Coaching: how can such a fundamental subject be so underrated?

In most companies, coaching is still only nice-to-have, but not part of management. The work done by a coach in a company can increase productivity by up to 70%.

Unlocking tech talent stories

April 10, 2021

Increasing productivity, strengthening corporate culture, and increasing employee motivation and sense of belonging are just some of the many benefits that applying a coaching culture can bring to organizations. However, fertile ground is not always found to put this subject strategically into practice.

Coaching is still a nice-to-have, but it is not part of company management. It happens occasionally in training sessions, but it is not part of a structured development program. It is a fashionable phenomenon, but with antibodies created even before it became trendy. And today, it lacks credibility.

Cultural factors, leadership issues, lack of regulation, “divan coaching” and an excessive commercial facet are just some of the reasons pointed out by these professionals to justify people’s aversion to coaching.

A “nice-to-have”

For Tereza Maçarico, consultant and mentor at Optimistic Consulting, coaching is in fashion. “When companies want to show that they are modern and are concerned with employees, it is very common to talk about coaching”, she points out. However, only structured programs, integrated into company management and related to the business strategy, can achieve highly effective results.

One thing is to have punctual sessions in the training plan, almost out of intellectual curiosity, another thing is to have a true coaching culture in organizations, and only a few have it, says Tereza Maçarico, adding that coaching does not have the same importance as a business strategy or market positioning. “It is still a nice-to-have, but it is not strategic”, she concludes.

But, after all, what does a coach do? By definition, a coach is an expert in professional and personal change and development. In a company, this professional is responsible for working with employees, individually and as a team, to accelerate, through different support techniques, the pursuance and achievement of the organization’s goals.

According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the work done by a coach in a company can increase productivity by up to 70%. But, for Nuno Machado Lopes, Strategic Coach & ExO Trainer, although companies are increasingly aware of the need to invest in Learning & Development, they rarely move towards coaching solutions.

A regression in the coaching culture

For the strategic coach, at the moment, there are two challenges that leaders face: technical challenges and adaptive challenges. “The software solves technical problems, but it does not solve adaptive ones, which are not technology. What is happening is that leaders are trying to use technology to solve adaptive problems”, Nuno says.

If, in the first stage of the current world pandemic scenario, the main challenge was to get teams to work remotely, which was “relatively simple to solve”, now the challenge is greater. “Adaptive issues are those that companies have not been able to and continue to be unable to deal with, and that is why we see many company managers wanting to go back to the old days, saying that they miss the human warmth in the office”, he points out.

The desire to return to the workplace and to the schedule from 9am to 6pm is, for Nuno Machado Lopes, the result of the need for control and micromanagement by organizations. “People are on back-to-back Zoom calls. It is micromanagement through technology, and this is precisely the great challenge for leaders”, he states. A challenge that cannot be solved until there is an inclusive culture in companies.

“If we see Maria in what looks like a bed or a couch, we immediately start to think that Maria is not taking her job seriously. If, during the video call, a dog or a cat appears, how can she do her job?”, he explains. More than drawing these conclusions, Nuno Machado Lopes considers it important to realize that “people who are not remotely productive, were not productive at the office”.

For Tereza Maçarico, the pandemic showed weak coach leadership. Working times are controlled instead of results. “The leaders feel the need to control the time that people are available to work and the employees, in turn, feel the need to be always available to not be criticized and judged”, says the consultant.

“This turns out to be even anti-coaching, because coaching, instead of controlling, gives the tools and motivation to people to find their own ways and solutions. There is a regression in the culture of coaching, development, and results”, she considers.

The “panacea” for solving structural problems

At the center of the reasons that justify this current lack of coaching strategies in organizations and even the lack of credibility in the profession itself, Tereza Maçarico highlights how coaching was applied, from the beginning, by leaders, being seen as the “panacea” to solve what was causing teams malfunction. “What happened was that structural problems were not solved, and coaching was expected to change people”, she explains.

Thus, coaching has created some aversion in people, especially in those who were part of these programs. “The feeling was that people were not valid. It was expected that, when coaching, people would become different and do things differently”, continues Tereza Maçarico, adding that this subject must be based precisely on the strengths of each one and not on their weaknesses.

On the other hand, one of the critical factors for implementing a coaching culture is the involvement of all employees in the organization, regardless of their position. This means that both leaders and lower-level employees must be integrated into behavioral training programs. “A company culture doesn’t work from one level down in one way, and from one level up in another”, she states.

“There are a lot of divan coaches”

According to the “2020 ICF Global Coaching Study”, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), in 2019, there were around 71 thousand coaching professionals worldwide, which represents an increase of 33% in relation to the 2015 figures. In the European continent alone, there are 9.500 professionals certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), but since this is an unregulated profession, there are also non-certified coaches to join these numbers.

For all intents and purposes, anyone can be a coach. According to the same study, three out of four coaching professionals (74%) worldwide have a certificate issued by one of the professional entities that accredit the training. This percentage, referring to 2019, is four percentage points higher than the value recorded in 2016.

The bigger problem with the democratization of coaching is, for Tereza Maçarico, that not everyone really knows how to coach. “There is still a lot of trickery on the market, there is a lot of divan coaches”, also known as life coaches. “Many people have become coaches because it is fashionable, thinking that it makes money. It is these exaggerations, this lack of strategy that ends up harming good coaching professionals”, explains the mentor.

The massification of this profession ends, for Nuno Machado Lopes, by creating a saturation of negative experienceswhich does not help in building the credibility of coaching. “It is enough for a person to have one or two negative experiences to find, by default, that this is all. As there are so many people now being coaches, we end up being saturated with negative experiences”, he considers. In the same way, the “too commercial” facet of some of the most successful coaches can “unsettle” people.

Team coaching, the solution to recover credibility?

In organizations, the development of a coaching culture must be done not only at an individual level, but also as a team and, for Tereza Maçarico, team coaching can even be the factor that will bring back the credibility of this subject. “When I do individual coaching and integrate team coaching sessions, people realize that they are working on their personal and organizational development, but that they are working included and integrated with an organizational project”, she says.

For Tereza, the fact that the best coaches are, now, working hard on team coaching can even contribute to “recover the credibility that coaching has lost in this trendy stage when everyone was doing divan coaching in organizations”.

On the other hand, to make companies invest in coaching, it is also necessary to change the way results are presented, since, above all, an investment must have a return. “Coaching is an intervention whose cost-benefit ratio is difficult to measure and, therefore, team coaching is even more important. We get a portrait of the team and of each individual and create color maps — which identify areas of passivity, collaboration, among others — that act as a moment of self-awareness for the organization”, explains Tereza Maçarico. Never less than nine months, the exercise is repeated so that the company can see what has really changed with the coaching sessions. “You can’t exactly measure it, but you can see that there was a cultural change,” she states.

However, communication should not be done only at the end of the program. In fact, the secret is a recurring communication with follow-up reports that bring the administration up to date with the coachee progress. “Who sponsors the program has to understand what the person is doing and how it is evolving. You cannot invest without even knowing what the coach and the coachee are doing”, she says, adding that it is precisely due to the fact that some coaches do not give feedback that the idea that the intervention may not pay off is created.

The current pandemic context has come to distress companies, change and break routines, challenge the leader that exists in each one of us, and, above all, question old practices. As always, people continue to be the biggest challenge. Perhaps more than ever, coaching is crucial and indispensable for any team, leveraging the strengths of individuals as an employee and, in turn, as a member of a team that benefits from the implementation of a coaching culture in the organization.

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