Coaching is as vital today as in the past

On a recent trip to Hong Kong I joined a presentation by Prof Bob Garratt’s organisation ODL on executive coaching to senior civil servants grappling with the interface of inherited capitalism and new demands of the SAR in China. The internal change they were facing sounded like the challenges we hear about in the UK.

Why coaching? Is there real benefit? Have we the time, resource or opportunity? One of the remaining ex-pat civil servants asked, “Can coaching be effective when we are being moved from job to job so frequently?” and, “All this emphasis on performance appraisal and incentives surely defeats the objective of non-threatening, supportive coaching”.

My response was, coaching is as valid, if not more so, with frequent job changes, and the organisation should allow for this. Secondly, the competitive, value-driven world demands performance measures – we can’t separate coaching from job performances, relationships with others and organisational issues. Anticipating these issues gives greater security and development.

The discussion set me thinking about why there is such emphasis on coaching today. My analysis is that things are different and pressures demand different solutions. Yesterday’s culture in organisations was one of power (pleasing the boss) and role (doing it by the rules). Today’s culture is more about achievement and support. Hence performance is individual and must contribute to team and organisation – it’s got to be discussed and support must be demonstrated for achievement to happen.

The relationship issue has fundamentally changed. It used to be about judging which stream of office/shop floor politics to join and producing the numbers, no matter what or how. Now giants like Jack Welch say, “Produce the numbers and live the values” – a bit more difficult to define. The knowledge-driven economy demands effective and constructive relationships.

The biggest brake on productivity is behaviour that undermines confidence. It is also well known that creativity is stifled and knowledge stays as power rather than being shared in fear cultures or even deaf cultures.

Our concentration for decades has been on “left-hand brain” technical training neglecting the contribution of the “right-hand brain” with its emotional intelligence, perspective and intuition.

External coaching was often a product of needing a neutral and trusted sounding board. This often helped the individual but could create more distance.

We need coaches of the right sort and this effort needs coherence with what else is going on – professional football teams have intensive coaching and individual performance improvement is linked in with the team.

So, yes, it is different today. Coaching has its value and the biggest potential gain is better behaviour, living the values and relationships that support in order to achieve.

By Professor Clive Morton, Independent HR consultant, author and former vice-president of the IPD

Tel: 01733 552535, e-mail:

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