Research Paper By AbdulRahman Alharbi
(Career Coach, SAUDI ARABIA)
Through working experiences in semi-governmental, local, and multinational organizations in the middle east, the term ‘coaching’ is being repeatedly misused in the working environment. Regardless of how well the employee is performing, you hear ‘he needs coaching’ or ‘we’ve done everything possible, it’s time for coaching’. This shows that there’s a lack of understanding of the right definition of coaching when coaching is the right solution. From the manager’s side, coaching is a solution to solve low-performance issues. On the other hand, from the employee side, if an employee is subject to coaching, then he or she is having low-performance issues which leads him or her to be already in a defensive mood. This is caused by the misunderstanding of the right definition of coaching.
This paper is to reflect on my own experience of repetitive patterns, not facts, of more than ten years working in local and multinational organizations in the Middle East. The paper starts by explaining the role of both the manager and coach including responsibilities and expectations of managing and coaching. Then there’s a snapshot on the performance review process and why it’s not effective anymore. And finally, some limitations, issues with internal coaching, and recommendations are shred.
The term “Manager” is defined by BusinessDictionary.com as “An individual who is in charge of a certain group of tasks, or a certain subset of a company. A manager often has a staff of people who report to him or her” (BusinessDictionary.com, 2020). The manager is often responsible for the results and performance of employees (people). Whether managing an activity, a process, a group of processes, or an entire organization, managing, often, involve dealing with people.
Responsibilities of a manager are different, it differs according to the context and the job nature, however; there are typical responsibilities such as problem solving, performance reviews, conducting meetings, decision making, delegation, and induction. Looking at these responsibilities, it’s all about dealing with people. An employee would usually approach his/ her manager looking for a solution, support, or approval. It depends on how well the employee performs. A high potential employee expects advice and guidance from his/ her manager, while a poor performing employee would expect solutions or simply problem solving from his/ her manager. So in general, the expectations from being a manager are as follows:
- Getting to know the employee as a person;
- Clarifying values, own purpose of career and aspirations,
- Providing proper orientation to cover all of the job aspects and requirements,
- Checking in on the employee performance throughout the year,
- Solving problems that are out of the scope of the employee,
- Providing the right guidance to help the employee performs well and to reach aspirations
The manager expects from the employee that he or she familiarizes himself/ herself with the internal policy and procedures, performs the job accountabilities as agreed during the targets setting process, attends whatever planned training classes and then applies the learning, raise performance issues whenever appropriate, seeks support for personal problems.
The term “Coaching” is defined by The International Coaching Federation (ICF) as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership” (Experiencecoaching.com, 2020). Coaching is a forward-thinking process, a future-oriented partnership where involved parties are considered equal. The coach fully focuses on the client/ coachee agenda. For a successful coaching partnership, trust and chemistry have to be there. The client/ coachee needs to be vulnerable, open, and honest to get the most value of the coaching relationship. In business environments, there’s a mixture of coaching and mentoring(Forbes.com, 2020). In mentoring, the relationship is not equal as the mentor provides advice from long experience, targeting growth and maturity in the client/ mentee. Agenda is mostly developed by the mentor. However, in coaching, the agenda is developed by the client/ coachee providing that there shouldn’t be a personal influence from the coaching side. The mentor tells the client/ mentee what to do while the coach asks the client/ coachee what course of action needs to be taken.
One of the core competencies developed by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is “Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client” (Coachfederation.org, 2020). Demonstrating this competency, the coach is expected to be able to create a safe environment with mutual respect and trust.
There’re different types of coaching(Performance Coach University, 2020), and no formal distinction for these types. The most popular types of business environments are as follows:
Executive Coaching (Leadership Coaching)
This type of coaching targets senior and general managers, directors, and executives – titles differ from an organization to another. In such coaching, the focus is on specific skills and leadership competencies. Usually, the organization hires an external coach or assigns this accountability to HR where they have an internal qualified coach with the title of Leadership Development Manager. Or it might be the case that the executive hires a coach on his/ her own. Coaches in this field might need to be coming from long experience with a reputable name, to satisfy the ego of the executive, some executives feel valued this way.
This type of coaching targets employees, not in managerial roles. Coaching fresh graduate employees to explore internal career streams designed by the organization, coaching mid-level employees to support growth internally and to explore possible internal moves. And coaching employees with high potential to explore their readiness for managerial roles.
Sometimes there’s a need for a Team Coach to focus on developments related to corporate culture and organizational values. The target in such activities is to systemize the team performance and ensure team dynamics are considered and worked around.
The performance review process exists in most organizations with different names i.e. appraisal process, performance development process, or maybe target setting process. Regardless of the name, a typical performance review process would start with setting business targets for the whole year’s performance, then monitoring and taking corrective actions during the year – if the business has the luxury to do so, and finally reviewing the overall year performance at year-end. The performance review process is one of the best opportunities for coaching in the business environment, however; it’s clear that typical processes don’t serve a real purpose anymore (Harvard Business Review, 2020). The process should serve the purpose of linking employee’s performance to business performance as well as to draw a framework for the employee’s development. Well, the reality is something else!
Issues and Limitations
Coaching perception in a business environment
As mentioned previously, there’s a huge mix-up between mentoring and coaching. Even for the term coaching, it’s not well perceived in the business environment. The perception is that when someone is experiencing coaching, there’s something wrong. Managers think of coaching as a solution when there’s a performance issue. Sometimes they recommend coaching for employees with high potential (they recommend mentoring!). It might be the case that managers don’t understand when to manage and when to coach, and which level of performance is appropriate for coaching. One the other hand, from the employee side however, coaching means, in most cases, a resolution for a performance problem. Employees subject to coaching feel exposed and defensive.
Perception and usage of Performance Review Process
While this process exists with the purpose to link employee’s performance to business performance, and to govern employee’s future development needs, it’s serving an unwanted purpose. The managers look at this process as an HR process, taking unnecessary time. Some managers, where the focus is purely on business results, look at this process as a luxury and nice to have. So, the manager goes through this process to tick a box. Accordingly, the process is considered a demotivating factor for employees, as the perceived focus from the employee side is that this process is to pinpoint performance issues, not to focus on employee’s needs for growth and development.
The Manager-Employee Relationship
Ina fast-paced moving economy, organizational changes are more frequently occurring. This has led managers to focus more on business results (numbers!) and less on people. Some managers only meet one-to-one with their reporting employee if, and only if, there’s a performance issue. Voluntarily meeting to discuss potential personal growth, development actions, and required support, is considered a luxury and sometimes, not an activity to spend time on. With this manager’s focus on only numbers, the employee became reluctant to open up and share aspirations, organizational wants, and needs.
Introducing Coaching Internally
It starts by conducting awareness sessions about coaching and associated benefits, and most importantly correct the misconception about coaching. Internal coaching capability costs less than hiring an external coach(Training Industry, 2018). The internal coach will be a full-time employee like any other employee, no direct cost will be associated with hiring an internal employee with a title of a coach, something related to employee relations, or maybe talent management. This option has to be associated with tools to explore employee’s values and aspirations. An internal coach has the advantage of understanding the organizational culture. The challenge for the internal coach is getting the employee (coachee) to be open up by assuring confidentiality and building mutual trust.
Capitalizing on Performance Review Process
The performance review process is an excellent window for coaching if used purposefully, the recommendation is to replace the word performance with potential. The part related to employee’s aspirations and related development has to be capitalized on. The process should be sold to employees as a development-oriented process, not as a rating for past performance only. Whenever the employee acknowledges that the process is in his/ her best interest, he/ she will work hard to get the best out of it, providing that the manager invests equal energy in exploring the employee’s aspirations and support him/ her reaching full potential. Training the manager and equipping him/ her with coaching tools goes without saying to ensure getting an efficient output out of this process. The downside here is that an absence of trust, this process is usually a waste of time and more of a ticking-a-box process.
The Manager as a Coach
Developing coaching skills for managers is a great initiative, one-to-one meetings, small meetings, and business review meetings are all opportunities for coaching and exploring possibilities.
Hiring an External Coach
Whatever efforts are in place to introduce internal coaching, hiring an external coach is always in need, especially for high potential employees and senior executives. Despite the high cost associated here, some executives feel valued by hiring and working with reputable coaches.
Misconception and misunderstanding around coaching in the business environment should be corrected by simply not linking coaching with low performance as a start. A tool to capture employee’s values and aspirations has to be developed. When tools are introduced taking into consideration the employee’s best interest, the employee buys in these tools and uses it efficiently, however; organizational culture and management sponsorship are key factors to affect the success of these tools.
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