It’s typically after something goes wrong that someone will employ the assistance of a coach. In the context of work it may come after a negative appraisal, being passed over for promotion, or feedback from a peer. But whatever the reason, coaching is often used as a reactive approach to something we don’t like. It’s also something that tends to come relatively late in the game, especially in the work context. The CIPD report ‘the coaching climate’ found that coaching is most often employed to help improve and manage performance. Furthermore coaches are most commonly enlisted to help senior executives and managers perform more effectively or support seasoned employees to engage more productively at work. But should coaching be used as a rescue remedy when things go wrong? Or should it be a proactive approach to encourage high performance throughout an individual’s career? Would coaching be of benefit from an even earlier point?

How Could Coaching Be used More Proactively?

Implement it early – While the CIPD’s ‘taking the temperature of coaching’ report found that one third of organisations provide coaching to all staff, a concerning 20% only offer it to high potential employees, and 25% reserve it for managers. coaching is therefore widely used for senior leaders, helping them to enhance their natural abilities and effectively utilise the skills and knowledge they have developed throughout their career. But while this is worthwhile and shown to have positive impacts in some contexts, in many cases there is a degree of limitation as to what can be altered when employing coaching at this stage. Due to the very fact that senior executives have potentially decades of experience, they are also likely to have ingrained approaches which may be hard to devolve. thus while huge changes can occur, there is less probability of this happening when providing coaching later in an individual’s career. If coaching is implemented early, however, it has the potential to set a positive tone that will be carried throughout a career. In this regard coaching probably isn’t going to be about specific or technical skills that an individual needs to learn. Instead it might be based on essential skills that will be necessary for the entire duration of an individual’s career. this may include things such as communication, leadership (and followership), problem solving and innovation. these are skills that many young people in particular do not get taught, and while they will learn these organically as they progress in their career, it doesn’t mean they will learn them well or from the best sources. As many organisations are concerned that graduates, for example, are lacking many of these vital skills, offering coaching opportunities early on will make a huge difference to their ability to contribute effectively to a business.

Use it often – the other common issue with how coaching is often used is that it is a reactive approach that is only implemented when needed. In some cases this may be an on-going process, but for the large majority, coaching is treated as an isolated intervention that is only used sporadically to address specific issues. Depending on the need of the individual the length of this intervention may span several months or longer, research suggests the average length is three to six months, but regardless, it will typically have a defined end point. However the purpose of coaching is to provide targeted support to individuals to achieve growth, and growth is by definition an on-going process, so coaching should be too. this doesn’t mean daily sessions for the rest of an individual’s career, but it does mean frequent check-ins and review sessions to establish when in depth interventions may be needed. this ensures steady progress can be made and potential challenges can be addressed proactively rather than reactively.

Make it informal – Formal coaching sessions provided from external sources are an invaluable resource, and hiring a dedicated coach to help support individuals through certain issues is necessary in some cases.

However, proactive coaching can also be a more informal process and equipping managers within an organisation with the skills to coach can be an efficient and effective solution to offer coaching in a ‘business as usual’ context. this is a trend that is already growing; the CIPD found in their ‘coaching climate’ report that over half of the coaching being provided in organisations is done so through line managers and specially trained internal coaches. However in addition to training leaders in effective coaching approaches, organisations may also benefit from the implementation of a mentoring scheme which is a slightly different methodology, but still a proactive way to support your employees using the experience of your entire workforce. Inviting employees to share their knowledge and experience with their colleagues, is a great way to engage individuals, help build stronger relationships and also empower more effective working, and best of all it can be run internally, so carries a relatively low cost. It may not be the most appropriate approach for all scenarios; there will be times when professional coaches are required, but as an on-going mechanism for support, it is highly valuable.

Coaching has long been a staple of professional development, especially at the senior level, but it’s actually something that can be widely applied across your workforce. It also shouldn’t be a reactive approach that is only implemented when something needs fixing, it should also be employed proactively to offer individuals the targeted support they need from the very start, helping them pave the way for success in the future.

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