No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Feature: Business Coaching – Behind the Boom


ReflectionsFrom being the new kid on the block, coaching has mushroomed into a development intervention used to, some extent, in most UK organisations. Dr Charles Woodruffe looks at the skills needed by a business coach and the standards that individuals and organisations should expect from them.

Today, there is a boom in business coaching. The reason is not hard to find: it can help an individual being coached make great strides in their personal performance, and the quality of this personal performance can also bring huge benefits to the organisation employing the individual. There is a particular boom in one-to-one coaching, because this form of coaching is especially effective. Indeed, business executives are so much aware of this that increasingly the provision of a coach on an ongoing or periodic basis will be enshrined in employment contracts, especially for senior people.

The purpose of coaching in business is to empower you to do better and to show you how you can do better. Learning how to do better is not an easy task. To improve two basic factors need to feature within an individual's attitude towards performance.

The first factor is a willingness to change.

Fortunately, this is a diminishing obstacle in today’s business world. Coaching is maturing as a concept and people are getting accustomed to the idea that coaching is not just a remedial intervention for people who aren’t doing well, but rather a means of helping people who are already doing well to do even better.

The second factor is a willingness to find out what you need to do in order to change for the better.

Add those two factors together and you have an irresistible formula for being more successful in the future. For the truth is that whatever level of performance we reach, there is always going to be an "increment of improvement" available to us.

In broad terms, business coaching should be directed at all of the following objectives:
1. Amplifying an individual’s own knowledge and thought processes.
2. Improving the individual’s self-awareness and facilitating the winning of detailed insight into how the individual may be perceived by others.
3. Creating a supportive, helpful yet demanding environment in which the individual’s crucial thinking skills, ideas and behaviours, are challenged and developed

Business coaching today covers a wide range of areas of human expertise; from improving important niche to involving psychological interventions that address fundamental personal issues, preconceptions and attitudes the individual brings to the workplace.

It is, however, focused on business and in particular on how individuals can be helped to perform better at the organisations that employ them. Business coaching tends to be focused around a very specific problem or challenge, which means that it is usually limited in duration, and focuses on the problem in hand.

What sort of person should be a business coach?
Business coaching can take place on a one-to-one or team basis. The crucial point is that either individual executives or the team of executives shall be given access to one or more professional specialist coaches who are solely motivated by the desire to help the coached person succeed. The coach will be – or should be – immune from company dynamics and politics, while also being aware of them. The coach will take time to monitor, assist and guide the coached person without having any other personal or political agenda than the success of the individual.

When a particular professional or technical skill is being taught, an experienced practitioner in that area of expertise is likely to be the best coach. Business psychologists, however, bring to their work an in-depth understanding of human behaviour, thought processes and other manifestations of personal psychology in the business world.

Business psychologists need to be good at spotting the positive aspects of an individual’s psychological make-up that are responsible for successful performance. But in many ways, the most important contribution business psychologists can make to the coaching process is to be able to identify problems that are inhibiting the individual’s performance or preventing the individual from really fulfilling their potential.

This last point is particularly important. As human beings we are, at one level, simply highly sophisticated types of biochemical machines. And, like any other machine, it is all too easy for our capabilities to be massively undermined by a spanner in the works. The spanner might be something easily identifiable through just one or two coaching sessions, or it might be something buried deep down in the individual’s make-up: something that needs unearthing by a business coach carrying out a fairly detailed and in-depth investigation into their psychological background.

A high-performer, for example, who refuses to delegate authority even to highly able and dedicated colleagues, may have a simple but not immediately obvious personal reason for being like this. These personal reasons often turn out to originate in the individual’s childhood. It’s not necessarily the case that the individual doesn’t perform well, but rather that the individual will never be all they can be until the problem is identified and recognised. This may be solved in just one session, or it may take many months. But when a cause of negative behaviour is identified and its potency diminished, the sky can be the limit as far as individual – and corporate - performance is concerned.

Finally, what about the confidentiality issue? This is always a sensitive matter in business coaching because one principal purpose of the coaching activity is to unearth and identify issues that may be inhibiting the individual from performing to his or her fullest capability. To what extent should the organisation who employed the coach (and most coaches are employed by the organisation rather than the individual) be made aware of these issues?

The simple answer is that it is unethical for a coach to break confidence about sensitive matters. Coaches will therefore regard the coaching sessions with individuals as sacrosanct and private. However, they will certainly urge individuals to bring particularly difficult problems to the attention of the organisation and may in certain circumstances ask the individual’s permission to do this themselves.

Furthermore, any really serious problem identified does need to be brought to the attention of the organisation, but again, this must be done with the full consent of the person being coached. Unless confidentiality is in place, there is little chance of the individual approaching the coaching procedure with the level of frankness necessary for the process to be effective.

* Dr Charles Woodruffe is managing director of Human Assets. He is also the author of Winning the Talent War (Wiley) and Development and Assessment Centres – Identifying and Developing Competence (Third edition, CIPD).


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!