By Melissa Asher - CPS HR Consulting
Coaching within the workplace – a long time practice in the private sector – has finally arrived in the public sector. The cost of coaching may be an initial deterrent, but savvy organizations see it as an important strategy to developing leaders at all levels. Currently, public-sector employees are facing new and difficult challenges around cost-effective service delivery, intervention, ongoing economic stress and political polarization as well as a barrage of technological changes to keep up with and adopt. Coaching allows for individualized development rather than a one-size-fits-all group training approach to growing abilities, confidence and skills.
Coaching is an ideal way to bring about new and different ways of thinking. It is about inspiring, empowering and engaging people to establish a new level of commitment and performance. The International Coaching Federation, a leading authority on coaching, concurs with its definition:
Coaching: partnering with individuals in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
If done well, the coaching relationship fosters an attitude and action orientation around reaching beyond the status quo. Having an objective person who will work one-on-one to solve complex workplace challenges, elicit new ideas and solutions, and help the person being coached identify blind spots is one of the most effective ways to expand learning and thinking. This can be done with external coaches as well as internally through a partnership between a manager and an employee.
No matter the coach, the following common elements must be present for coaching to be successful:
- Both the coach and person being coached need to be fully present and committed to moving forward in a learning mode
- The person being coached must adopt an attitude of engagement not entitlement
- There needs to be a commitment to building and understanding context without getting stuck in past thinking or blaming
- The coaching sessions need to connect how thinking and behavior are related for the person being coached
- The person being coached must embrace the possibility of self-exploration and change
- Coaching discussions are held confidentially and should not impact a performance appraisal
These elements set up the foundation for a productive coaching relationship, in which the agenda is often focused on improving performance and technical skills rather than organizational change. A shift is needed on the part of the manager from controlling and monitoring to one that is more collaborative and nurturing, engaging the employee in a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved and how to achieve it. In all cases the focus is on improved success on the job.
Getting to a breakthrough may come quickly or may take more time. The difference comes down to two main ideas:
1. The attitude and willingness of the employee being coached
2. The level of trust that develops between the coach and person being coached
At the core of coaching is a trusting relationship that makes several basic assumptions about employees:
- They want to succeed at work
- They can contribute ideas that improve work processes and the environment
- They will work hard to achieve goals that they have helped develop
- They are open to learning and can see its value in terms of improved success on the job, recognition and/or reward
Likewise, the coach must adopt an attitude of openness and helpfulness that the person being coached sees as a total commitment to his or her success. There are several ways to do this. One option is to introduce new possibilities and use questions to have a conversation where the person works through what the new possibility would mean for him or her. They would then analyze the impact to those around him or her and what is trying to be achieved.
An alternative is to give honest feedback that will help a person remove a blind spot. This can be done through direct observation, observing the effects on others, or reviewing results from any number of assessments (i.e. change preference, conflict style, personality). In this case, the coach is bringing light to an action, attitude or behavior that may be producing an undesirable outcome in a way that the person can think about it and choose to make a change.
A useful coaching model that CPS HR Consulting uses is called Agreed Upon Accountability and can be applied in virtually any situation with four steps:
1. Begin with a request
2. Host an open conversation to reach agreement
3. Create commitment with “by when” or “how much” defined
4. Hold each other mutually accountable
Coaching is an effective development tool that can empower employees by building competence and confidence. It can bridge the gaps created by the steady stream of retirements, the changing workplace demographics and the call for ever greater levels of performance. What could be better than individualized skill building delivered exactly when you need it and can apply it?
To learn more about this topic, visit http://www.cpshr.us/training_center/index.html and sign up for CPS HR’s one-day course “Coaching Within the Workplace.”
About the Author
Melissa Asher is the training and development manager at CPS HR Consulting, a self-supporting public agency that provides a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients. She runs the training center in Sacramento, California, that offers open enrollment and group training, leadership development and coaching throughout the U.S. She has more than 18 years of experience inspiring others to reach their full potential and strives to impact organizational performance by enabling clients to apply learning in their everyday lives.