Workplace Coaching: What the Heck Does this Mean?

by Bill Swift on March 23, 2020

in Leadership

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We love critical thinkers, people who come to our trainings and ask hard questions.

In a recent Coaching workshop a participant kept asking, “Isn’t coaching just some trendy buzzword that can really mean a lot of different things?” “Is coaching an individual or group thing?” “How do I prepare or is coaching just an ‘in the moment’ thing?”

Yikes! Lots of questions. Good ones.

The workplace coaching business has taken off—from a $707 million industry 10 years ago to a projected $1.34 billion industry in 2022. As if workplace coaching, at its most basic and most effective, has not been going on since the industrial revolution and before. It can sound trendy and without substance to talk about how cool workplace coaching is.

I am not going to attempt here to break down the differences between coaching and managing and mentoring. Let’s just acknowledge that all are important in encouraging workplace engagement. When we work with supervisors here are a few of the things we focus on:


Some research by Forbes tells us this:

  • Leaders in the 90th percentile for coaching effectiveness had employee commitment scores in the 88th percentile.
  • Leaders in the 10th percentile for coaching had employees at the 15th percentile for commitment.
  • More than 60% of employees who report to managers who are not good coaches are thinking about quitting, versus 22% who report to the best.
  • Productivity: Better coaches have three times as many people who are willing to go the extra mile.

– Forbes, 5 Business Payoffs of Being an Effective Coach (2/2/15)

I was working with a group of new supervisors and reviewing this thing we call coaching. We asked them to reflect on their willingness to dig in to the coaching role. Two things became very clear in the discussion. One, there was a great deal of reluctance to take on the coaching role. Two, many held the misconception that the primary activities in coaching had something to do with hovering and directing.

Clearly, not all of us were born to coach or lead. Great coaching requires a commitment and an accountability mind-set that takes time and energy, sometimes a lot of both. And, it takes the willingness to develop and maintain relationships through all sorts of challenging, and sometimes awkward, moments. Coaches recognize when they have the positive relationship bank account well established so they can leverage improved employee performance, productivity, stewardship, and commitment.

A set of characteristics that differentiate effective coaches? It turns out that great coaches do these things:

  • Challenge the Process
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Model the Way
  • Encourage the Heart

Simple, right? But you can certainly see the work that it might take to accomplish all of these things while getting your other stuff done. Great coaches simply make a decision to lean into all the challenges that coaching might bring and seem to act on faith that it will all be worth the effort.

How many of us now challenged with being effective workplace coaches actually wanted this role, actually asked for it? Many of us were invited into the supervisor’s role because we were competent in some area and others thought we should be “promoted.” Next thing we know we are dealing with human beings which can be one of the most rewarding or frustrating endeavors we will ever experience.

The reluctance we see from supervisors is usually based in concerns about awkward moments, resistance or defensiveness, being too busy, uncertainty about conveying a negative message, distaste for delivering bad news. These are not small hurdles to overcome. Most of us need some coaching ourselves to resolve some of these concerns.

So …

Trendy buzzword? Yes, but we are talking about building positive relationships that last, not trends. There is a clear business case for building coaching into your work culture.

Is coaching an individual or group thing? Both. And the higher-functioning your team is, the more your coaching is a group thing.

How do I prepare? Read, take classes, set a challenge goal to improve quality and quantity of connection with your workgroup, work with your team of supervisors to compare success and challenge stories, try a few things, improve the conversation around coaching connections.

Please come join us at any of our leadership sessions (for example, Coaching Skills Bootcamp or Basics of Supervision) to explore these important workplace issues and how you might improve your workplace coaching relationships.

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