The coaching paradox: why coaching is most effective when it’s available to junior staff and why coaching has to begin with those at the top

Work culture. A term favoured by the authors of business literature worldwide, you may have asked yourself what ‘culture’ at work really is. If you’ve ever sat through a meeting where colleagues snipe at one another, if you’ve reprimanded teams for low productivity, or seen individuals with potential have their ideas passed over, you’ll likely have a good idea of what it’s not!

And yet research tells us that it’s possible to create a culture at work where communication is effective, interpersonal relations are smooth, and motivation high. According to ILM, that’s exactly what a coaching culture delivers. Still, organisations tend to provide coaching to only those in the upper echelons of leadership. Which raises the question:

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

Justifying the investment in coaching

In the course of Farscape’s work, the most common reason we hear for not coaching junior managers or staff is cost. If justifying the budget, it’s much easier to make a case for investing in a senior leader than someone in a more junior position. While this is understandable to a degree, it’s also rather short-sighted. If coaching were available to junior managers or staff members, the skills, know-how and insight developed during those sessions would be more readily disseminated throughout the business. So while coaching junior leaders still requires an initial outlay of capital, the long-term benefit is greater. More people would benefit from the coaching, which means coaching in this way delivers better value than coaching a few select individuals at the top, whose contact with junior management and staff is likely limited.

The benefits of coaching early on

Junior managers, even staff who are at the very beginning of their career, are learning rapidly and developing skills that will serve them going forwards. The impact of coaching people at this fertile stage of their career has even greater potential to shape habits and inform behaviour than in more senior leaders. Putting this toolkit at the fingertips of the people who manage staff and customers day in, day out, means that learning can flow down the chain effectively. The reverse is a significant advantage, too: problems or challenges raised by staff to junior managers in a climate of openness and truth can be brought to senior management for attention or quickly discussed with a coach and overcome.

A coaching culture emerges

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. We see more and more businesses integrate coaching into the fabric of their organisations.

Coaching cultures don’t pop up overnight. For a high level of trust, intimacy, and honesty to exist at all, a great deal of dedication and hard work is required to achieve it. Commitment to maintaining this culture is also a must, if organisations truly take a long view on upholding a coaching culture. So where does a coaching culture stem from? It begins with those at the top.

A fair, trusting culture that radiates from the top down

A coaching culture is something of a contradiction, then. While its existence depends upon everyone having access to coaching, the impetus comes from the most senior people in the organisation.

Giving more people the opportunity to be coached is a positive step. However, it’s only the start. Leaders must take it upon themselves to be more open, accountable and vulnerable to pave the way for a genuine coaching culture. Junior leaders and staff look to senior executives for an example. If those at the top won’t hold up their hands when they make a mistake, or consider how to change their own behaviour, what incentive has anyone else to follow suit.

How senior people can set the coaching culture in motion

It’s clear then that senior leaders have to lead the charge in creating a coaching culture. How exactly, do they bring the change about? Farscape regularly works with executives to help them put those changes in motion. Coaching is one way of doing this; individual coaching, group coaching, and senior intact team coaching, are all viable options. So too are tailored development programmes and outdoor learning experiences. It’s important to point out that these ‘methods’ are simply that; they all require buy-in from the leadership team on a collective level, and commitment to making a change at an individual level. Without those two ingredients, change at an individual or an organisational level is unlikely to occur.

How to take coaching beyond the boardroom

To generate tangible results that ripple through an entire business, Farscape takes certain steps:

  • We always work with organisations to establish needs and objectives
  • This allows us to design a tailored programme suited to that particular organisation; there’s no off-the-shelf answer to a problem, or indeed an opportunity, so we don’t shoehorn individuals or teams into a ready-made box
  • A tailored programme means specific, measurable objectives which can be analysed and issues addressed along the way if necessary

With this in mind, it’s clear that coaching junior management is not the extravagance it first appears. For example, coaching surgeries maximise the output of individual coaching sessions, relative to the coach’s fee: by seeing multiple people in a day, more junior managers can be impacted by coaching. Telephone coaching is another option, as it supplements other interactions – be that coaching or otherwise – and helps to keep the participant focused. This offers greater value and ongoing support to individuals, which affects the wider team.

The most important thing to discuss with your learning and development provider, is your desired outcome. Clarity at the outset keeps all parties – client and coach – on track. It means that discussions around value, price and who to coach are handled at the beginning, so there’s no distraction in the midst of crucial development work which requires focus and concentration. If outcomes are not discussed at the beginning, the question of whether a certain course of action offers value will become null and void as it will be impossible to tell if the destination has been reached.

Don’t overlook your junior talent: coaching takes them and those around them to the next level

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. If your future leaders show promise and you’re unsure how to make the most of that, get in touch. We’re on 0117 370 1800; we’d welcome the opportunity to talk through your objectives.

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