A Research Paper By Kathryn (Katie) Hoff, Leadership and Career Coach, UNITED STATES
Talent Management Tactics
The experience of engaging in a coaching training program has been transformative for me. The coaching competencies I have developed and the structure of the learning experience have helped me cultivate deeper self-awareness, direct communication skills, the elevation of my attention to language to minimize judgment and defensiveness in self and others, and the capacity to give and receive feedback. These are the same skills that I seek to cultivate in individuals, teams, and organizations in my profession as I work with leaders developing talent and navigating change.
My experience has inspired me to explore the power of coaching as an experiential learning development opportunity. If an individual chooses to engage as a participant and/or to be formed as a coach, they are then to embody ICF competencies, which also align with general leadership competencies. Organizations can support leader development by providing options for leaders to learn about coaching, experience coaching, and engage in it as a peer or leader in support of themselves and others. The outcomes of coaching are beneficial for individuals, teams, and organizations. This paper seeks to expand on this thinking and provide a roadmap for the why and how of integrating coaching into learning and talent development practices within an organization.
Coaching as a Talent Management Strategy
Talent management within an organization seeks to align hiring, development, performance, and rewards across the life cycle of an employee experience to support the strategic needs of the business (Lawler, 2019). Competencies provide the anchor through which all talent management tactics are threaded, aligned, and measured (DDI, 2020). Coaching as a competency has transferable skillsets, toolsets, and mindsets that enable other, broader leadership competencies to be mastered.
Below is The Center for Creative Leadership’s “most important” leadership competencies for leading, self, others, and the organization alongside the International Coaching Federation coaching competencies (ICF, 2019). Learning and development as a component of a talent management ecosystem, use several modalities, like classroom experiences, mentoring, and experiential learning to help employees develop and demonstrate competencies. Training in coaching skills as well as offering coaching as a development opportunity within talent management practices aligns to develop many directly, if not all indirectly, of these leadership competencies. I would argue that a talent strategy without a coaching component is missing a foundation piece for development.
How Does Developing Coaching Competencies Enable Leadership Development?
Coaching training leverages experiential learning and critical reflection to help individuals develop. Experiential learning defined by Kolb (1984) includes four stages concrete learning (experiencing something new or interpreting an experience in a new way), reflective observation (reflecting on what the experience means to them through new information), abstract conceptualization (forming new ideas or adjusting thinking based on new information), and active experimentation (actively applying and testing new behaviors and ways of doing/being for feedback). Applying this model to talent management practices could look like this:
- Concrete experience – Having a coaching mentor or trainer guide you in coaching someone else through the review of a coaching session or observing your coach live and giving you feedback or debriefing with a mentor/trainer after a session.
- Active experimentation – Doing coaching with others to get practice to develop your style and personal approach.
- Reflective observation – Observing how other people coach by viewing videos of others, watching them live, or by being a client yourself and reflecting on what went well, missed opportunities, or undermining actions.
- Abstract conceptualization – Reading articles, books, or attending classes to learn about the theory, concepts, and tools used in coaching to further inform your approach.
Coaching as a Competence for Developing Others
Performance management, feedback, annual reviews, succession planning, etc. are ways that leaders participate in leading change via talent development. All leaders are needed to support change agility by helping to continuously know and develop the talent of the organization. Edward Lawler shares the idea of “talent agility” (2019) as a means of defining how the workforce needs to be able to adapt readily to change.
Kim Scott (2019), the author of Radical Candor, delves deeply into leader behaviors that align with the performance and development of associates. The behaviors she outlines: getting to know your team members on a personal level, understanding their motives around work without judgment, providing acknowledgment, sharing observations around performance, co-creating development plans with the employee, etc. align generally to what coaches strive for in their engagements. These kinds of coaching conversations enable leaders to get to know their team’s goals, talents, and biases. The outcome is psychological safety, which is essential for encouraging feedback to the leader not just about work projects, but how changes are perceived and experienced.
Bottom line: if you can coach your team through the small things, you can better coach them through the big things.
How Does Coaching Support Organizational Change Agility?
The experiential practice of coaching and coach training teaches a skill set of critical reflection, goal definition, and action planning. The microcosm of these skills is leading to personal transformation, which can be applied to leading teams and organizations. Coaching enables leaders to better lead change and engage in powerful visioning to mitigate resistance.
Coaching as a Competency for Leading Change
Change management is about supporting people through their individual transitions (Creasey, n.d.).
Change is experienced at the physiological and emotional levels in individuals. Our brains are resistant to change. David Rock’s (2008) SCARF model describes the evocation of a threat response if status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, or fairness are perceived as threatened. The threat is experienced by a flood of the stress hormone cortisol, which then elicits a defensive reaction. When we are in a threatened state we avoid collaboration, are unable to see the long-term consequences of our actions, and are more risk-averse (Rock, 2008). Change evokes an immediate sense of uncertainty, which triggers our threat response. Coaching skills are encouraged as a means of supporting this physiological process.
The emotional experience of change follows the brain’s reaction in an expected pattern outlined by William-Bridges (Mindtools, n.d.): Ending, Losing, and Letting Go, The Neutral Zone, and The New Beginning. In the first phase, where we may feel the most threatened, we experience anger, shock, doubt, and frustration. When we move to neutral we experience skepticism and anxiety. Finally, we move into a state of acceptance, excitement, and commitment. Leaders play a critical role in supporting their teams through this experience through empathetic listening, acknowledgment, evoking beliefs about what is true and not true about the change, and supporting action in response to the change. These behaviors directly align with coaching competencies of creating trust and safety, maintaining presence, facilitating client growth, listening actively, and evoking awareness (ICF, 2019).
Leading Change Through Powerful Visioning
Our brains are more open to change when we have a deep emotional desire to do it and visioning is a powerful tool in coaching and change leadership. Boyatizis, Smith, and Van Oosten (2019) define this positive emotional desire as having a positive emotional state (PEA) in the brain. When we are in the PEA state, we are more relaxed, open, and willing to change. Vision-based coaching supports individuals’ capacity to engage their sense of autonomy over their development and subsequent actions toward their desired personal state.
At the organizational level, when change is led with these principles in mind, employees are more open to moving ahead with any needed changes. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an example of a change model that evokes a positive emotional state through shared visioning, participation, and community commitment. The AI model uses four stages for engagement: Discovery (What gives life?), Dream (What might it be?), Design (How can it be?), and Destiny (What will be?) (Cooperrider, Whitney, Stavros, 2008). AI engages a group to vision an ideal future state, assess strengths to support the vision, plan for action toward the future state, and then make a commitment to implement actions. The visioning process is important for managing the brain’s response to change (Scarlett, 2019). Utilizing visioning practices within the coaching relationship supports an individual’s ability to apply and practice this for themselves.
How Can Coaching Be Brought Into an Organization?
Integrating Coaching Into Talent Management Strategies
Coaching can be integrated into and across a Talent Management strategy to support experiential learning for leaders (as an opt-in coaching experience), aligned to leader competencies and behaviors performance management, and applied to change leadership competencies. Specifically, coaching strategies may include a variety of tactics including:
- Building an internal cadre of coaches or contracting with an external vendor to support coaching needs
- Individual coaching with internal or external coaches
- Group coaching with internal or external coaches around shared goals
- Team coaching as part of team effectiveness work
- Providing coaching in alignment with milestone experiences in the employee life cycle (e.g. coaching integrated into onboarding for new leaders, successor development, hi-po programming).
- Integrating coaching skill development into performance management practices and learnings, leader onboarding programs, hi-potential programs, and senior leader development.
- Scaling a coaching culture via “Mastermind” groups or other coaching-like experiences, like an internal mentoring program or identifying leads to manage internal communities of practice
- Developing coaching skills for anyone involved in supporting internal mobility
- Providing coaching skills training for all associates as a component of a culture of coaching, feedback, and shared learning to foster growth through peers, not just leaders
Change Management Considerations for Implementation of a Coaching Talent Management Strategy
Talent management activities change the culture and ways of working for the leaders and employees within the organization. While building a comprehensive change plan to enable a coaching strategy, the following should be considered:
- Maintaining the ICF code of ethics across programs with all parties involved in managing any internal coaches or coaching programs. Maintaining ethics will likely involve requiring training for anyone helping to administer your coaching program, not just those actively doing the coaching.
- Keeping the client’s sense of agency at the forefront of any coaching options within the organization and allowing the choice to participate or leave any coaching engagement. Employees participating in coaching for themselves as a client should be engaged voluntarily and be able to end an engagement without penalty
- Ensuring that the organization aligns around the culture of using coaching and embodies a shared philosophy and approach. Specific mindsets to address include:
- Maintaining that coaching is a positive experience and not conflated with euphemisms for “corrective action” or poor performance.
- Coaching is not training, mentoring, consulting, or advising. Learning needs should be addressed via other means.
- Senior leadership support is solidified in word and action to support and actively sponsor coaching and a coaching culture within the organization.
- Utilize objective criteria for scoping who is eligible for coaching resources and opportunities; ideally leveraging succession planning and talent planning strategies to identify targeted groups for high-touch coaching experiences.
Coaching Talent Management Strategy
Coaching is an opportunity for anyone ready and open to making productive changes in their life no matter where the invitation comes from either through an internal program or if elected through external sources. As organizations and leaders adapt and build their coaching skills and mindsets, they and their direct reports will see a transformation aligned to personal and organizational goals. Offering coaching as part of a talent management strategy will help to create and foster a growth-minded organization and increase change agility for the future.
Boyatzis, R., Smith, M. and Van Oosten, E. Helping people change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth. Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, MA.
Center for Creative Leadership (n.d.) The Most Important Leadership Competencies
Cooperrider, D. Whitney, D. and Stavros, J.M. Appreciative inquiry handbook for leaders of change (2nd ed.). Crown custom publishing, Brunswick, OH.
Creasey, T. (n.d.) Change versus change management. Blog
DDI. Competency management at its most competent.
ICF. Updated ICF core competencies.
Kolb, D.A. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Lawler, Edward. Reinventing Talent Management. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Oakland, CA.
Mindtools, (n.d.). Bridges' Transition Model: Guiding People Through Change.
Rock, David (2008). SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Neuroleadership Institute Journal (issue 1)
Scarlett, Hilary. Neuroscience for organizational change: An evidence-based practical guide for managing change (2nd ed). Kogan Page Limited. London, UK.
Scott, Kim Radical candor: Fully revised and updated edition. St. Martin’s press. New York.
 See: The Most Important Leadership Competencies - CCL article that outlines their framework and expands on these competencies.
 See: 9 Things To Know Before You Start Your Mastermind to help get guidance on setting up a group
 See: Expand Employee Learning With Communities of Practice by Maggie Romanovich for a tactical guide to leverage