Your coaching program can have any number of purposes. It may be to help frontline employees with their immediate job needs and technical skills. Or it may be to help develop managerial or leadership skills. The skills requiring development may be for a current or for a future role. Once you have decided why your coaching program exists and what you want to achieve from it, your next question revolves around who will take on this important role. Your coach may be internal or external to your organization. They may be someone who has an existing working relationship with the employees. Choosing the right coach for your situation will be a crucial determinant of whether your program succeeds. What are your options and what are the benefits and disbenefits of each? In this article, I will look at each of your possibilities in turn.
With this option, I include anyone who is responsible for the work of other employees and sits higher in the organization chart than those individuals. Such people include the person to whom the employee reports directly (team leader, foreman, supervisor, etc), people higher up within the same reporting line (manager's manager, director, etc) and people higher up, but within another reporting line (immediate manager's peer, etc).
Where the coaching is of a more technical nature, choosing the immediate manager can be an effective choice –provided that the manager is very conversant with the skills in question. Selecting the immediate manager into the coaching role can have one or more of these distinct advantages:
- It can cement a stronger working relationship between the manager and employee.
- The manager is in the best position to convey the exact job requirements and to give accurate performance feedback.
- It can prod resistant managers to more whole-heartedly bring about needed workplace changes.
For situations where the coaching is for professional, interpersonal or leadership skills, choosing a manager higher up the organization's tree or on a sideways branch may be more prudent. Choosing a coach that is not in day-to-day contact with the individuals may afford a greater level of objectivity. A second benefit worth considering is the greater levels of trust and confidentiality that the increased distance brings.
Selecting a trainer as your coach is a clear choice if your coaching program is meant to be integral with a training course you are running. The course trainer can serve as a highly effective bridge between the training program content and the participants' application of the skills on the job. Trainers have the dual advantage of ready expertise in the skills being transferred and familiarity with the participants' background, learning styles, and so on. You will still be wise to verify the trainer's depth of coaching skills. Some trainers are excellent at putting on a performance and being center stage, but fall down when they need to put the participant at the center.
Subject Matter Expert
Where the trainer calls in subject matter experts and the employee's manager does not possess the necessary expertise, a third option is to use the subject matter expert as the coach. This option is also a possibility in cases where the manager and trainer are not available to fulfill a coaching role. This option may work well where the primary subject of the coaching program is deep technical skills, such as engineering or information systems. As with using trainers as coaches, be sure that the subject matter expert possesses the necessary coaching skills. In addition, ensure that they have sufficient resources and time to give credit to the role.
Managers, trainers and subject matter experts acting as coaches are usually employees of the target organization. However, you may select a coach from outside the organization. Keeping your coach as an internal resource can have distinct advantages. These benefits may include:
- Program costs are reduced as employee expenses are already accounted for in recurring budget expenditure.
- Time is not wasted familiarizing the coach with the organizational context for the coaching and developing new relationships.
- Familiarity with the organization and its people allows the coach to get things done more quickly.
External Consultant or Contractor
Sometimes those features that make for a good internal coach can turn out to be handicaps. Here are some characteristics of an external coach that may tip the balance of choice in their favor.
- The initial unfamiliarity with the employees may lead to greater objectivity.
- They may have played a part in the change or training program, giving them a head start.
- Having no previous experience with the organization, they are more immune from power plays and favoritism
These added benefits will, of course, come with a cost as external coaches are not on the organization's payroll. Each program is different, so you will need to weigh up the pros and cons of using an external coach for your situation.
An employee's peers are those people whose role is at the same level in an organization. An employee's peer can reside within the same organization or in a different organization, or even in a different industry. Choosing peers as coaches may seem unconventional and perhaps even misguided. Even though this type of coaching relationship may lack the formality of the usual coach-employee relationship, learning opportunities amongst peers happen every day in every way. Here are some options for facilitating this kind of peer-to-peer learning.
- Set up lunchtime sessions in which employees take turns to speak on a work topic or invite an outside speaker.
- Encourage employees working within the same group to take time out to review a segment from a recent training course and to discuss a related work issue.
- Actively support the use of company-, industry- and profession-wide forums and chat rooms.
- Set up a corporate wiki and encourage contributions to external wikis on relevant subjects.
- Promote attendance at special interest group meetings and seminars run by local professional associations.
- Search out Communities of Practice (CoP) in the relevant subject area that promote learning for its members using some of the above methods.
In choosing the right coach, you have a number of choices before you. Your choice is not necessarily limited to one option either. The more opportunities you provide for your employees to experience worthwhile coaching interactions, the better they will be. Providing more and different points of contact helps overcome the work and personal constraints limiting each employee. Some employees may not be able to attend lunchtime sessions or work with a coach after hours. These same employees may benefit from contributing to forums or a wiki. Making available multiple options also caters to employees varying learning styles. This does not mean that you need to provide more than one workplace coach per employee. Setting up a message board or paying for professional memberships can help provide this expanded array of options.
As you think about who will fulfill the coaching role and what other coaching opportunities you will provide your employees, consider also the other key factors that make for a successful coaching program. Ensure that your coach is skilled in coaching and has the necessary resources and time available. Set up a coaching schedule and provide training in coaching skills if needed. Also, draw up coaching guidelines that explain the mutual rights and responsibilities of coaches and those being coached. Everyone should be clear about how the coaching program will work. Finally, do the work upfront to settle on measures of success for your program –and then evaluate how your program measured up to your objectives. With the right choice of coach and a well designed coaching environment, you can look forward to achieving your coaching goals.
The above is a condensed adaptation from Leslie Allan's book, From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance.
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, consultant and trainer for organizations large and small.
He is also the author of five books on training and change management and is the creator of various training tools and templates. Leslie is a member of the Australian Institute of Management and the Quality Society of Australasia. He is also a member of the Divisional Council of the Victorian Division of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). Leslie may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about training and coaching employees to improved performance. Check out Leslie's practical resource kit packed with ideas, tools and templates for implementing effective learning. Visit the From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive training guide and toolkit today.