Coaching isn’t about “fixing” people

Here’s my response to a question posed on one of my LinkedIn groups regarding how coaching is often perceived  in organizations as being a tool for those “in trouble”:

The underlying problem is that coaching in many organizations is being used for remedial rather than developmental purposes. It has become synonymous with feedback and/or performance management, so of course, people who are being coached are people who need “fixing.” There are likely two reasons for this: one, that when organizational coaching took off a while back a lot of companies simply decided to start calling managers coaches; and two, that coaching as a distinct skill set is not well understood by those responsible for its implementation and management. Reversing this trend requires a strategy which will differ somewhat depending on the size of the organization and what it is actually using what it calls “coaching” for. In my role as an external consultant, trainer and executive coach, I’ve done the following:

1. Facilitated in-depth discussions with senior HR leaders regarding coaching: what it is and isn’t, to help them start distinguishing it for themselves and for the people they interact with on a regular basis.  2. Helped both HR leaders and business unit leaders distinguish between feedback, performance management and coaching, and day-to-day management and coaching.  3. Provided training in a simple coaching model (we use GROW) to help key people grasp the nature of what the coaching relationship is about.  4. Utilized a 360 process to plant the seeds of a “coach approach” by modeling coaching in the developmental plan process.  5. Consistently reinforced 1 and 2 above.

The next step, as perceptions begin to change, would be to launch a real coaching initiative. Some organizations tie this to a talent development or high potential development process; others utilize it for career development discussions. It helps if coaching becomes a judiciously exclusive process, associated with initiatives that are perceived as forward-thinking or positive by the organization at large.

Several internal champions who “get it” can be invaluable in turning the perception around. It will take time and an agreement among all involved on what coaching means as distinct from the management processes it’s been collapsed with, and an understanding of and willingness to employ the proper language for the management process being utilized in any given situation.

This is a real issue, so thoughts and comments regarding how to shift the negative perception that exists in many organizations of what coaching is are welcome.


About XpertMCC

Credentialed executive coach, learning and development senior manager/consultant, facilitator and trainer based in Trenton, NJ. Enjoys thinking about and writing on all these topics and more. Favorite quote: "Life is uncertain - eat dessert first!"
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2 Responses to Coaching isn’t about “fixing” people

  1. edmusesupon says:

    I agree with your thinking about how coaching came to be viewed in the context of remedial rather than developmental in nature.

    I believe that a particular need facing organizations is the transition employees face when rising from practitioner roles to management roles. I believe that implementing programs in organizations to develop sound management skills is crucial. In many organizations, performance reviews tend to be at fixed times during the year, after which some staff are promoted. This to me would be the ideal time to hold such developmental training, in organizations where such a process does not already exist.

  2. XpertMCC says:

    You’re absolutely right – the learning and development work I do in organizations is primarily around management skills: performance management, getting agreements, giving and receiving feedback, handling difficult conversations…stuff that to this day still isn’t taught in b-school, as far as I know. It’s amazing how people get as far as they do in organizations without having these key skills – or not being good enough at them. Not everyone whose practitioner skills are top notch can cut it as a manager of other practitioners!

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