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Don’t just manage your employees, coach them. Why coaching matters during turbulent times

Don’t just manage your employees, coach them. Why coaching matters during turbulent times

If you are a HR professional, you’re probably well-acquainted with the acronym, VUCA. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It’s a succinct way to summarise this world of constant and unpredictable change.

Identifying that our world is VUCA is not new – we have all experienced plenty of uncertainty, both professionally and personally. However, COVID-19 has really given it meaning. HR leaders have had to think on their feet to come up with ways to tackle all kinds of complexities that have arisen as a result of COVID-19, with a particular focus on protecting the wellbeing of their employees.

In a VUCA situation like COVID-19, negative emotions are highly contagious, and when the collective psyche of a workforce is fear and worry, a business cannot reach its full potential. During turbulent times, employees don’t want managers who constantly oversee their tasks and critique their performance – they crave leaders who can coach them through their work and offer them guidance and support.

The difference been managing and coaching

Managing and coaching are different things, but coaching is a function of effective managing.

Managers are solutions-focused; they determine problems and plans and oversee employees’ work. Coaching, on the other hand, is consultative. Coaches are employee-focused; they help employees to determine the problems they are facing, and then work with them to find solutions to those problems.

Coaches are interested in building a relationship with employees and draw from their own career experience to help guide, direct and provide feedback. It’s important to note that a coach doesn’t have to have done the job that the person being coached is doing, as it’s not about knowing every technical detail of a role; it’s about guidance and support. A coach can be a valuable sounding board and may even assist with mental health issues as a good coaching relationship opens up communication channels; simply  verbalising problems or challenges can often act as a stress reliever – and in most cases the coach/coachee relationship will be kept strictly confidential.

Being able to coach employees is a valuable skill that increases employee development and engagement and helps to cultivate a supportive culture. Coaching is part of what makes a good leader, which is why it’s a popular learning and development option for many executives.

Using the right skills, and asking the right questions

The key to coaching employees through times of uncertainty is to go back to the basics. When a VUCA situation arises, leaders and HR professionals must exhibit soft skills. Soft skills relate to personality, characteristics and emotions – they are things like communication, innovation, flexibility, problem-solving, motivation, intuition, etc. Employing soft skills facilitates forging stronger human connections, thereby simplifying the navigation of VUCA environments.

Good coaches focus on building a human connection through empathy, which they can do by asking the below three questions:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What’s distracting you?
  • How can I (we) support you?

Asking open-ended questions creates more space for honesty and vulnerability, which helps to strengthen connections and closes the employee-manager gap. According to Gallup, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in team engagement,[1] so it’s crucial that managers know how to regularly communicate with their team and use coaching practices to inspire motivation and growth – especially in times of uncertainty.

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Coaching will unleash potential talent and boost career prospects

The motivation for managers to become good coaches is that it can help to build a high performance culture by increasing productivity, retention and quality of work. 91% of Millennials want rapid career progression,[2] and 63% of employers report lack of career progression as the main reason why employees leave.[3] This says is all. By proving support to employees, putting them in situations where they can grow and learn, and encouraging the development of new skills, it benefits both employee and employer. It’s a known fact that when employees feel valued, they work harder.

Coaching is also critical when it comes to building succession plans. Gartner reported that 81% of HR leaders cite “lack of readiness” as a top reason that high-potential candidates were unable to fill leadership positions.[4] Implementing a coaching program enables the sharing of knowledge and expertise from employee to employee, which is critical when developing emerging leaders to address skill gaps. Not utilising someone’s expertise before they leave the company (e.g. because of retirement) is a waste – as soon as a person walks out the door, so does their knowledge.

Coaching emerging leaders

According to MetLife’s Employee Benefits Trends Study,[5] 89% of Australians surveyed say career development, training and advancement opportunities are a must have/nice to have when considering whether to accept or stay at a job. What’s more, 65% of employees say work skills make them a better person in their personal life. There’s no denying that being a good coach in a professional environment will improve personal relationships, too. Better listening skills and empathy all come with being a coach – and both are valuable in a relationship.

To learn how to develop and retain top performers, read ELMO’s blog.

Coaching emerging leaders may involve interactive group sessions where individuals can discuss and learn effective leadership practices, such self and social awareness, framing communication, active listening, empathy, motivation and team building, and clear vision and purpose.

Below are 3 steps for instilling a coaching culture within your organisation:

  • Make the case for coaching to get executives onboard
  • Integrate coaching by making it a core element of your learning and development strategy
  • Equip managers and leaders with coaching skills

To sustain business through uncertain times, HR must champion and facilitate coaching programs and personal development initiatives. The result? Improved business performance and increased employee engagement.

[1] “Why great managers are so rare”, Gallup

[2] “Attracting and Retaining Millennial Professionals”, Robert Walters report

[3] “Turnover and Retention Research Report”, Australian HR Institute, 2018

[4] “5 Succession Risks That Threaten Your Leadership Strategy”, Gartner, 2019

[5] Thriving in the New Work-Life World, MetLife Australia Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS), 2019