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John McGurk

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Get coaching out of the silos and into the sharp end


While coaching is a strong driver for development, few organisations are realising its full potential, says John McGurk.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s 2009 Learning and Development Survey reports the use of coaching remains stable within organisations. CIPD has also released a major new report, which goes into more depth into the nature of coaching among line managers called Coaching at the Sharp End. Taken with our survey evidence it suggests we have a job to do in getting coaching out of the silo of HR and L&D and into the wider organisation.

In the Coaching at the Sharp End survey we focused on the link between coaching and development activity within organisations. Just under a third of our respondents (583 L&D specialists) reported that coaching was a standalone activity. This suggests a need for alignment as recommended in our recent online publication Promoting the Value of Learning in Adversity.

"Given the role of coaching as an aid to change and adaptability, it is clear that many organisations are not exploiting its full potential in times where resilience, change and agility are at a premium."

Those organisations that see coaching as divorced from organisational context need to think about alignment. Otherwise coaching will be seen as an HR/L&D hobbyhorse, one which in difficult budget rounds could be vulnerable to being put down! 

Curiously only 26% of respondents reported that coaching was formally written into L&D strategy. The fact that coaching is not integrated in this way is further evidence of lack of alignment. Paradoxically, over half (55%) reported that coaching was part of management initiatives with over two-fifths (44%) indicating that it was part of management development and leadership programmes.

Over half again reported the use of coaching in performance and appraisal systems. Yet only 12% reported use of coaching in change programmes. Given the role of coaching as an aid to change and adaptability, it is clear that many organisations are not exploiting its full potential in times where resilience, change and agility are at a premium.

A conundrum: if coaching is so widespread in these core drivers of performance and organisational development, why is it not being reported as better integrated into the overall strategy?

Perhaps a clue is given in the level of recognition of coaching responsibilities within organisations, No respondents reported that coaching is either recognised or rewarded. This may well be a misperception but perceptions as we all know are crucial. If coaching is perceived as not being recognised and rewarded as a management behaviour then it will continue to occur only within organisational silos. However, there is evidence for a more productive alignment of coaching and the organisation in our latest research.

Interestingly if we don’t use the 'c-word' of coaching, we find that coaching behaviours are flourishing. The real potential for the use of coaching is clearly seen in Coaching at the Sharp End. Using 10 Case study companies ranging from VT and the Inland Revenue to Southern Railway and the professional service firm KPMG, we decided to look at coaching and mentoring from the angle of line managers. Line managers are increasingly the load bearers of coaching. 

Mangement behaviour
Designing the project we took the view that coaching was part of good management behaviour. The ability to question effectively, listen productively, set goals and develop what Peter Hawkins refers to as “Supportive Challenge” are core aspects of good management.

Yet, sometimes when the label coaching is applied people do not recognise these practices. In our project we identified the core behaviours of good management leaving out all mention of coaching. We surveyed about 540 individual managers asking them to reflect on how they managed people. Most sought to use a supportive performance orientation to manage their people, a behaviour we identified using sophisticated statistical techniques as “Primary Coaching”.

Those who could use a more sophisticated approach, work with teams and develop an innovative and involving approach, more akin to high performance management were exhibiting “Mature Coaching” characteristics.

The report is available to buy on our website and we’ll be releasing an online tool for members at a CIPD forum event on 1 July 2009, details of which are also available online. Read it and reflect on how you position coaching - it may well be that when you focus on what happens at the sharp end you’ll have your answer.

John McGurk is a CIPD learning, training and development adviser.


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