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Feature: What Is Coaching?


"I am somewhat puzzled by the sense that coaching has a value, yet we don't know what that value is and we don't know how to measure it." Peter A Hunter, author of Breaking the Mould presents his thoughts on the subject.

Is this is a bad thing or not?

Style has no value and cannot be measured but it makes the owner more attractive.

Are we trying to make our organisations more attractive by providing coaching or are we trying to make our organisations more effective?

If the latter we have to be able to demonstrate a return on investment, if the former we don't.

I am just a little uncomfortable with the idea that we appear to be using coaching without any sense of why we are doing it. There is a vague feeling that it adds value to an individual’s performance but at the same time not enough value to make a measurable difference.

From an aesthetic point of view this may mean that the value, like style, cannot be measured in the conventional sense, but from the point of view of the accountant or engineer, if the added value cannot be measured there can be only one conclusion.

There has been no value added.

If this is the case then it becomes difficult to justify the investment of resources into something that provides no return.

Since most businesses are not run by aesthetes we have to ask why we persist with a strategy that provides no measurable return.

Coaching is a familiar word which we accept without further qualification because we believe we know what it means.

The context in which this word is familiar is the sports pavilion, not the business arena in which we are now using it.

So what is coaching?

We have a fairly sophisticated idea already of the work of the sports coach.

The Coach takes a naive athlete and allows that athlete to realise the full potential of his or her body.

The athlete is already fit and strong, the Coach provides the focus, technique and energy to an already prepared body which allows the athlete to improve.

This idea translates very effectively to the business arena in which the business leader/manager, with coaching, is guided and supported to a new focus, a new understanding of personal effectiveness and real power.

The above repeats the familiar analogy of the athlete who with coaching is able to reach his full potential.

The model, however, falls short of the needs of the professional tradesman who finds himself in a position of authority with no management or leadership tools.

All of his working life he has been using his skill with familiar tools, (that he was introduced to during his apprenticeship), to produce results for which he is paid.

His promotion to a managerial position now puts him in a place where he is not allowed to use his old familiar tools.

He is placed in this position and expected to produce results in terms of performance, without the training or experience to indicate how he might go about it.

The equivalent situation is the man on the street who finds himself being coached by an athlete. He doesn't even speak the same language.

"What has diet got to do with it, what do you mean go for a run? What’s wrong with the bus, cross training? Do you mean learn how to get angry, don't call me overweight!"

There is no reason why the second man cannot become as motivated and effective as the first but it is apparent that some extra work is required to get to the same level.

In terms of the athletic relationship the sports Coach would not normally entertain the man who came off the street.

Before he could get into a pure coaching scenario there would have to be an enormous investment in time and effort to get John Doe to a level where his performance could be attributed to coaching rather than an increased fitness level.

Business coaches on the other hand don't often find themselves with the luxury of being able to pick and choose the people or the level to which they are pre-trained before they meet them.

The business coach accepts whomsoever is encountered and is prepared to take on the man in the street with the same enthusiasm and the same end in mind as the business athlete.

For the business athlete the coach is starting with a person already trained and fit, he has the tools he requires and the value added comes from the softer, guidance, facilitative and support skills of the coach.

The man in the street, at the opposite end of the spectrum cannot respond to the softer skills because he has not even begun to learn the language that would allow him to appreciate the concepts.

At the base level there is a man who first wants to know what empowerment means before he can consider the relevance of the concept and begin to think about a strategy to implement it in the workplace.

The word coaching and the initial narrow definition of the word does not cover the teaching, training and mentoring which has to occur first to prepare John Doe for the one to one coaching relationship.

Without the groundwork, the preparation and education, we cannot get to that one to one relationship.

The business coach expands his offer to the client by including these hard skills.

By transferring those (hard) skills to the clients, through teaching or training, the coach adds immediate value, at the same time preparing the coachee for the subsequent one to one coaching relationship (the softer skills) that will aid the clients progress to the next level of performance.

The two groups of skills;

The harder skills:
Predominantly for the man without a formal business education (non-athlete)

  • Teaching.

  • Training.

  • Mentoring.

The soft skills:
Predominantly for the business athlete

  • Guiding.

  • Facilitation.

  • Support.

In a practical situation there will always be an overlap between the two groups but by ensuring that the hard skills are in place first the business coach can fine tune their use and measure the return created by the coaching intervention.

Where these hard skills are not in place, or have been neglected, it will be very difficult for the coach or the client to discern a return on their investment.

There are no rules, but you do have to know them. (Myles Downie - Author, "Effective Coaching")

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