Why coaching should be part of your L&D strategy

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Think for a moment about the word ‘coaching’. What images does it evoke for you? Are you transported back to your school sports team, watching your PE teacher bouncing back and forth emphatically to fire you up for an important match? Perhaps, in your mind’s eye, you are looking at someone boisterously striding across a stage, booming into a microphone and telling you how to be successful.

According to Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in executive coaching, the definition of coaching is “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” Although the concept of coaching originated in sport (and has since been influenced by other fields of study, such as education and psychology), the essence of coaching as we know it today is about building awareness, responsibility and self-belief in an individual in order to help them develop.

The business landscape is rapidly evolving and adapting in response to globalisation, technological advancement and the COVID-19 pandemic. Learning pathways are becoming increasingly self-directed, personalised and informal. As the modern learner takes increasing responsibility for their own unique learning pathway, support is vital to keep them enthused and focused. The last thing you want is for learners to become isolated and unmotivated.

This is where a coaching approach can make all the difference.

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How can you build a learning culture through coaching?

The role of the L&D practitioner is changing in order to adapt to the shifting learning landscape. While face-to-face learning is still a key part of a blended learning solution, assuming the role of coach provides a way to support and encourage learners throughout independent learning journeys.

As ‘learning coaches’ L&D practitioners will play a more prominent role in underpinning a culture of continuous learning. This includes:

  • Getting closer to the business and identifying ways to encourage sustainable behaviour change and contribute to organisational success
  • Championing those who demonstrate desirable behaviours by engaging with learning
  • Demonstrating the relevance of learning to individual job roles, helping staff to understand the benefit of learning activities
  • Helping to transfer ownership for learning into everyone’s hands

Start by getting your business leaders fully engaged and on board with coaching. To grow an effective coaching culture – one where staff are supported to learn new skills and become greater assets to the company – engagement needs to start at the top and flow through the rest of the business. Coaching your leaders may at first appear intimidating, but if you can demonstrate the value and provide relevant examples, you can encourage them to act as positive role models for change.

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It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t forget about your line managers in this process. Your line managers play a key role in the learning transfer process and help learners create behavioural change post-learning – after all, these are the people who spend the most time with those they line manage on a day-to-day basis.

Equip them with the skills needed to coach effectively and you’ll enable them to support learners with trusted, regular input and feedback.

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How do you get the wider organisation on board with coaching?

Research published by City & Guilds Group reveals that of those respondents that hadn’t been offered coaching by their current employer, lack of investment (33%), taking staff for granted (31%), leaders’ disinterest in staff (22%) and a lack of understanding of the value of coaching (22%) were cited as the most common reasons.

There is also a common misconception that only those who have problems at work would have any need for a coach. “Why would a competent worker need somebody to teach them how to do their job?” you may ask. “Isn’t a coach only needed to fix a problem?”

On the contrary, coaching is an excellent tool to help good workers overcome difficult challenges in order to become even better. It’s precisely why some of the top leaders in the FTSE 100 have their own coaches. The role of the coach is not to tell a ‘bad’ worker how to do their job, but to offer a different perspective and challenge the individual’s thinking about their own development in order to improve.

It’s about focusing on learner potential, not just performance – something which is crucial as we begin to look more at how to manage talent and upskill the workforce.

Misconceptions can create resistance between learner and coach. For example, an employee may assume they aren’t performing well enough and are being ‘babied’ in order to correct a certain aspect of their work. This inevitably results in embarrassment and reluctance to engage. To avoid this, make it clear how coaching can benefit employees at all levels and abilities, ensuring learners are made aware of how learning is a lifelong process and how coaching can help them achieve particular goals. For example, you could outline how it can improve their ability to identify solutions to role-specific challenges or use real-life examples of how successful people within the business have benefited from a coach.

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How does coaching benefit the organisation?

The City & Guilds research also reveals that coaching is integral to productivity and performance, with 84% of employees saying that coaching should be part of every organisation’s management and development program.

It can be useful to improve problem-solving, task performance and team working for example. Depending on what the organisation’s goals are, coaching can be integrated with traditional training to drive success.

Coaching can help people recognise and develop their own strengths, target and improve weaknesses, improve their outlook in their working lives and improve their leadership skills. It unlocks potential in individuals, resulting in a more motivated, skilled and productive workforce.

According to a study by the International Coach Federation, of the respondents surveyed, 80% reported improved self-confidence and 70% said work performance had increased. If people know they are being supported and have developed a sense of self-confidence, they are more likely to care about the role they play in the organisation and will share in its overall values and objectives.

It’s why so many major organisations, including Nike and Coca-Cola, employ coaching as a way to help them stay on top of an ever-changing global market.

In summary…

Did you know that the vast majority of individuals and organisations who have used coaching are satisfied? The International Coach Federation noted that 86% of companies say they at least made their investment back.

This is the sort of evidence that’s critical for proving the value of coaching and its role in L&D within the business.

Managers can be coached to manage better and learners can be coached to learn more effectively – there’s no end to how coaching can be used to help future-proof your organisation.

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