Coaching in a corporate environment is all about people, says Tim Hagen, creator of the Progress Coaching training system.
“Managing is highly directive,” says Hagen, who led the CUNA Coaching Conversation eSchool. “You might say to an employee, 'I need you to show up at work on time.’ Whereas with coaching, you're really working with people through questions, practice, and a variety of strategies to help them improve their knowledge, skills, and behavior.”
Lori Horstman, vice president of member experience at $1.5 billion asset Altra Federal Credit Union in Onalaska Wis., says coaching typically involves more soft skills and leadership concepts.
“Right now, for example, I'm working with one of my managers through a conflict resolution situation that we have with one of our employees,” she explains. “We’re addressing how to work with that individual without having it impact the entire department. I might also work with someone who says, ‘I want to be a branch manager,’ and help that person develop their leadership skills.”
Horstman says coaching has helped Altra Federal develop its "bench strength."
“When a leadership position comes open, we always have people to choose from—our bench of future leaders,” she says. "Coaching helps you see the growth of every individual."
Horstman adds that growth and engagement develop more frequently when employees are able to handle each situation hands on.
‘Coaching helps you see the growth of every individual.’
When leaders coach employees, few surprises arise during performance evaluations, Hagen says.
Typically, the employee’s direct manager conducts the end-of-the-year evaluation, not the training department or human resources area, Hagen says. “So you’re not getting to that year-end review saying, ‘I need you to get better at these three things.’ If the manager is coaching that person every single day, there are fewer surprises.”
In fact, Altra Federal has done away with annual performance evaluations in favor of monthly one-on-one meetings between managers and employees.
“We focus on every person’s accomplishments and challenges for the month,” Horstman says. “That’s a key moment where the coaching conversation takes place. We coach more by not giving them the answer but leading the way for them to find the answer for themselves.”
Hagen says coaching goes beyond leadership and development, and boosts the organization’s bottom line. The most direct bottom-line benefit is employee retention. “Coaching helps organizations not only retain, but grow talent,” Hagen explains.
He says there’s been a transition that management is expected to drive employee performance through coaching. “It’s an opportunity but also a challenge,” he admits. “When you have organizations that are coaching, it accelerates development.”
In a sales and retail environment, role-playing also is essential. “In most organizations, when you bring up the words ‘role play,’ everyone rolls their eyes and says, ‘Ugh, I just have to get through this,’” he says. “But you can't improve what you don't practice. When you combine training with managers who coach, performance will accelerate anywhere from four to six times more versus training alone.”
Without that reinforcement, organizations subject themselves to what Hagen calls “training insanity.”
This is when companies put people through training and simply sends them back to work, he says. “But the boss doesn’t reinforce the training, or coach to it. Heck, the boss doesn't even mention it. And at the end of the year, the boss says, ‘Geez, my people aren't performing as well. We need more training.’ And they shift the role and responsibility back to the training department.”
Horstman says Altra Federal uses strength-based leadership to develop its employees. Through this concept, managers provide honest feedback through the lens of each employee’s strengths.
“It helps avoid those negative conversations and flips the discussion around,” she says.