Coaching shouldn’t be elitist, and it must begin at the top

Imagine a workplace where everyone possessed great communication and interpersonal skills, leadership and management were effective, attitudes positive and motivation high. Imagine that individuals were more confident and conflicts were resolved with minimal fuss. Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? And yet research has shown that coaching does lead to these outcomes (Creating a Coaching Culture, ILM). This blissful state of affairs is possible to achieve not just for the privileged few at the top of the pyramid but for staff across the business. Which begs the question:

If coaching is proven to be so efficient and improves business so much, why is it only available to senior leaders?

The cost of coaching: cash versus value

At Farscape, we come into contact with a lot of businesses and many business leaders during the course of our work. The most common reason cited for not coaching junior managers or staff members is cost. It’s understandable, and it’s a double-edged sword: if businesses and coaches could establish a way to make coaching more available, say to junior managers, then the learning acquired would be dispersed much more widely throughout the business. In the long term, this means that more individuals benefit, directly or indirectly, and the cost represents much better value for the organisation.

Furthermore, the value and effect of exposing leaders to coaching earlier in their career, when they are developing their skills, could be greater than for more senior executives. Again, the idea of cross-pollination comes into play: junior managers often have more to do with the day-to-day business operations, contact with staff members and customers than do more senior managers. This provides an opportunity not only for learning to flow from the top down but for the junior manager to bring issues either to senior management or their coaching sessions, meaning they can overcome problems more effectively.

The emergence of coaching cultures

This two-way flow of ideas, problem solving and shared learning begins to look not just like coaching in name, but a culture of coaching. Businesses that integrate coaching into the fabric of their organisation is something we are starting to see more of.

In practice, a coaching culture looks something like the effects mentioned at the top of this article: internal and external coaching that is available to all, honest and open feedback and coaching conversations that go both ways.

Coaching cultures don’t happen overnight. It takes time, dedication and hard work to achieve the level of trust and honesty needed for such a culture to exist. The critical element is that a coaching culture has to start from the top.

Top-down equality 

It sounds like a paradox: everyone should have access to coaching and enjoy a coaching culture, yet it begins at the top. The logical thinking for this is actually a lot less to do with logic and a lot more to do with emotional factors. While giving more people access to coaching opportunities is a great start, leaders must pave the way in creating this open and honest culture. That means being transparent, accountable and vulnerable. If leaders are not willing to hold up their hands when they make mistakes or look at ways to change their own behaviour before anyone else’s, then it’s highly unlikely that junior leaders or staff members will follow suit.

Much of the work that we do at Farscape involves working with senior leaders to elicit those changes. There are many ways of achieving this, coaching in its many forms and guises is one way; bespoke people development programmes and overseas learning experiences are other ways. No matter which ‘method’ is appropriate for the business or leader in question, they all require significant buy-in, or else the results for the individual and the wider organisation will not materialise.

How to make coaching more widely available

The benefits of making coaching more widely available are clear, and the ripple effect through an entire business is palpable. How then, can we achieve this in practice? Farscape always works with organisations to establish what the business needs are first and foremost. Creating a tailored programme means that the objectives are specific and measurable. There are a number of options to consider if the idea of coaching more widely throughout the business appeals.

Coaching surgeries are a cost-effective way of maximising coaching fees: more people can be seen in a day meaning that more junior managers can be reached. Telephone coaching can also be a useful addition. Periodic phone coaching could supplement other types of face-to-face coaching, giving you better value and ongoing support.

The most important thing to discuss with whoever is delivering your learning and development programme is what exactly your desired outcomes are. Opting for a certain style of coaching because it enables the work to have the widest impact, and therefore represents good value, is quite different to choosing something as a cost-cutting exercise because it seems that the business will have to pay less.

Making coaching available to leaders beyond the upper echelons offers value for money and the chance to deliver lasting change. Creativity plays an important role in developing something that works for the coach and coachees; one size does not fit all and a tailored approach means that quality is not sacrificed for the sake of quantity. The outcome is a more open and honest culture and better business results – something that will pay for the cost of your coach or provider time and time again.

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