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Put Me In, Coach! The Secret to Stronger Development

12 February 2024

4 Min Read

Coaching and Development

Coaching continues to gain momentum as a popular leadership development tool. Organizations often recognize its importance, but many still need help defining the function and maximizing its potential.

In episode four of They Learn, You Win, our host David Wentworth is joined by one of his longtime colleagues—Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group. Claude is also a Certified Executive Coach through the Center for Executive Coaching and a Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation.

As part of his work at Brandon Hall Group, Claude helps put together a human capital outlook management study every year. The report forecasts that in 2024, coaching will receive the heaviest investment from organizations that are focusing on leadership development.

We invited Claude to share his perspective on the potential and power of coaching and how organizations can best tap it. Take a look below for some of the highlights.

We’ve seen time and time again that coaching is one of the most effective methods to improve learning and engagement. What makes it so effective?

According to Claude, coaching is one of the greatest tools organizations have to personalize learning.

Sometimes, figuring out what an employee needs or wants in terms of career development is part of the challenge. Coaching is the best modality to help learners discover their core issues because it probes deeper thought and leads them to learn things for themselves, shares Claude.

“We talk a lot about personalized learning, and coaching is the most personal type of learning you can have. It’s seen as critical by the majority of our research respondents as a learning modality, talent retention tool, and even as an onboarding tool.”

Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group

It seems like there is often confusion around the difference between coaching and management and what coaching should be used for and when. Is that correct?

Claude finds that many organizations utilize coaching as a corrective measure, which portrays it in a negative light. While these organizations use the term “coaching,” it’s part of a punitive process to address sub-optimal or poor performance. In this scenario, verbal or written warnings and even termination may follow. This can have unintended consequences like decreasing employee morale.

There also needs to be more clarity about who should be a coach. In Claude’s experience, the best coaches are those who do not have any other professional or personal relationship with a coachee.

“A coach could be a manager or leader, but preferably, they are not. They should be someone different with some level of training to help employees unlock insights and personal learnings that improve performance and develop them as a professional.”

Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group

The bottom line? Coaching is not the same thing as giving feedback—it should be considered its own vehicle for learning and led by a trained professional who can bring an independent, unbiased perspective to employees.

Coaching and mentoring are two phrases that are often thrown around together. How are they different?

Coaching is a collaborative relationship between the coach and employees, which can be formal or informal. It’s often time-specific and ongoing within the business flow, aiming to improve employee performance in a specific job or role. Claude shares that when it comes to coaching, coaches and coachees often begin with an end goal in mind and figure out how to work backward to achieve that outcome.

“An important difference between coaching and mentoring is that a coach is not there to give advice. The primary function is to help employees learn, explore, and reach their own insights.”

Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group

Another difference, adds Claude, is that a coach can be someone other than an expert in the area for which they provide coaching. Often, leaders who are receiving executive coaching are far more experienced than the individuals who are coaching them; still, the value lies in the coach’s ability to unlock the coachee’s potential.

Mentoring, on the other hand, tends to be long-term and open-ended. There is often a lack of specific objectives, and the overall goals of the mentoring relationship can change over time. Unlike coaching, mentors are generally people who have more significant experience than those who are mentored, and they often directly manage the person receiving mentorship.

“Mentoring is about personal development that goes beyond performance or promotion. Mentoring is flexible and all about advice and counseling, while coaching is more structured and geared toward unlocking learnings within an individual being coached.”

Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group

What does good coaching look like? How do we set people up for success?

Organizations need to identify the best people to serve as coaches, which is a specialized and often overlooked skill set. Ideally, coaches should be certified individuals who work independently from the company.

All that said, sometimes, people cannot be coached. It’s essential for companies to carefully consider the employees they select to receive coaching for it to be a worthwhile investment.

“Coaching is about encouraging people to take accountability for where they want to be in their careers. Being coachable requires one to be open-minded, introspective, and reflective. It takes willingness on the part of the person being coached to be honest with themselves.”

Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal Analyst at Brandon Hall Group

What should companies think about when matching people with a coach?

Claude shares that many companies match people with coaches manually, which isn’t always a good approach. Furthermore, if matching is done right, coachees should be free to change who is coaching them. Even if they matched with someone, there should be permission to choose someone else if either party feels the partnership is not working.

Claude relates the matching process to negotiating a contract. There should be room on both sides to air concerns and make adjustments if necessary.

How does coaching fit in an L&D environment?

Learning isn’t going to stick unless there is reinforcement, shares Claude. Coaching is the ultimate reinforcement—it takes learning a step further by asking employees to consider how they can apply the concepts and skills they’ve learned and how they need to change their behaviors to get where they want to go.

Coaching can be helpful on its own, but it is more beneficial if it’s supplementing other forms of learning. It personalizes learning, creates a strong relationship between the coach and coachee, and allows learners to apply the skills they’ve learned in a safe environment.

Technology plays a significant role in coaching, too. Some platforms aid with the matching process, while sophisticated learning environments connect coaches and coachees and allow them to record sessions, gather feedback, interact with each other, and track progress. The most important thing is for companies to determine the purpose of coaching—it should be for a specific outcome, such as helping someone gain the skills required to move to a more advanced role within the organization.

Our conversation with Claude has more great insights about coaching and its role in leadership development. Check out the full episode here. 

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