This was first published in 2000, but the principles remain the same today.
Not so very long ago, Time Magazine published an article entitled “Play of the Day – Fostering employee loyalty in a tight labor market, companies are offering workers personal coaches as tools to help them thrive.” The article describes how companies, many of them FORTUNE 500’s, such as IBM, Dow Chemical, Glaxo Welcome, Marriott International, and others including Eastman Kodak, Abbott Laboratories World Wide and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, all have found the merits of hiring career and executive coaches to help their employees discover what it takes to make them content in the workplace.
When this article was originally published, the economy was booming with no signs of slowing down, and they reasoned that offering coaching to your employees was a good thing to help retain them in an employee driven marketplace – if they are happier, hopefully they will stay. “Companies also see it as a way to help valued employees evolve in a swiftly changing business environment.” (Time, 9/25/00, p. B27)
Just 5 months later, we might characterize the business sphere as more “unknown”, definitely rocky, with analysts walking the fence not knowing whether to predict stability in the near future or more economic difficulties throughout months to come. Companies are feeling the domino effect of slowing sales and revenues, a growing number are choosing to layoff a first round of workers as everyone tightens their belts. There is an atmosphere of taking cautious action backed up by a sense of “wait and see”.
Entrepreneurs, corporate heads, division directors and project managers, are all called on to be like great basketball players – ready to pivot on a dime, ready to make swift decisions, anticipating next moves – hopefully, winning moves, in spite of constantly shifting circumstances.
Not only are you, as a leader in your business or group, called upon to make insightful moves in a rapidly growing marketplace – stressful in and of itself – but now you are called upon to contend with deep-seated anxiety brought on by shifting layers of political, economic, global, local, personal and other factors creating an ever changing panorama of business and professional choices and decisions.
What are we to think about Coaching in this, or any, economic context?
My view is that it makes it even more important, and for deeper reasons. Here are just a few of those reasons:
To Stay Grounded in the “Bigger Picture”
One of the biggest reasons to have a career coach or an executive coach in these times is to help leaders keep their eyes on the “big picture” while keeping their feet deeply rooted in values and goals. With the many leaders I personally coach, I have watched as they struggle with day-to-day pressures and decisions, which were not present in the past few years. Sure, there were pressures, but of a different nature – those were pressures of excitement and staying on top of the potential for growth. Now they are faced with the potential of downsizing if things don’t turn around, if jobs don’t come in soon. Visioning, creative development and networking time feels like a luxury. It feels hard to justify or find the time to step back and revisit their bigger visions and goals – to re-strategize – but to do so within the larger context they were more in touch with these past few years when business was booming.
How Coaching Helps You Stay Grounded
Career Coaching, Executive Coaching, or Business Transformational Consulting on a regular basis keeps a leader on track with his or her larger vision and goals. Coaching or Consulting time is giving conscious attention to future needs and developments, and strategizing ways to integrate this throughout the day. Executive and Business Coaching can be invaluable through the stages and life cycles of any business. Learning to ride the contractions and expansions of the marketplace, and the economy, is a necessary skill for a leader, and coaching can be a vital asset. Career Coaching for employee development helps them grow up through the ranks.
Handling Stress for Self and Others
Another overriding reason that leaders can benefit from career coaching during these times is to help them manage the many stressors they are experiencing, both for themselves and their employees. In effect, this is a “double whammy” of stress. I watch many of my entrepreneurs and career coaching clients struggle to maintain a regular schedule, often working late into the night. I see the time for their responsibilities eaten up with continuous demands for their time, attention, and input – especially in these times of uncertainty.
Everyone needs extra support in times of stress. As a leader responsible for a group of people at work, and maybe another group at home, a lot is expected of you. Leaders need extra support to maintain 1) continuous alignment with your role and responsibilities, 2) deep inner stability, and 3) great self-care.
How Coaching Helps You Manage Stress
The career coaching relationship is one-on-one and should be a place where you can confidentially “let down your hair” and talk about just how difficult it may be to handle all the demands. Then, with support, it is a relationship in which to figure out ways to prioritize the needs for self and others, to look at what is possible, to evaluate potential decisions and choices. An experienced career coach will also give you feedback when you are approaching burnout. Or when a lack of balance in needs of home and demands of work threaten your emotional or spiritual well-being. A good career coach cannot tell you what to do, but they can help you stay in touch with what is important to you in the “bigger picture” – for your work and for yourself personally. They can help you learn skills of self-care, delegating responsibility, communicating in alignment with your values, visions, and goals, guiding self others through times of instability – all important, especially important in times of stress.
Developing Strength and Skills Throughout Your Organization
Wise leaders strive to develop the strength and skills of others around them. They need good directors and managers in tune with the culture, vision, and goals of the group or organization. They need employees at all levels who feel empowered to be conscious and creative in responding to the needs of the business, no matter how large or small. This allows the leader to focus on the “bigger picture”, it ensures smooth successorship at all levels, responsibilities and challenges are shared, employees feel empowered.
Not all corporate heads, entrepreneurs, or business owners are skilled in developing the strengths of their company’s leadership. In my work, I see leaders trying to learn so many skills, trying to develop themselves consciously, sometimes it is hard to do this and know how to train, develop, and coach others all at the same time. While this is definitely the ideal – to have leadership teaching, training and coaching all throughout an organization, oftentimes this isn’t the reality – especially in companies smaller than the FORTUNE 500’s. It is also not always possible in some of the newer companies where a tradition of training, coaching, or mentoring has not been established. When this does not come naturally or easily, it is cost and time effective to hire an expert coach to help your organization grow skills and strength in alignment with the company culture, vision and goals.
How Coaching Can Help You Develop Your People
A good executive or career coach can cut time and cost by helping your directors and managers get on board with your direction. These are the people caught in the middle of any transition time – within an economy or within a company’s growth. They are intermediaries between you and the employees. With motivation and good coaching, they can quickly learn and strengthen the skill areas in need. Often these include learning about roles and boundaries, appropriate communication, sorting out inner alignment with that of the organization, and learning how to raise the bar of expectations for people they supervise. These are all teachable skills. A good coach can provide skill development in many areas and resources for other arenas. Thus everyone in the company can keep pace with your ever-deepening awareness, vision, interpersonal and business skill development. Your company will be stronger at all levels.
Assisting Those Who Need or Want to Leave
As companies tighten their belts, I observe many leaders experiencing inner conflict when they have to lay off good people. No one wants to let people go. No one wants to put families in jeopardy. It is a difficult aspect of the business world. When CEO, John Chambers of Cisco, had to lay off 5000 IBM employees in his previous role, it was so painful, he swore he’d never do it again! This and other significant experiences have shaped the business decisions he makes and how he leads on a daily basis. It has definitely impacted the culture of his company.
Companies are offering people assistance in career counseling, severance packages, and coaching to sort out where to go or what to do next in their work life. This may be in alignment with your people and company values. Coaching is a supportive service that may be cost and time effective for you.
I have also coached managers or directors who are not sure they are in the right position or company. Maybe the company has changed, or they took a position they wanted to grow into. Now they are questioning compatibility and so are you. How do they receive assistance in sorting this out without shame, having to pretend it is a good fit, or hiding it from their superiors?
Again, many companies value assisting employees to do what makes them most content, and that sometimes means providing assistance to work their way out of a company.
How Offering Career Coaching When You Have to Downsize or Is Not a Right Fit, Helps You Grow People
The Time article cites Harvard professor of business administration, David Thomas, who says, “corporations believe that coaching helps employees and that the dollar investment is far less than the cost of replacing employees. Still in encouraging folks to follow their feelings and develop their strengths, corporations are taking a risk: that their most valued employees will be coached right out the door.
In my experience, some insightful organizations are assisting people to figure out if this is the best “fit” and how to grow the skills necessary for the role, or what else they might want to do. This is humanly effective, as well as, cost effective. People will want to work for a company that cares, and does so by providing professional development dollars.
Career Coaching is here to stay for some very good reasons. Get yourself a good coach.