Why Coaching in the Workplace Should Start at Entry Level
As an Organizational Coach, my job is to develop a trusting relationship with my clients. I want my clients to feel comfortable exploring their successes and failures to incite personal and organizational change. The idea of coaching is captured in the aphorism, “for things to change, first I must change.” To change, we must first become self-aware. To become self-aware, we must first trust that examining our ego is worthwhile.
Coaching is a lengthy process because transformation takes time and effort. Organizations typically start investing in coaching for employees as they are promoted to senior roles. At that stage, the organization feels there is too much to lose if the manager is not developed to lead. It usually takes a number of years, if not decades, to become a senior leader at most large organizations. That's enough time to create some hard to reverse habits and assumptions that inevitably shape the way people lead. Ideas about leadership developed by the power dynamics observed in families and society. As one of my clients mentioned to me, “I am surprised that my team perceives me as short-fused. It’s something that I always noticed in my father and a trait that I very much disliked in him.” Whether we realize it or not, our environment shapes our ideas about leadership and these ideas either reinforce or morph throughout our lifetime.
When I first began coaching, I found it counterproductive that organizations typically wait until an employee is c-suite level to deem them deserving of the investment of one-on-one coaching. A leader who has never received executive coaching, in my opinion, is like a lone wolf who learns the game of the hunt through basic survival instincts then suddenly finds itself as the leader of a pack. The rules are different. Collaboration is now an essential component of survival. The lone wolf has created survival mechanisms that can be detrimental to the new situation, and learning the new dynamic will take time and effort.
I imagine that a workplace that emphasizes the development of self-awareness, leadership skills and soft skills at every level of the organization, is an organization that’s reaping the benefits of its entire workforce and making a long-term investment in its people. It also creates a more trusting workplace culture, open to tough conversations about personal responsibility, diversity, leadership, and innovation.
Providing employees at all levels the opportunity to receive coaching, promotes the development of soft skills essential to good leadership and collaboration. I remember being an impressionable employee early on in my career at a top investment bank. I had just graduated college, and as most employees are, I was on my own. I had to decipher the meaning behind specific interactions and learn my place in the power hierarchy. I always think about what would have transpired in my career if I had the support of a coach to help me navigate that high-stress environment. I am not sure if my particular brand of human would have stuck around, but I know that my contribution could have been more impactful there because I would have had a healthier mindset.
Hiring a coach early on to work with high-potentials and even entry-level employees means that they can develop sooner and contribute more to the organization. As a result of coaching, they will also understand the power in communicating effectively and will exercise emotional intelligence in interacting with members of their team.
The cost of employee development is always less than the cost of replacing good talent. The number one reason why employees quit their jobs is their relationship with their direct boss. A coached employee would typically be asked to examine troublesome work relationships. They would be coached to determine what their desired outcome would be and how to achieve it. They would also be asked to consider how they may be contributing to the breakdown of the relationship, bringing a new level of awareness to their interactions at work. Research shows that coaching employees will favorably impact the turnover rate within an organization.
According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, employers will need to spend the equivalent of six to nine months of an employee’s salary to find and train their replacement. That means that if you hire a middle manager with an $80K salary per year, the cost of replacing the employee is at best is $40k, at worst, it’s $60K. The cost of hiring an organizational coach pales in comparison to the figures noted above.
Coached people coach people. Coaches are expected to experience the benefits of coaching before receiving their certification at an accredited program. The logic behind the requirement is that it is best to understand the benefits of coaching when you receive coaching first hand. Thus the more coaching you receive, the more effective of a coach you’ll be.
One of the most significant benefits of coaching is the increased level of self-awareness. This improvement in awareness benefits relationships at home, with colleagues, friends, and with leadership. It promotes healthier ways of communicating that can have a trickling effect.
Coaching is different than mentorship. Some can argue that entry-level employees would most benefit from company sponsored mentorship programs. Employees undoubtedly reap significant benefits from mentor-mentee relationships. However, a mentor provides advice based on experience, while coaching promotes a more empowering position on decision making and relationship building. Coaching supports radical curiosity about the self and others and the examination of assumptions and perspectives that may be getting in the way of personal and professional growth and transformation.
Coaching emerging leaders reduces the chances of developing unfavorable habits that are hard to change. If you’ve not practiced the habit of listening intently, it will take time to enhance your listening skill. If you second guess every email you send and need reassurance from your team members to make decisions or if you have a habit around holding others responsible before you take on responsibility, those habits will take time to shift. When an organization hires a new manager and assigns them a team, it’s always in the best interest of the organization that the leader, who might have impressive technical skill, also exhibit a handle on the soft skills essential to leading a team.
Ensuring that all employees are developing habits that are supportive of the organization's mission is critical to long-term success. Organizations should not wait to develop talent until they are ready to embark on a leadership role, instead, developing talent should start from the day of hire. Although coaching in the workplace has been steadily rising, a lot of work remains to be done.