19-25 May is International Coaching Week and a great opportunity to reflect on the growth of coaching in organisations. If you think of a life-cycle, I suggest that coaching has reached early maturity in the UK and USA.
Majority of coaching in organisations is by line managers
I know the Executive Coaching market best as this is where I work and in this arena there is high awareness of coaching. According to the latest CIPD Annual Survey into learning and development:
“Coaching and mentoring are common – 76% organisations currently offer coaching or mentoring and an additional 12% plan to offer it in the next year. Nevertheless, there has been a decline in the proportion including coaching by line managers among their most effective L&D methods in the last few years.”
Of the companies surveyed nearly 9 in 10 are using or about to use coaching in some way.
Interestingly, more than half of those use In-house coaches and/or line managers trained in coaching and, as quoted above, companies are less satisfied with the effectiveness of coaching by line managers. This has dropped from a peak of 53% identifying it as one of the most effective L&D methods in 2011 to 29% in 2014. Survey respondents identify coaching skills as one of the top learning needs of leaders.
I think that this is one of the signs of maturity – we are now more aware of coaching in organisations. Companies invested in training up managers in basic coaching skills, but are now aware enough to appreciate that those managers are not able to achieve the desired results. Whereas in 2010-11, this was the boom in training managers in coaching skills and in my opinion coaching was (is?) seen as something of a panacea in development, not least because it brought the responsibility for employee development back into the workplace and was seen as a lower budget solution. The reality of the advanced skills needed to deliver quality results through coaching is now biting. Plus the pressure to deliver business results means that managers focus on immediate task results rather than people development for future task results.
In my opinion the ability to use coaching skills in how you lead and manage others is essential and will help you to get the best out of yourself and others if applied appropriately. However the relationship of line manager as coach is one that only works within clear boundaries. I think it can work in the context of coaching for performance, where the manager’s role in enabling that performance is part of the relationship. However the nature of the team member’s ‘contract’ with their line manager is likely to preclude full openness from the team member and this will limit the potential of the coaching.
Confusion over what coaching is
However, although people know about coaching, there is confusion over what coaching in organisations is. Sherpa Coaching 2014 survey found:
“Coaching is a hot subject, a modern-day ‘buzzword’ that means different things to different people. When we talk about coaching, we are not always talking about the same thing. When asked whether coaching and managing are distinctly defined, almost half our respondents (46%) answered sometimes or never.”
I see this confusion all the time and not just in the organisational arena, also more broadly. I think that the fact that all sorts of people call themselves coaches and have a range of different approaches encourages that confusion. Coaching is not a profession, so there are no rules controlling the practice. This makes accreditation by independent Coaching Bodies all the more important as an indicator of coaching standards and competence.
To some extent coaching was explained by referring to the much more widespread and visible sports coaching, however, this was a ‘double-edged sword’ as people then understood coaching to be highly directive. If your experience of coaching was the football coach for your child’s junior league, or Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United you would expect a lot of control by the coach. This was not the approach advocated by coach training schools who promoted ‘non-directive’ coaching and it takes time and effort to change perceptions of what coaching is.
Different schools have different approaches and users find it difficult to understand those differences and know what kind of a coaching experience they are buying; or whether one approach or another may be better suited to their needs.
The Sherpa survey shows that increasingly, professional executive coaches are being reserved for top executives. After a few years of increasing democratisation of coaching, in 2014 30% companies provided coaching to top executives only (up from 19% in 2008); and only 29% companies offered coaching at all levels (down from 43%).
As the coaching industry matures, so the range and depth of coaching training has grown and some coaches have many years of experience. As an Accredited Professional Executive Coach with Association for Coaching (AC) I am bound to undergo regular Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and further develop my skills through advanced training. This approach by professional coaches increases the capability in the industry. Potentially this also makes an even greater gap between the skills of an experienced professional coach and what they can achieve for their clients and the line manager as coach.
Future of coaching?
Thinking of these trends, what could the future of coaching in organisations look like? In the short term I anticipate more of the same. In my experience, many companies have embraced coaching, but have not stopped to think through the strategic implementation of coaching. Therefore they are not structured to get the best out of coaching as an organisational development tool. Companies will continue to encourage coaching as a development solution, focussing on line managers and internal coaches delivering the coaching, largely due to budget constraints. But managers will struggle to balance work demands and invest appropriately in coaching.
I hope that as HR and L&D managers gain more experience and evidence on what makes coaching successful, this will encourage a realignment of their expectations on coaching. Managers will be encouraged to apply coaching as a style of management, focused on developing their team members in the moment, rather than seeing managers as ‘coaches’. This could deliver a ‘learning organisation’, making a coaching style part of ‘how we work around here’ in order to deliver the goals.
This will allow coaching to be seen as a profession and the enhanced skills of professional coaches (whether external or in-house) will have clear value-add. The role of ‘formal’ coaching programmes will be clear, ensuring that coaching interventions are focused and can be evaluated for effectiveness. It is likely that coaching will be used in those areas that require higher skill such as Team Coaching or Group Coaching and to support top leaders, leadership and talent development.
The significant growth in the coaching industry will mean that coaches have to be increasingly clear in how they market their services. Coaches need to define their niche and how they serve that niche. This will help address the confusion around what coaching is and people will appreciate that there are many areas in which coaching operates and that the style of coaching will differ with the nature of the coaching need. For example, a marketing coach may offer a 10-step programme to resolve your business marketing process and it is clear that this is a highly directive approach, whereas the needs of the top executive are specific to this individual and a coach will offer a non-directive approach, supported by their own coaching philosophy, knowledge and skills. In all cases the client can choose the solution that best suits them.
In summary, I see professional coaches being highly skilled and sought-out for particular interventions and a coaching style becoming increasingly common in organisations, encouraging a learning culture. Do share your view in the comments box below. If you would like to discuss this further contact Amanda.