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It’s how you coach that counts


Take a tip from the Oscar winners, says Ruth Spellman: thank your peers for their contributions to your organisation's success and learn from them.

Last week, as I handed out awards at a ceremony to mark outstanding performance amongst the UK’s future leaders, I was struck by the ‘Oscar winners’ formula that many individuals attached to their accolade. Not one person wanted to stand before their peers and claim the credit for their success. It seemed that, for each winner, the list of people to thank grew ever longer.

Don’t get me wrong. The phrase ‘credit where it’s due’ has become a cliché for a reason. There is no point someone trying to take all the acclaim when success, particularly in the workplace, is often down to sharing experiences, team effort and the pooling of ideas. Anyone that thinks differently is kidding themselves.

"UK plc must collectively find ways to share best practice and the excuse that it costs too much to train and develop cannot be allowed to hold sway."
And it’s a message that learning and development professionals should apply to their own organisation. In today’s fast moving and cost-conscious business environment there is a strong case to be made for individuals to learn from their peers. Quite simply, everyone needs someone they can turn to for advice and, if the knowledge economy is going to become a reality, the UK needs to be full of organisations with the capability and willingness to share what they know.

Inter-company coaching is key

A survey of CMI members has shown that more than two out of three managers agree. They argue that coaching is an effective way of learning, with one in four specifically saying that they prefer to learn from colleagues. As we remain submerged in the most dire economic downturn for decades this must sound like music to the ears of anyone involved in the HR profession. It’s evidence that there is a genuine thirst for learning. 

But my challenge to you is this: with budget cuts continuing to dominate the minds of senior decision makers, are you prepared to stand up and make the case for ongoing training? Right now developing a diverse talent pool for the future is essential and it is a message that the profession must take to the boardroom. Failure to do so will only serve to heighten the risk of organisations drowning when the economic tide eventually turns. 
It is clear that young managers and aspiring leaders need professional role models to support and guide them. Yet according to data looking at the learning experiences of those under the ‘Generation Y’ bracket just 27% of male, and only 17% of female, managers have had access to coaches and mentors. 
With this in mind, CMI launched a Management Manifesto last November. We called on employers to commit to developing professional managers and do so within a culture where sharing is critical, giving voice to the idea that shared knowledge is power. With stories still ringing in our ears about Stafford Hospital, RBS or the like, we cannot afford to suffer any more crises of confidence. UK PLC must collectively find ways to share best practice and the excuse that it costs too much to train and develop cannot be allowed to hold sway. To date, almost 3,000 people have signed our pledge. They recognise that employers are at a crossroads. Yes, it may cost to develop staff, but there are ways to do so cost effectively. And, doing nothing will cost more in the long run.

Embracing new media

CMI’s research also shows that online coaching is becoming more frequent as organisations recognise the time and cost savings of blending traditional learning methods with emerging technologies. E-coaching for example, was used by 14% of directors in 2008, compared to 10%, twelve months previously. In the same period, use of discussion forums by middle managers jumped eight points, to 36%.
There has been a significant surge in the use of new media as a coaching tool, primarily because employers are beginning to recognise that capturing knowledge is just as important as sharing it. Through technology, not only can individuals receive coaching and mentoring support. Now they can refer to the support they receive online at a time and place that suits them best.
Given the current economic climate, online support opens doors that were closed to many organisations simply because of cost. But now the challenge is whether organisations will seriously examine the extent to which coaching can be a powerful online tool, or whether they will let their competitors steal a march, through a better trained workforce learning as and when it needs to do so. 
Ultimately, it also means that coaching is a viable development tool, whether you choose the online or traditional route. All of which leaves only two more questions to answer. Ask yourself whether, the next time the ‘Oscars for workplace performance’ comes around, you want to develop staff so that they are the ones receiving awards. And then, consider how much pleasure you would get if they take the stage and thank you for your support.
Ruth Spellman OBE is the chief executive of The Chartered Management Institute

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