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What is coaching – and what does it mean for your organisation?


To kick off coaching month, Firefly's Kirsty Baker gives us an overview of an industry that is often misunderstood but is expanding rapidly.
Coaching was historically a form of encouragement and training, traditionally used in sport to get the best out of players and competitors.
However, it wasn't long before the realisation came about that coaching could be used to improve performance in other areas too. Indeed John Whitmore, a leading performance coach, highlighted that coaching extends beyond sport with the revelation that – although he had never played golf – he was able to coach golfers to success.
My personal approach to coaching today is as a poacher turned gamekeeper. When the notion of coaching first arose, I was completing my masters in organisational behaviour. A bit of a cynic at that time, it seemed to be nothing more than a management fad. I refused to engage, certain that it would disappear as quickly as it seemed to have appeared.
Ten years later, with an established consulting career and a successful direct sales business, I signed up for a year-long development programme, which included a quarterly coaching session. 
After my first session I knew that I wanted to experience more. What I saw in that one session (with huge thanks to Rama Yaffe of White Tiger) was the power of coaching both in what it offered me personally and professionally. 
During this series I'll be exploring the sphere of coaching, looking at common coaching myths and helping you to identify whether or not you are getting good coaching. As a field that is not yet regulated in any way (and where anyone can call themselves a coach) how do you separate the wheat from the chaff and make sure that the person you are working with is competent, capable and suitably experienced and trained?
Let's start with what coaching really means for you and your organisation. Consider the following:

What value would it bring if your emerging leaders were working with coaches?

Coaching should be part of your organisation's core management strategy as it's a useful way of determining who the leaders of today and tomorrow are, and how to get the most out of them.
You need to make clear what you are offering to your group of leaders, but they then need to be given space to grow. For example you could offer them a specific development programme, which involves both internal mentoring and external secondments. You can also provide coaching to help them maximise their learning and development and in turn apply it to the workplace. Coaching gives emerging leaders the opportunity to work on aspects of their own development, which they may not feel comfortable tackling in any other way. 

How could coaching help you to tackle your employee engagement challenges?

In the current climate many organisations are confronted with how best to improve employee engagement without investing large sums of money. Coaching is arguably one of the best ways to do this.
It's important to understand that if your leaders are struggling to cope with the pace of change and the current economic climate, it is unlikely that they will be able to lead successfully. Organisations who invest in coaching for their leaders are making a smart investment because not only will your individual leaders be motivated but in turn the rest of the organisation.

Where are you using training and development interventions and not seeing the full results?

Without coaching, even the best training and development programmes will not realise their full potential because they cannot take account of what happens in real life on a day to day basis. Providing an external, suitably trained pair of eyes and ears who can really partner with your leaders will help to increase their performance and the performance of your organisation - now and in the future. 
While independent research into the effectiveness of coaching is limited, I'm very confident that the ROI on training and development is increased significantly where coaching is involved before, during and after the 'formal' training and development programme. 

How do you support leaders in transition to maximise the value they bring to the organisation?

Times of transition can be tough for even the most successful leaders. We all have our own gremlins associated with change, and research by Harvard University has shown that the first 90 days are critical in reaching the 'break-even point' as quickly as possible (the point at which the organisation starts to gain the benefit of having the individual in their new role). 
Even when the transition is within the same organisation, there are challenges associated with a new role, establishing credibility, building alliances, meeting expectations and gaining quick wins. In my work I recognise that working with a coach can help to accelerate the break-even point, through preparation and thematic focus. We think it's so important we offer a dedicated coaching programme for the first 90 days, and a self-study learning package with optional coaching for leaders in transition. 

Why coaching is not the only answer

Let's be clear, coaching is not the answer for everything. There's a risk of assuming that coaching can 'fix' everything and that it should be the backbone of all organisational development strategies. 
I firmly believe in formal training and development, mentoring, self-study programmes, action learning and facilitated thinking sessions. I also believe that if you're serious about the people in your organisation, and developing them for the sake of improved business performance, then you at very least need to ask yourself the question of what part coaching will play in your strategy. You need to be clear what you want from coaching, who it's for in your organisation and how you identify the right coaches for the right individuals. You also need to know how much you are willing to spend in order to achieve the results from coaching – and how you'll measure return on investment.
Coaching is not a 'nice to have'. It is a business essential - but only when used in the right way, and only when it's integrated with the rest of your organisational development strategy.
Think about coaching as a part of your organisation. Here are some questions to consider:
•    What's it worth to have that in your organisation?
•    What results do you want to see?
•    Where do you use mentoring where you might get better results with coaching?
•    Where do you use coaching where mentoring might be more appropriate?
•    How can coaching fit into your wider talent management strategy?
Kirsty Baker is founder of and Certified Professional Coactive Coach (CPCC). Kirsty has a proven track record of helping individuals and organisations achieve long-term change through her work. For more information visit


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