work through the frustrations and conflicts that will arise.
Matthew J. Ferguson is practice manager at ESI Consulting Services, ESI International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.