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December 23, 2020

Why Coaching Should Be Part of your Talent Development Plan for 2021

“Coaching can be likened to a good GPS, sometimes, without one, you have no idea where you are going”. - Irene Asare

During my career working across Africa, and Europe as a Human Resources (HR) practitioner, professional coach, and mentor, I have taken keen note of the potential of proper, effective coaching in organisations. I have personally had the benefit of people who have looked out for me throughout my career.

In my professional journey, I have been able to learn and be guided by some wonderful coaches. These coaches have been like mirrors in many ways - helping me realise things I hadn’t noticed I needed to improve on, or identifying strengths I hadn’t noticed I had. Coaching can be a wonderfully fulfilling experience.

What Is Coaching?

Coaching is the process undertaken to enable the development of ‘self’ focusing on what is required at the time. A good coach will ideally come to guide you through a specific personal or professional goal or challenge - leading to personal or professional development or growth. The coach can help you navigate the specific challenge or goal, having either navigated others or themselves successfully.

Is it time to get familiar with Coaching? 

In Ghana, and within the HR profession - more specifically, many people are given leadership roles, without adequate preparation and support. This can lead to feelings of confusion, stress, and lost productivity ideally. Besides, these individuals may not be fulfilling their full potential and may be executing their role in a sub-optimal manner.  

Coaching is often an untapped resource for professional development. In light of all the technological changes, it is easy to forget the transformational role coaching can have on an individual’s career. In many ways, proper professional coaching received at the right time can be the catalyst that someone requires to begin to fulfill their potential. Coaching, especially done in-house, can have a positive impact on employee behavior and corporate culture. It can also, sometimes, be a less costly way of enhancing employee skills. 

In Ghana, and throughout Africa, where many small and medium-sized enterprises work with real budget constraints, and allocation to training and talent development may suffer, coaching may provide a more cost-friendly opportunity to developing talent. Coaching can be a great way to get more achieved with the same resources.  It may be time for many institutions to revisit the idea of coaching, leveraging it directly as a tool to improve corporate outcomes. HR managers take note. By investing in employee development and providing them with an environment where they can be successful, you also create an environment that means success for the company.

According to Milner & Mccarthy (2019), in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, managerial coaching enhances employees’ willingness to take risks, try new things, cope with change, and indeed to become agents-of-change themselves - what business wouldn’t want people with these characteristics? For this reason alone, it may be time to take another look at coaching. 

With a plethora of professional development resources available in today’s business environment - online courses, external training, and workshops, I find that coaching is often neglected as a tool for professional development, especially in Africa. In my time working as HR director at Tullow, I learned that many tangible and intangible benefits accrue to both the organisation and the beneficiary. 

Here I will present some reasons why I have come to believe that coaching represents a wonderful and unique opportunity for businesses, especially in Africa.

Let’s dive in. 

Employee Engagement and Organisational Culture

Africa is uniquely positioned compared to the other regions of the world. One of the main differentiators and potential drivers of growth on the continent is its youth demographic. According to some estimates, up to 60% of the population is under 25.  This “youth dividend” as it is often referred has already begun to have a considerable impact on the labor market, on the continent and will continue to do so in the future. This growing demographic is already finding themselves in corporate and work environments. They have different needs and demands, and coaching can be a great way to respond to those. 

In many African institutions, control and power are very hierarchical. Authority and decision making are concentrated at the top - with leaders, who are often leaders by title, or position than by their ability to motivate people towards a common goal. Certain cultural norms often mingle with these characteristics to develop organisational cultures that are not open, not transparent, suppress freedom of speech, expression, and don’t encourage open and honest communication. 

In a lot of these organizations, there is a chasm between management and employees. This divide can limit the growth potential of more junior employees who often feel like they operate on their own, and without any guidance. It is also likely that they might feel like their work is of little value to the organisation, harming productivity. 

The drawbacks of such an organisational culture are clear and obvious. Companies that exhibit this type of culture are not innovative, are slow to respond to changes, waste resources, and in the long-run are often not sustainable. Frictions cause inefficiencies that eventually work to cripple these institutions.  

Creating a coaching programme in the organisation, and creating the capacity for coaching at all levels can motivate staff and eventually boost improve performance and productivity levels throughout the organisation. Coaching and development done within an organisation may also lead to increased employee engagement and retention, strengthen employee loyalty, and foster increased belief in the organisation. 

According to Milner and Mccarty (2019), coaching can lead to employee empowerment. The coaching rendered by leadership to more junior members of staff helped employees feel more aligned with their organisation. Indeed, those who benefited from supervisory coaching noted an increased sense of belonging, ownership, and ability to contribute. 

According to Lee, Awang, and Tuckey (2018), development-focused leadership behaviors, such as supervisory coaching and performance feedback, act as resources in employee development and, in return, benefit the organisation by retaining human capital and promoting work engagement. Increased engagement can boost things like business innovation, and lead directly to the bottom-line or profit of a business. 

The knowledge that is transmitted can be more targeted because coaches are more likely to have a better understanding and relatability to those that they coach. This gives coaches the ability to impart invaluable institutional knowledge - which helps to enhance corporate outcomes. 

In my career, I have had the opportunity to engage with coaches at different stages that have been able to help me grow. These coaches, here in Ghana - and in different places that I have worked, have been part of my professional support system. Having someone directly invested in your career and your work, who can give you advice can be an important asset, and can also engender a sense of belonging. 

Making the Team Stronger 

Coaching arrangements within an organisation can strengthen teams through improved relationships, and the building of trust. Milner & Mccarthy (2019) note that improvement in the relationships is more likely to encourage an employee to discuss issues that may be affecting their performance.

By building a strategy that leverages coaching, especially one where senior leadership takes up the role of coaches, an organisation can create a culture that enhances the flow of communication. This can also directly boost the confidence of employees.

In more advanced countries, coaching is actively leveraged, especially in leadership and management programmes. It is often the prefered talent upscaling method because feedback and guidance can be provided in real-time, and the skills and learning happen in the context of the current jobs without requiring employees to leave their day-to-day responsibilities. Efficiency is not lost. 

Through coaching arrangements, employees can build and reinforce direct relationships, enhancing organisational effectiveness in the process. By leveraging coaching, a company can strengthen its teams, and develop more effective leadership directly. Building a coaching relationship takes time, patience, and understanding - much like trust. Trust is an important part of any coaching relationship, therefore coaches must be patient, emotionally intelligent, and be willing to build trust over time. 

Again, according to Milner & Mccarthy (2019), the key elements of coaching are active listening and open style questions allowing people to think through issues themselves. Most people generally respond positively in conversations to this technique, feel more in control of the coaching experience, and therefore more at ease and more likely to open up and self-discovery share. 

It is important that coaching is done in a way that is fair and non-discriminatory, and that all employees have equal access to coaching opportunities within an organisation. Coaching works when it’s systematic and studies show that many organizations use coaching as an integrated part of a larger talent development program.

Let’s talk Chemistry

For a coaching engagement to be successful there has to be chemistry. Real growth occurs where there can be openness and honesty. If these ingredients are missing it is easy for the coaching engagement to fizzle out. For a coachee to feel comfortable sharing their strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures with a coach, they must first trust him or her. If this element of trust is missing, and the trainee does not feel or believe that they can open up, then the growth and learning are nearly impossible. Trust and confidentiality are imperative. 

For coaching engagement to work, there must be trust. Trust like any good relationship must be built upon. This does not mean just having a coach that you can trust to simply tell things in confidentiality. It also means having a coach who you can trust to challenge you. 

A good coach can act as a source of challenge for an employee, forcing them to rethink their assumptions and ideas. Essentially, a good coach understands that true growth occurs often at the edge of one’s comfort zone, and so understands that there is a need to challenge the one he/she is coaching. The idea is not to leave the employee at sea with no hope though; the coach will also work to equip those they coach with the necessary skills/knowledge and insight to be able to navigate the challenges and gain the required growth. A coachee must trust that the coach will provide this challenge to them and equip them with the necessary skills.

I have had the benefit of experiencing different coaches. Coaches with different personalities, from different nationalities, and with differing focuses.  All have brought something unique to me. Looking back now, I believe what they all had in common was approachability, empathy, chemistry, and represented a real challenge to my own often narrow thinking.  Each one of them helped on my journey of leadership and each was extremely valuable.

Coaching can be a wonderfully effective tool for HR practitioners, in creating institutional change, or improving organisational culture. As well as self-development in boosting professional and personal outcomes that enable you to contribute wherever you are in your journey of self discovery.

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