Does coaching deserve a wider audience?

The ILM argues that too many companies restrict their coaching to senior management - and don't do enough to coach their coaches...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Coaching is now pretty common within UK plc: according to a new report from the Institute of Leadership & Management, around 85% of companies now use it as a staff development tool. But there are two big issues, according to the ILM. One, too many of them are only coaching senior managers and not more junior staff - who, arguably, might have more need for it. And two, much of this coaching is being done by internal managers - who might have plenty of enthusiasm but often don't have any training. OK, so you might still find brilliant coaches this way - but it'll literally be more by good luck than good management…

Apparently 85% of those companies who employ coaching use it predominantly for their senior managers, whereas just 52% provide it for more junior staff. The obvious inference is that in some companies, it's seen as a management development tool - and that could be a mistake, the ILM believes. 'Coaching is the single most cost-effective development investment an organisation can make, as this learning naturally spreads across the workplace,' says ILM chief exec Penny de Valk. So when companies 'direct it at the lucky few rather than embedding a coaching culture', they might be missing a trick, she suggests. The same goes for those who only use coaching to address specific problems, as opposed to those who see it as development tool for everyone.

The other issue is where you get your coaches from. Apparently 65% of the companies surveyed said they hired them in, while 83% said they used their own managers - a third of whom apparently get no support or training whatsoever. De Valk is really not a fan of this approach: 'Coaching is a specialist management skill. You do not become a great coach just by reading a book.' Much like the police, she doesn't really approve of 'have-a-go heroes', however well-intentioned.

Of course, it's true that there are some incredibly good untrained coaches, and some incredibly bad trained ones; hiring a professional from outside is no guarantee that you'll end up with a better coach than if you ask one of your line managers. But the point remains that specific training is likely to make good coaches even better, and bad coaches slightly less bad...

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