HR must take the lead to keep coaching on track at work

The recent news that more than a third of employers have no idea what goes on in coaching sessions will not surprise those who have been calling for a more strategic approach to workplace coaching.

HR will have to take the lead in ensuring coaching is aligned to organisational people strategies and activities. However, this challenging task also has significant benefits for those who successfully bridge the gap between a standalone transactional coaching process, and a transformational leadership coaching model.

Coaching’s history can arguably be traced back to Socrates. Since that time, however, no universally accepted standards have emerged, and the ‘relative’ informality of a coaching session offers the potential for a variance in standards on a disturbing scale.

The water is muddied even further with the emergence of the manager as a ‘player coach’. Today’s managers are expected to excel in coaching, yet many in the UK are more under-qualified, under-trained and unprepared than their world counterparts. Even in the world of the professional external coach, there are still major gaps in attaining consistency of quality and delivery. Some coaching professionals suggest that this gap can only be closed with regulation and the creation of a professional body. And performance and life coaches, psychologists, HR professionals et al are all lining up to put their stake in the ground as the seeds of convergence start to grow.

Of course, the picture is far from doom and gloom. Evidence-based research is on the increase, providing findings upon which new models of coaching can be built. This work is essential for the development of a regulatory professional framework. As the ancient Chinese expression goes, ‘theory without practice is foolish; practice without theory is dangerous’.

Many organisations are already well on the way to creating integrated high-performance coaching models linked to performance management systems, training and development and cultural change. It’s essential to have a balance of internal and external resources to achieve flexibility, integration and built-in quality.

And the professional coaching world is getting its act together. The big players in coaching services and qualifications are increasingly working together to build a platform of generic standards. The Employment National Training Organisation, the UK standard-setting body (covering advice and guidance, counselling, and learning and development among other areas) has just developed the first ever National Occupational Standards for Coaching and Mentoring in a Work Environment, and submitted them for approval to the UK accrediting bodies.

All of this is good news. But, with more and more coaching being undertaken in the workplace, the pressure for regulation will intensify. And it will have to cater for coaching delivery in all its facets – not just face-to-face.

HR will need to be at the forefront of its organisation’s approach to coaching. It will need to vet external coaching suppliers, design evaluation and cost-benefit processes, create accreditation systems, monitor the quality of internal/external coaching interventions and, most importantly, integrate coaching into organisational processes.

The demand for coaching will not abate. Organisational culture will continue to reflect social movements in society. The move from command and control, the thirst for creativity and innovation and flatter organisational design structures will create even more of a requirement for coaching.

Those organisations that seize the higher ground of coaching will win the day not just in transactional terms – for example, better payback on individual coaching sessions – but in transforming their organisations to deliver high performance through releasing the potential of their employees.

Paul Turner

General manager (people), West Bromwich Building Society

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