Are your employees disengaged? Coaching can help, say experts

Conversational approach increases motivation, empowerment: Study
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/06/2017

For employers keen to improve employee engagement, developing a coaching culture may be just the answer, according to research from the United States.

Employees who prefer coaching from their managers or peers as a form of learning and development are five to eight per cent more likely to be engaged than those who prefer webinars or classroom training, found “Coaching Employees for High Performance” by Quantum Workplace and Fuel 50, based on feedback from 976 U.S. workers.

The coaching movement is gaining steam at companies that emphasize engagement, according to Dan Harris, workplace insight analyst at Quantum Workplace in Omaha, Neb.

“We are seeing a shift towards conversation, essentially,” he said, with frequent coaching replacing the annual or semi-annual performance ratings system.

“It’s not about the number. It’s not about a checkbox anymore. It’s about an evolving process. It’s going from number tracking more toward a nebulous, ambiguous but guided uncertainty with regard to those conversations.”

“It’s moving toward a little bit more of an intimate relationship between managers and supervisors and their direct reports.”

While coaching can be conducted in different ways, the relationship between supervisor and employee is the largest factor in relation to employee engagement and burnout, said Dane Jensen, CEO of Performance Coaching in Rockwood, Ont.

“We know that people join companies, but they leave bosses,” he said. “And that relationship that the immediate supervisor builds with the person underneath them is the number one predictor of engagement.”

Coaching methodologies

Workplace coaching is a relationship characterized by a managerial attitude supporting development and high expectations of employees levied with appropriate communication, said Jensen.

“For us, coaching is a mindset,” he said. “It really is just a different way of looking at your role as a manager. As a coach, you are constantly looking at the double bottom-line — results on the one hand, and engagement or commitment on the other.”

Fear tactics and monetary rewards are unsustainable methods to drive performance and engagement, said Jensen.

“Coaching is a way of managing. It’s a philosophy. We get to the results while building commitment at the same time.”

But some managers don’t have that mindset, said Phil LeNir, president of CoachingOurselves in Montreal. “They need help to realize that it’s an important part of their role.”

Coaches serve in a “helping” environment, supporting and taking interest in employees in hopes that tasks can be better accomplished and organizational growth can be achieved, he said. Differing from a mentor, coaches will lead by asking questions to ensure employees are able to learn on their own.

“A coach is going to be more explicit about helping and talking to the coachee, asking what they’re trying to achieve and, through directed helping, help them get there,” said LeNir.

“If it’s a good place to be, you’re more engaged. When people help each other, it creates an engaged and caring form of management, as opposed to an authoritarian or dictatorial form. That engaged form of management creates engagement — it’s just that simple.”

Evolving practice

More traditional training programming such as classroom sessions or e-learning are waning in terms of effectiveness, said LeNir.

“If you look at any of these approaches, they go through different waves,” he said. “Coaching started strong 10 to 15 years ago. Then there was some derision because people felt like coaching was there to fix people who weren’t working.”

An understanding of coaching methodology has since matured within the HR community, and it is now viewed as a process to help workers become the best they can be, said LeNir.

Today, companies are acutely aware that attempting to have staff grow and develop alongside their typical job execution is a best practice, said Jensen.

“A large majority of companies recognize the importance of this,” he said. “How it’s being implemented right now runs the gamut from a relatively low level of sophistication, that I think has oversimplified coaching into a feedback tool, up to very nuanced implementations by very knowledgeable practitioners.”

More companies are embracing the concept of coaching as part of their culture in the workplace, said Monika Jensen, certified coach and founder of the Aviary Group in Pickering, Ont.

But executive coaches brought in to lead managers or employees through specific training sessions are also a part of the process, she said.

“It’s more personalized. The traditional way of just attending a course and saying, ‘OK, now you’re trained’ isn’t enough anymore,” said Jensen. “More and more, people are doing that online webinar kind of training, not the face-to-face in classrooms, and they’re finding that people need a bit more. Coaching unpacks that.”

“Employees really enjoy the opportunity to engage with their managers, and I find that management people are constantly in meetings. A lot of times, employees have a question, want some feedback, looking just to see if they’re on the right track, and they’re finding that managers just don’t have the time for them.”

Coaching culture

Leadership buy-in is a crucial starting point, said Harris. If corporate culture isn’t involved in coaching, in favour of annual performance reviews, a major mindset change might be required first.

“There has to be that strategic buy-in that it’s essentially worth their effort, time and strategizing to collectively think about the benefits that may be yielded from a coaching culture,” he said.

Once that is established, strategic communication becomes key, said Harris. “It’s not something that should be communicated out of the blue. It’s a constant, evolving process.”

Managers should receive pre-training while employees are prepped for a shift to coaching and goal-setting to ensure reception.

“Ultimately, this is attempting to cultivate a coaching culture, not just a coaching program. It’s something that should be — to maximize effectiveness — part of the culture itself.”

It should also be implemented as a long-term, holistic vision, alongside the elimination of anti-coaching elements such as skewed reward systems, said LeNir.

“Certainly, you’re going to want some formal instruction,” he said. “But, more importantly, you’re going to want to approach it like a culture change.”

Implementing a coaching culture in the HR department first is also a worthy exercise, said LeNir. “You must eat your own dog food, as we say in the software industry.”

Sometimes third-party coaching is needed, especially to bring staff up to speed on soft skills such as communication styles, behaviour and conduct, said Monika Jensen. This is customizable and can help when neutrality is required due to conflict resolution.

“Coaching is very time-consuming for management,” she said. “What we’re finding is coaching is being used more as a corrective measure, as opposed to ongoing coaching. It’s a bit of a cost savings, but it’s also investing in employees.”

“You’re addressing the issues that are current to those people. It’s not just textbook. It’s on-time, real-time kind of stuff.”

Alongside support from senior leadership, managers need to be shown what exceptional coaching looks like, and granted the freedom to implement it informally if they are to appropriately adopt a coaching mindset, said Dane Jensen.

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