Coaching is a collection of skills and approaches that HR practitioners can use to create better managers and leaders, according to Brett Reid, general manager HR for the workwear division of Pacific Brands.
“If you are looking to grow a business and get better results and you are resource-constrained, and you can’t just go and hire lots more people, one of the most efficient and important things that HR can do is to help its managers and leaders to get better at managing and leading.
“Most managers and leaders, by the time they get into those roles, they are already close to being experts in their technical fields. They know their craft – it’s how they got the job in the first place. So it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone else, including HR, to tell them how to do their jobs. From an engagement point of view, it’s probably not a good idea to tell them how to do their jobs.”
Instead, HR practitioners can employ a coaching approach to help individuals use their history and skills to find their own solutions to challenges.
“You’ve got to be clear what it is that you’re trying to do. Good coaching is when you help someone find their own solutions, while other approaches are where you’re telling the person what the solution is.
“It’s not to say that those other practices aren’t useful, but it’s about having the perspective and understanding so that you can choose the right tool for the right job,” said Reid.
He said coaching involved fundamental skills around the use of questions and opening up possibility with the managers you’re working with.
While there are established coaching methods that can be successful, they don’t work in every situation.
“If you’ve got someone who doesn’t want to be told or feels like they don’t need help, it’s going to be totally inappropriate to try to walk them through a formulaic approach like that. The skill and the art comes into using the elements of good coaching, but doing it in a way that is part of the natural process and natural conversations.
“It might be a single great question at just the right point in time – that might be all it is. But if you can get it right, that’s when you build the relationship in terms of being a strategic advisor, in terms of being someone who is trusted and can help to make the person you’re working with more successful.”
The real value of coaching is in building capability, said Reid.
“A lot of people love to talk about becoming a learning organisation. Good coaching, in my opinion, is walking that talk. It’s making work part of the learning.”
Tips for coaching managers:
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- Employ active listening to really understand what’s being said
- Suspend your own interpretations and filters while trying to understand where a person is coming from
- Use questioning skills to prompt people to think in different ways
- Be clear about what objectives you’re trying to act on and when you’re finished
- Make sure the process is led by the participant
As many L&D professionals can testify, coaching line managers can be a difficult task, particularly when they think they don't need it.