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Coaching: No longer a reserve for the elite

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21st May 2012
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Steve Fiehl argues coaching should now be an option for all members of staff, not just a select few.

Coaching has traditionally been reserved for the elite. Whether it is destined for a few cherry-picked ‘high potentials' or company leaders across the business, the cost is high and the results often intangible. In times of crises of course the world needs strong, inspirational leaders. But in the 21st century, it is extraordinary to think that any organisation that recognises the value of its staff and intends to keep its people motivated, would attempt to justify extravagant spending on a privileged few at the expense of the rest. In a 2.0 era, when information is democratised and where employees are increasingly demanded to be more and more self-starting and autonomous, empowering the entire workforce with training seems only natural.

"Every individual needs to be given the tools to become responsible for their own development and to equip themselves with the skills they need to perform their job to the best of their ability."

Reserving a large chunk of the training budget for the elite doesn't work for modern business models. Organisations are no longer pyramid shaped, change now comes from the bottom up (via social networks and internal communities). Traditional hierarchy is fading in to the past to make way for companies which are able to adapt and respond quickly to increasingly competitive market demands. The frontline of the business is no longer at the top, it is spread far more equally across the organisation and each individual employee must become more responsible, and play their unique and critical role in the business.

In recent years, training needs have changed for three main reasons:

  • Medium-sized companies are now increasingly international
  • Companies have increasingly complex reporting structures (people have several bosses)
  • Staff have less direct day-to-day interaction with their manager

Successful organisations must move from “The cult of the leader, to a culture of leadership”. Every individual needs to be given the tools to become responsible for their own development and to equip themselves with the skills they need to perform their job to the best of their ability. In this kind of organisation, more responsibility is placed on individuals – a radical and powerful transformation.

There are many well-know examples of this structural evolution. One such organisation would be the United States Army who, 40 years ago, used to demand the authorisation of the President on key decisions during the Vietnam War. The head of the army had the task of approving everything the soldiers on the ground did. Yet, in recent years during the conflict in Afghanistan, the troops on the front have had permission to make decisions on the ground – waiting for approval from on high simply wouldn't work when quick reactions are essential to matters of life and death. 

"In today's workplace training must be used to equip staff to carry out their job in an ever-changing environment, as well as offering the secondary benefit of helping to keep people motivated when salaries are frozen and bonuses few."

Apple is another example of a company where the sales staff play a critical role, charged with transmitting the DNA of the brand the service has to be fantastic. Change is likely to come more and more from the bottom up as those dealing with clients day to day, feed information back into their organisation.  

In today's workplace training must be used to equip staff to carry out their job in an ever-changing environment, as well as offering the secondary benefit of helping to keep people motivated when salaries are frozen and bonuses few. Yet reality and austerity measures bite. Budgets are limited, so L&D professionals need to find new and innovative ways to spend their cash as intelligently as possible and make the investment go further across the breadth of their organisation.

 New technologies have a clear role to play in modern learning, indeed CrossKnowledge's recent barometer showed that 24% companies were using elearning to train in a more individualised way. Distance learning can provide valuable training content however to make this spend go further organisations might look to:

  • Teach mangers to become coaches and ask their staff the right questions on a regular basis to help them to apply learning
  • Look to distance mentoring solutions, whereby an assignment can be debriefed with an external mentor or coach via an online platform

Do we need to coach leaders? Yes, without a doubt – and if you have a big budget by all means go ahead and make the investment. But when the innovators and change makers are no longer only found in the c-suite, we cannot reasonably continue spend such a high proportion of the available funds at the top end of an organisation and risk depriving the rest of the workforce. 
 
Steve Fiehl is a graduate of HEC Paris and is now in charge of innovation at CrossKnowledge. Steve runs the training and technology research and development teams. More information can be found at www.crossknowledge.com.
 

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