Research Paper By Vanessa Weyland
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Straight from the headlines of a government shutdown:
thousands of workers in various government departments have been told to close out of in progress tasks and not to report to work for the foreseeable future, due to a lapse in appropriations. Until recently, a federal government career was considered stable and, while not necessarily lucrative, definitively rewarding. Times have changed, though. More and more of the “A” players are leaving federal service for private enterprise, and what is left behind is an aging, “B” team.
How we arrived at this state is up for debate, but there is no doubt that we are facing a talent crisis. The workforce is aging out, mid-level employees are taking early separation incentives (offered for cost-cutting measures), and the federal recruitment record for acquiring the best and brightest is miserably low. Not addressing this gap now will result in high recruitment and replacement costs, significant management overhead, a lack of management experience, and a lack of corporate knowledge (an outdated and shallow knowledge base). Those most likely to accept the buyouts are often those identified as high-potential employees (and are likely to be offered positions outside of federal government). In the past, training was the solution to knowledge gaps, leadership and management development, and succession planning. To build the next generation of senior leaders, to mitigate the negative effects and factors of extensive training programs, and to greatly reduce the costs and time requirements of training, an internal coaching program can provide a cost-effective vehicle to support the development of foundational competencies in employees.
What is Coaching?
A coach is a professional with a unique set of skills used to enhance learning by creating an environment of appreciation and supportive interaction for an agency executive, manager, team leader, or individual contributor. In particular, a coach uses two-way conversation as a tool to discuss leadership development, personal and organizational change, and competence, with the main focus and time devoted to the client’s views and perspectives. Coaching isn’t the same as mentoring (where a sense of seniority is built between mentor and protégé, whereas the coaching relationship is between equals), consulting (where the consultant offers a solution to a specific problem or problem set, as opposed to the coach guiding the client to his or her own solution), or therapy (where the therapist uses information from the past to change current emotions, behaviors, or mental states, as opposed to the coach using current information to address immediate, short-term challenges, though it is imperative that the coach understands and recognizes when a client would need therapy). Coaching also requires a change in the client’s situation at the end of the coaching relationship, and the coaching relationship should not continue for an indeterminate amount of time. Further, the issue to be addressed is stated explicitly at the beginning of the coach-client relationship, though the client may address other issues in continuing coaching agreements.
The purpose of corporate and executive coaching is to provide new opportunities and possibilities for performance improvement, leadership development, or career management. The coach and client engage in a relationship for performance improvement for a mutually-defined period of time to improve a skill or weakness, with the assumption that the client will experience the intended result. It is important to note that the coaching relationship is not solely begun because of a perceived weakness or lack of management skills, but a coach can also address work-life balance, leadership skills, and self-awareness.
There are two general approaches to coaching: the manager as coach, and the professional coach. Whether the manager or a professional is brought in for employee development, it is important to recognize that coaching is a teaching and learning enhancement activity. Some basic tenets of coaching were conceptualized by Douglas McGregor’s participative theory (Theory Y) of management, in which he proposed that workers would come to work to 1) achieve organizational goals, and 2) satisfy their higher-order needs. This is in direct contradiction to McGregor’s Theory X, in which organizational are mainly highly directive and authoritative, and the image of the employee is one in which the employee is forced to work rather than participating in the collective advancement of the organization.
Since the early 1970s, coaching has been synonymous with either sports, or life coaching. With the outbreak of non-certified coaches and non-accredited training programs, the profession has gained a less-than-stellar reputation. In this environment, it is difficult to introduce coaching to federal government agencies as a solution to employee development – especially to highly conservative agencies in the Department of Defense and Justice. However, several organizations – both public and private – have used coaching as a tool to develop employees, re-engage employees with low morale, re-invigorate leadership development programs, and gain return on investment from training programs. Coaching is a low-cost, high-return way to deliver targeted, tailored development to federal government employees.