When it Comes to Coaching, Messaging Matters

Maximize the impact of employee development programs by positioning coaching as a reward, not a remedy.

Across L&D meeting agendas and HR discussion platforms, talent development is a perennially trending topic. Organizations have deepened their commitment to fostering cultures in which their people can develop and thrive. The L&D teams I’ve met with are eager to explore learning options both to accelerate the growth of their high-value employees and enhance their recruitment efforts, and they are pushing for budgets to do so.

But even with this intense focus on building strong “learning cultures,” many companies have high-potential employees who still lack the requisite skills and tools to develop as leaders. And those who are non-native speakers of English often worry that their interpersonal and communications skills, especially in writing and presenting, are not on par with those of their peers.

For these high-value employees, specialized coaching could make a huge difference. Sessions that address leadership skills such as communication, interpersonal interaction and relationship management can give high potentials a leg up in career advancement. In organizations in which coaching is seen as a coveted “perk,” access to these programs also communicates the value a company places on an individual employee.

Given these realities, some form of coaching initiative, whether specialized one-on-one sessions or group training, may already be on most CLO agendas. However, if there’s a stigma associated with being coached, or if coaching is being suggested only in the context of performance reviews, its appeal will diminish, discouraging would-be coaching candidates and making it unlikely that the full ROI of a coaching program will be realized. To achieve a win-win outcome for both employee and employer, it’s critical to shift the view of coaching from performance-related therapy to desirable perk.

You can start by assessing the buzz around coaching within your organization. Is coaching presented to employees in the context of career opportunity or performance improvement? How is it discussed by senior staff? Are learning managers and company leaders fully attuned to how coaching is perceived by employees? “If your firm has a history of using coaching,” a recent Law Practice Today article asks, “was it used as a remedial ‘fix’ for underperformers [or] as a perk for high-potential[s]?”

It’s also important to know whether the individuals being coached feel comfortable sharing their experience or if there is an unofficial cloak of confidentiality in place. Are the programs openly supported by management? What kind of language is used to describe coaching and training initiatives?

The fact is when it comes to managing perception, messaging matters.

Positive Positioning Tips

If you aren’t sure whether perceptions of coaching are positive across your organization, consider setting up ongoing dialogues with influencers from each cohort, from junior staff to C-suite, to provide first-hand input and test assumptions. In addition, the following five guidelines can help you position coaching as a benefit that reflects positively on both individual employees and the organization as a whole.

1. Always communicate coaching as an investment — a company’s investment in its employees and an employee’s investment in his or her career. Conversations around coaching should coincide with discussions about the employee’s future at the organization.

2. Consider offering coaching at times outside of performance reviews — for example, as a byproduct of a quarterly mentoring discussion or as a follow-up to recent participation in a group training program in which ongoing development opportunities are identified.

3. Identify “ambassadors” who have participated in coaching and are enthused about its impact. It’s important to leverage the coaching experience of both senior staff and peers to signal that it is not only accepted in the culture, but valued.

4. When discussing coaching for multicultural employees with language enhancement needs, take care with descriptors. For example, “speech and presence” coaching or “executive presence coaching,” are descriptors that convey the rich range of skills such coaching programs can address. By contrast, the label “accent reduction training” is both limited in focus and remedial sounding, conveying that the employee needs to “fix” something. Thoughtful and comprehensive messaging can eliminate any potential stigma coaching candidates might experience and make it easier for management to communicate benefit.

5. Show your enthusiasm! Receiving coaching can be a highly rewarding experience for an employee, providing the opportunity to achieve important milestones under personalized, expert guidance. Going into a coaching engagement with organizational support and a sense of positivity is the best formula for success.

Nadia Nassif is the CEO and founder of Springboards Consulting. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.