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Coach 'em up

It's how managers develop multi-skilled, committed employees

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If you're an organizational leader looking out beyond the immediate horizon, what do you see?

Do you see a strong pipeline of employees ready to take over key positions in your organization? Are you ready to carry on if one of your key employees becomes ill or dies? Or are you ready to expand and grow with new ideas and innovation?

No matter what potential crises or opportunities lie ahead, if there are major holes in your talent pipeline, catastrophe can show up any minute.

What do best-practice organizations do about talent management? First, leading organizations develop a well-defined process for recruiting and hiring their employees that includes intensive assessment processes in addition to a series of interviews. These assessments help solidify candidate abilities to lead, develop strong interpersonal relationships, build teams, manage projects and follow through and follow up on assigned work.

Secondly, these organizations create and implement a talent development process that builds the skills and expertise of individuals as they move through different roles in the organization. They integrate these talent management initiatives in such a way that the organization's culture becomes one of learning, participation and engagement. When this commitment to talent management is evident, you will find strong loyalties develop, resulting in long-term employee retention, thus helping to fill that all-important talent pipeline.

How is all this accomplished?

Over the years, many organizations established groups of high-performing employees and steered them through formal and informal learning opportunities. For instance, they sent these employees to intensive off-site executive programs and/or financially supported university degrees. Public-service agencies, on the other hand, often engaged in secondment programs where individuals could work in another department for a time to learn new skills.

The challenge with this type of approach is that many highly talented individuals within the organization are missed. They might not have been highly visible, hadn't had the opportunity to develop good internal networks and perhaps were not even part of the so-called known-entity group. As a result, much talent within the organization remains hidden.

Today, best-practice organizations are taking a different approach. Instead of sending people to intensive sessions and multiple conferences, they are focusing on learning and development initiatives that include all their employees. This enables them to engage all employees as well as identify and develop hidden talent.

Two key strategies -- in-house learning and development opportunities and personal coaching by line managers -- are proving the most effective strategies for employee development. In addition, many of these strategies are being supplemented by e-learning initiatives as a means to ensure employees clearly understand the connection between their training and business priorities.

However, this two-pronged approach of in-house training and coaching is a bit more complex than it seems. That's because creating, developing and delivering in-house training on a wide variety of leadership development topics is the simplest part of the equation. The other, more difficult part is shifting the role of manager to that of a coach.

It's often been said employees don't leave organizations, they leave managers -- that's how powerful managers can be. Therefore, if managers can become effective coaches, they can boost employee morale, develop individuals, increase engagement and productivity and retain the best of the best. On the other side of the coin, if a manager wishes to be successful and progress in their own career, they must make every effort to develop effective coaching skills.

What are some of the key coaching skills a manager must learn? The following skill sets will provide at least the bare minimum required for shifting the manager role to that of coach.

-- Benefits of coaching: Managers and employees in general need to understand coaching is no longer limited to remediating a failing employee. It's now a recognized developmental tool for all employees. Studies have shown coaching improves employee effectiveness, increases employee engagement and leads to increased organizational productivity.

-- Coaching principles: Coaching is an individualized and experiential process that helps build employee skills in general problem-solving and personal leadership. It is based on a set of specific values, goals and principles that differ from supervision. New coaches must learn these values and principles.

-- Coaching is a process: Similar to project management, coaching includes a needs assessment and planning process. It requires an agreement with the employee, setting goals, implementing the coaching plan and measuring results.

-- Coaching requires trust: Coaching is a trusting, win-win partnership between employee and coach. Therefore, goals and objectives must meet personal and organizational objectives. Both parties need to engage in genuine, open communication and co-operation. Managers need to avoid lecturing, but instead should listen, encourage and show faith in the employee.

-- Coaching requires big-picture thinking: Generally, managers who develop coaching expertise need to be visionary, understand the big picture and help employees understand where they fit into the big scheme. They need to understand organizational dynamics and be able to help employees link and align their new learning and capacities to the overall direction and culture of the organization.

-- Coaching skills are numerous: Coaching skills require much more discussion, listening and analysis, the ability to frame good questions, to summarize and provide constructive criticism and feedback. Good coaches have astute business acumen, are aware of their body language and pay attention to signals from the employee. Coaches need the skill to assist individuals to become self-reflective and self-aware.

-- Coaches are good self-managers: Effective coaches are self-aware and know their strengths and weaknesses. They are continuous learners who are solution-focused and not afraid to explore new areas. Good coaches recognize their limitations and know when new expertise must be involved in the coaching process.

Coaching within organizations is a growing phenomenon and I believe it's one of the most influential human-resource trends to come along for some time. It's a powerful tool with many tentacles that can lead to improvements in many areas of an organization. Managers who are effective coaches are involved in developmental and performance improvement, career management and life coaching, new employee orientation, building effective interpersonal and interdepartmental team dynamics and succession planning.

In my view, training managers to be effective coaches within their organization is the best talent-management strategy in quite a while. After all, it has been proven over and over that creating a culture where employees are engaged, inspired and rewarded results in high-performance organizational success. Who wouldn't want that for their organization?

Source: The Executive Coaching Handbook: Principles and Guidelines for a Successful Coaching Partnership, the Executive Coaching Forum, January 2012.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group and president of Career Partners International - Manitoba. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 H1

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