“I don’t hug trees and I don’t knit my own yogurt…”

How does coaching fit in to the development strategy in your organisation?

Perceptions of coaching (and coaches) vary greatly, and that’s hardly surprising. There are some excellent professional bodies out there laying down rigorous standards and CPD (continuous professional development) requirements for their members; but in reality, the coaching profession is unregulated and anyone can call themselves a coach. It is the Wild West of people development.

So in a marketplace where anyone and everyone feels justified in adding ‘coaching’ to their list of skills on LinkedIn, what is it really? What happens in a coaching session, run by a skilled coach? And who should you trust to provide it to your business?

In traditional training, information is given to the learner to consider, accept and apply. Training tends to trade in the enhancement of knowledge and skill. Coaching works the other way round and has a different starting point. Put simply, coaching is concerned with the exploration of the individual’s own thought processes, needs, motivations and beliefs. It recognises that for all of us, regardless of our place in our organisation or our society, our beliefs and attitudes drive our behaviour. By understanding ourselves better, we can make conscious decisions that benefit us and those we live and work with.

This approach applies right across the coaching ‘spectrum’, from life coaching – which typically focuses around lifestyle, health, personal relationships and confidence building – right through to the hard-nosed corporate market, where the work is about strategy, effective leadership and working through specific business challenges.

The marketing and messages may differ according to the target audience, but fundamentally, great coaching uses the same ingredients:

  • A starting point of unconditional positive regard by the coach to the client, meaning no bias or agenda is brought into the room by the coach.
  • A partnership between coach and client that is confidential, non-judgmental and completely at ease.
  • Listening by the coach at a level of quality you will rarely experience anywhere else, combined with insightful, powerful questioning to provoke deeper thinking.
  • Respectful but robust challenging of the assumptions and beliefs that show themselves, and which could be impacting negatively on the client’s outlook and actions.

It all sounds deceptively simple, and be honest… does that also sound a little bit, well… soft and fluffy to you? If so, here’s one reassuringly hard headed statistic for you, based on just one study: “Training was found to improve manager performance by 22% – but when coaching support was added into the mix, this rocketed up to 88% improvement.”* This pattern is borne out in study after study.

The wonderful Kim Morgan of Barefoot Coaching (provider of the Postgraduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching at Chester University) has the perfect words of reassurance for her sceptical corporate clientele: “I don’t hug trees and I don’t knit my own yogurt,” she says. I daresay if you want to do those things better, there will be a coach out there for you. (And there may indeed be some newly verified value in tree-hugging, but that’s for another time…). But if what you need is to get improved business results, you would be well advised to investigate coaching as an integral part of your people development strategy without delay.

(cf: Olivero et al (1997). Executive Coaching as Transfer of Training Tool Public Personnel Management (Vol 26, No 4, Winter ed.)

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