Having spent most of this series outlining the What and How of business coaching, it’s time to consider the Why – the key benefits to a business where coaching is an integral part of managing performance and developing people’s talents.
I’ve left this till late in this guide because until we’re clear about what business coaching is and how it works, it’s hard to consider its impact on an organisation.
With all complex ‘people skills’, it is hard to draw a straight line between particular skills and practices and business results. This is particularly true of coaching, as it is essentially a facilitative approach. Whether managers or consultants, coaches act as catalysts for various processes within an organisation, so it’s often hard to separate the different elements that contribute to success.
However we can identify factors that business coaching seeks to influence, and consider how it does this. In each case, note how the personal benefits (to both coaches and coachees) are intimately linked to the business benefits. Ideally a company should be looking for a dynamic balance between the two, especially in the context of a creative business.
It’s impossible to create commitment – but you can encourage it by giving people an opportunity to (a) work towards goals they find personally meaningful as well as delivering business results, and (b) use their creativity and initiative to do the job in their own way.
Business coaching offers a wealth of options for doing both of these. In fact, the coaching approach is founded on the assumption that the business coach’s role is to act as a facilitator, while the coachee has the biggest emotional investment in the goal and the responsibility for committing to action.
Following on from Commitment, because the coach is a facilitator, asking questions, listening and giving feedback in order to stimulate the coachee’s thinking, it is a highly creative process. Not in an abstract, fuzzy way, but in challenging people to come up with ideas that are new, useful and practical – and then to put them into action and see them through.
For more on business coaching and creativity see How coaching creates creative flow and the next article in this series, on Why business coaching is vital to creative companies.
When people are given the opportunity to pursue meaningful goals using their own ingenuity and initiative, this results in high levels of empowerment within an organisation.
There are obvious benefits to the team members being empowered in this way – in terms of using their skills and talents to the full and gaining the satisfaction, recognition and rewards of doing so. And having these people work at full capacity obviously benefits the organisation too.
But it is not so commonly noticed that delegating responsibility and empowering people has huge benefits for the managers themselves – when they can genuinely empower people, managers are able to free up their time and energy from micromanaging and use it for the ‘big picture’ thinking and action that is crucial to the company’s success.
Commitment, creativity and empowerment are all very well, but if left unchecked they can create more problems than they solve.
Business coaching balances these freedoms with a strong emphasis on accountability: goal-setting, questioning, listening, giving feedback and reviewing progress all enable managers to monitor progress, detect problems and help people to correct errors, solve problems and deal with unexpected outcomes. This ensures that good intentions and creative freedoms deliver tangible results.
Because coaching balances creative empowerment with rigorous monitoring of results, it can have a big impact on performance. Other reasons for its success in raising performance are the facts that it is highly focused on the day-to-day realities of work, and the typical format is one-to-one – so it is very flexible in adapting to the specific needs of the individual and the situation.
When these individual improvements are multiplied and co-ordinated by ‘cascading’ coaching throughout the company (i.e. so that managers are coaching each other throughout the levels of the organisation) then the impact on performance can be dramatic.
Morale and retention
It’s fairly obvious that staff who are empowered and supported to use their talents in the pursuit of meaningful (to them) goals are likely to be happier than if their enthusiasm is thwarted by old-school ‘command and control’ approaches to management. But the impact on company morale and staff retention are easier to overlook.
In their classic study of the effect of management behaviours on business performance, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman make the findings of their research crystal clear:
Our research yielded many discoveries, but the most powerful was this: Talented employees need great managers. The talented employee may join a company because of its charismatic leaders, its generous benefits, and its world-class training programs, but how long that employee stays and how productive he is while he is there is determined by his relationship with his immediate supervisor. (First, Break All The Rules, p.11)
Business coaching offers the ‘immediate supervisor’ a set of principles and practical tools for managing this relationship in the most productive and satisfying way for all concerned – increasing the chances that the talented employees will hang around and do their best work in your company.
Skills and knowledge
Business coaching focuses on learning on the job, ensuring that results are delivered and lessons are learned simultaneously. Over time, this results in a more highly skilled workforce who are able to take on more ambitious work and complete it to a higher standard.
In addition to developing skills and knowledge, continuous coaching will contribute to the development of the company as a learning organisation. When learning is an ongoing, integral element of an organisation it enhances not just its operational efficiency but also its ‘intellectual capital’ – a vital asset in a knowledge-driven economy.
In their book Coaching and Mentoring, Eric Parsloe and Monica Wray present the case for the learning organisation, beginning with the premise that “we are moving into an era of global, information technology-driven organisations”.
They argue that “Storage, transfer and retrieval of information is essentially technology-driven, but application of that information is people-driven” and that “Only organizations, and individuals, that actively manage their learning processes will be successful – or indeed will survive!” Coaching and Mentoring, p.17). Their “new agenda for the learning organisation” includes “encouraging as many people as possible, and certainly all managers, to become coaches to ensure learning occurs in the workplace and elsewhere” (p.22).
Jane Greene and Anthony Grant make a similar case for coaching in a knowledge economy:
We are moving from an industrial era in which wealth lay in raw materials, machinery, goods – what Karl Marx called “the means of production” – into a world where wealth and power lie in ideas, imagination, knowledge and the information you control. (Solution-focused Coaching, p.4)
They quote an article from HR Focus magazine, January 1996, stating that “The emergence of the knowledge-based economy requires managers to act as coaches”.
These writers present coaching as a vital approach for all companies managing learning and performance in a knowledge economy. I believe coaching becomes even more valuable in the context of the creative economy – where ‘ideas, imagination, knowledge and the information’ are the lifeblood of every creative business.
Next in this series: Why Coaching Matters to Creative Companies