Coaching increases productivity and morale
By Christina Hange Kukuk, Knight Ridder Newspapers
The Cleveland medical technician was one of the best in the lab. Her supervisors took notice, and, of course, they promoted her. She got her own office, a fatter paycheck, more responsibility and prestige. And she was miserable. Overwhelmed and confused, she turned to Akron, Ohio, business coach Kathryn Musholt. Together, they discovered that the work the technician really loved was back in the lab working with others to solve problems, not squirreled away in a private office. She returned to the lab, a happier, more productive employee and another convert to the concept of coaching. In the last decade, workplace coaching has gained increasing popularity. So much so that experts predict some form soon will be used in every corporate office and in most small businesses across the country. Eager to retain top talent, companies are turning to coaching to increase productivity and morale. Go to the Web site for the International Coaching Federation and you’ll find programs that offer coaching certification in more than 100 specialties, from corporate to life-balance to spiritual. A coach looks at the whole person — interests, abilities and personality — to decide where he or she fits best in the workplace, said Musholt, owner of KSM Careers & Consulting. “Coaching is supporting you to get where you were headed anyway,” she said. “My philosophy is everyone wants to do better for the organization. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there.” The concept is not unlike what goes on in sports. Is player A a shortstop or a right fielder? Is player B a star center or defensive stalwart? Player C has talent, but how can we make the most of it? It’s a theory that works in the businesses of today partially because employees are far different than they were 15 years ago, said Joyce Gioia, a North Carolina-based workplace trends specialist. “The employees coming into our workplace today will not stand for the old order of management,” she said. “Employees today don’t want to be directed,” she said. “They want to be encouraged to develop themselves. They say, ‘Don’t tell me what to do. Tell me what you want done, and I’ll figure out the best way to do it.'” Workplace experts call it “the new employment contract.” Most coaching is one-on-one work between an employee and a supervisor or outside consultant. A coach asks hard questions and challenges the employee regularly to refocus his or her perspective and improve performance. The relationship is different from a mentorship, which typically involves more personal investment and a longer time period, Musholt said. In one form or another, business coaching has been around since the late 1980s, when it first became popular with executives looking for outside help in climbing the corporate ladder. Some needed time-management skills. Others needed help learning how to manage people. Now business coaches are guiding entrepreneurs, and corporate coaches are training managers to coach employees from the production lines to the highest levels of management. Some companies, like IBM and Ernst & Young, developed entire internal divisions devoted to corporate coaching. Peter Cairo, co-author of the self-help book “Action Coaching,” said the movement is a reaction to the downsizing frenzy of the 1980s. “Many companies today have gone through that restructuring,” he said. “They are already very lean. So if you’re looking for growth strategies to increase performance and profits, it’s risky to get any leaner without doing some damage.” Instead, businesses are investing more time and energy in staff development. The National Association of Business Coaches has seen the number of business coaches grow from about 25,000 three years ago to almost 50,000 today, executive director J. Stephen Lanning said. Companies that delve into coaching find themselves dealing with what often is called the “soft side” of business. That area includes other intangibles such as purpose, value and relationship that deal directly with an employees’ humanity, workplace experts say. These elements create meaningful workplaces, something more employees are demanding, they say. But human elements are some of the hardest company issues to deal with, said the Rev. Norman Douglas, executive director of Heart to Heart Communications. The nonprofit group began 10 years ago consulting with Akron-area businesses in the area of internal relations. Back then, companies weren’t ready to talk about individual development, Douglas said. Everyone thought restructuring would solve productivity problems. Now, organizations such as Heart to Heart have busy schedules. “We (employees) are searching for the connection between what we do and who we are,” said Jim Burns, Heart to Heart’s director of operations. Finding that connection can be costly since many business consultants charge between $100 and $200 an hour. Corporate programs cost between $1,000 and $10,000 a month. “The return on investment in developing people is you retain people, you have happier people in the workplace, and you increase productivity,” said Sherry Greenleaf, a corporate coach with Impact Training and Development Inc. in Westlake, Ohio. Coaching is most common in top-tier corporations, but small and medium-size businesses are using the strategy as well. “With the competitive job market, it’s just not as easy as firing someone and getting someone else to replace them,” said Melissa James, human-resource manager with Nuco Plastics Inc. of Eastlake, Ohio. As permanent employees grew from 42 to 62 in one year, and the plastic mold injection manufacturer expanded from one plant to two, corporate philosophy supported promoting from the inside. The problem was that many skillful employees who earned managerial roles had no experience dealing with people. “We found ourselves constantly putting out fires,” James said. She persuaded management to hire a corporate coach. Now all employees who oversee others — even shift supervisors — are spending four hours every Saturday for six weeks learning to be coaches. “It’s certainly much more cost-effective to take the employees who’ve grown from within and mold them and shape them rather than hiring in all new supervisors from the outside,” James said. One of the biggest differences between athletes and business people is that athletes often are proud of their coaches. A big name, like the Boston Celtics’ Rick Pitino, can bring prestige. Many executives, on the other hand, are embarrassed to even say they need help. “They’re supposed to be these strong leaders,” Musholt said. “Asking for a little guidance appears weak.” Another reason businesses are shy about their coaches is that often the coach is called as a last resort in personnel conflicts, she said. Heart to Heart’s client list includes some of Akron’s biggest companies. One of those is Knight Ridder Newspapers. This spring, the newspaper began training sessions to help managers better coach their employees. “The environment right now in the industry is so competitive,” Akron Beach Journal Editor Janet Leach said. “There is so much pressure. … This is one more tool in my toolbox.” Other Heart to Heart clients did not want to break confidentiality and be quoted for this story, Burns said. The stigma of coaching may endure, but it is based on outdated thinking, Burns said. “Nobody ever played like Tiger Woods, yet Tiger Woods needs a coach,” he said. “Why would the multimillionaire of the 21st century need a coach when everyone agrees nobody can touch his game? “He knows he needs somebody to watch his game, somebody to bounce ideas off of.” COACHING TIPS If you are considering using coaching in your workplace, here are some tips on how to implement it from Sherry Greenleaf, registered corporate coach with Impact Training and Development Inc. in Westlake, Ohio: Meet with your people. Senior managers may drive the push for more coaching in the workplace, but initiatives won’t go far without the support and input of all. Get an outside perspective. Find a consultant or another manager who can help you see the big picture. Change. Nothing damages employee trust more than talk without action. Follow through. Employees are sick of “management by best-seller” fad programs that disappear in days. ——————————————————————————– Tips for current coaches: Clarify the issue. One of the coach’s jobs is to keep the employee on track toward the goals. Invite the employee’s perspective. Listen carefully. Set a clear timetable for accountability. With an action plan, it’s easier to evaluate setbacks and successes. ——————————————————————————– Sources for more information on coaching in the workplace: National Association of Business Coaches (1-800-290-3196) The International Coach Federation ( http://www.coach-federation/.org ). Coach U (www.coachu.com). A company that offers classroom-without-walls teaching that certifies coaches.