Coaching Toward Success
Creating an environment to drive employee engagement.
As the assistant vice president of claims for a midsize regional insurer, you are accustomed to meeting new challenges. But the latest corporate mandate takes you by surprise. The new CEO indicates that as part of leadership development, each functional area needs to establish and “institutionalize” a coaching environment. You are to lead that effort for claims.
There is valid reason to undertake this initiative. Leadership development isn’t just the right thing to do; it yields long-term results. Companies that excel at leadership development outperform those who don’t, creating profits and increasing shareholder value. They also retain good employees and keep costs down. With significant numbers of baby boomers retiring and fewer workers available to replace them, a company’s ability to hire and grow its leaders is critical to filling the leadership void.
So why create a coaching environment? The key to successful leadership development is building employee engagement, creating a relationship between the organization and the employee in which the employee is empowered, satisfied, and motivated to go above and beyond. In their book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman identify the manager as the key driver of employee engagement (see sidebar). Employee engagement is built one person at a time, one leader at a time, often through coaching.
Coaching helps individuals narrow the gap between where they are now and where they want to be. It can be a short-term collaborative process used to enhance current skills or acquire new ones. Or it might be used as a midterm or long-term solution to address a performance problem. Either way, the individual being coached takes an active role in her own learning and development by helping to set goals, establish expectations, and deliver results. Leaders set the stage for this learning through structured coaching time and by taking advantage of spontaneous, coachable moments.
Creating a coaching environment means establishing a culture in which everyone is focused on individual and organizational performance. Feedback is welcomed, solicited, and seen as critical to performance improvement. Consider the support and resources you will need as you begin to create this environment.
If your CEO is asking for the coaching environment, you already have some level of executive support and understanding. If the CEO isn’t generating a coaching program, getting his backing would be a critical first step in the process. Leaders need to understand that coaching does not deliver results overnight. It is a process that requires commitment and a dedicated budget.
To demonstrate the value of coaching, find ways to show leaders how it aligns with business objectives. For example, you may show how coaching can help a supervisor manage his virtual field representatives more effectively, resulting in reduced expense costs. Similarly, you might show how coaching a high-performing but not well-liked manager with poor communication skills can improve the engagement scores of direct reports. The key is to align coaching to business goals and measurable outcomes whenever possible, keeping in mind that coaching outcomes such as engagement, loyalty, and idea-generation are less quantifiable but often more valuable in the long term than some of the more measurable short-term outcomes.
Another important element to establishing a coaching environment is ensuring that senior leaders believe in coaching and practice good coaching behaviors themselves. Are they authentic in their commitment? Do they know how to coach others? Ensure that these leaders are adequately prepared to champion coaching as a key leadership value and skill before adopting coaching at other levels.
Another factor to consider in establishing a coaching environment is organizational readiness. Does your organization have a philosophy around coaching? Has it been communicated? Ensure that coaching is seen as a privilege and not a punishment. Are there any processes that would create barriers for coaching? Create human resource processes that support coaching and allow for feedback loops to evaluate success. Implement improvements and best practices along the way.
Finally, identify and train an internal group of managers/coaches as change agents. Choose managers who are enthusiastic about introducing new ideas to the company. Let them show the value of new ways of working and reward them for their commitment to coaching.
Creating a coaching environment will not happen overnight. It takes time to embed it into the culture of a claims organization, but the rewards are worth it. Resources and talent must be used to embed coaching into the culture.
SIDEBAR: Breaking the Rules
In their book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organization present the findings of their in-depth study of managers across a wide variety of situations. Some were in leadership positions; others were front-line supervisors. Whatever their situations, the managers who ultimately became the focus of Gallup’s research were invariably those who excelled at turning each employee’s talent into performance.
In short, the authors explain how the best managers select an employee for talent rather than for skills or experience; how they set expectations for him or her (they define the right outcomes rather than the right steps); how they motivate people (they build on each person’s unique strengths rather than trying to fix his weaknesses); and, finally, how great managers develop people (they find the right fit for each person, not the next rung on the ladder). And perhaps most important, this research—which initially generated thousands of different survey questions on the subject of employee opinion—produced 12 simple questions that work to distinguish the strongest departments of a company from the rest and to prove the link between employee opinions and productivity, profit, customer satisfaction, and the rate of turnover.
Buckingham and Coffman seek to show that the greatest managers in the world seem to have little in common. They differ in sex, age, and race. They employ vastly different styles and focus on different goals. Yet despite their differences, great managers share one common trait: They do not hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom.