8 Steps To Implement and Enable Coaching in the Workplace

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8 Steps To Implement and Enable Coaching in the Workplace

Coaching in the workplace can be a great way to support your employees’ growth, engagement, and performance.   

This article will take a closer look at coaching in the workplace and HR’s role. We’ll discuss the importance of coaching and share best practices for HR professionals to support this initiative in the organization.  

What is workplace coaching?
HR’s role in coaching in the workplace
The importance (and benefits) of coaching in the workplace 
How HR can successfully enable workplace coaching

What is workplace coaching?

Workplace coaching is an umbrella term for activities that enable employees to grow professionally and personally. Think of one-on-one coaching, peer coaching, digital coaching, or a combination of these. 

In some ways, workplace coaching is a form of on-the-job learning. It’s a collaborative process that occurs through everyday interactions between a manager and an employee as well as between peers. 

HR’s role in coaching in the workplace

When it comes to coaching in the workplace, many organizations have so far (only) focused on providing their top management or the people that they choose with coaching. Due to a lack of financial resources and scalability options, coaching often remained something for a select group of employees.

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Thanks to, among other things, developments in technology and a changing mindset about L&D, workplace coaching is now more easily available to all employees. As such, HR’s role is also changing.

Where, in the past, HR departments mainly had to ensure that coaching was available for the organization’s leadership team, they now need to take a more company-wide approach to coaching. 

In the sections below, we’ll first look at the importance (and benefits) of coaching in the workplace and then delve into how HR can ensure the success of a company-wide approach to coaching. 

The importance (and benefits) of coaching in the workplace 

Coaching in the workplace isn’t a standalone activity. For it to be truly effective, companies need to foster a coaching culture (more on that in the section below). The benefits of such a culture and the coaching activities that go with it are:

  • Stronger employee relationships. For any coaching relationship to be successful, there needs to be trust between the coach and coachee. Once this trust is established, employees will have stronger relationships with their managers and peers. 
  • Higher engagement. Offering coaching opportunities to your employees shows you care about them and their growth. This, in turn, has a positive impact on their engagement.
  • Better performance. Coaching should be part of your performance management practices. As such, it contributes to the improvement of your people’s performance. 
  • Higher retention. Employees are less likely to leave in a coaching culture with higher levels of trust and where people can grow personally and professionally. 
Coaching in the Workplace

How HR can successfully enable workplace coaching

1. Determine the goals 

As with all new initiatives, the first thing to do when your organization wants to start – or scale – its coaching efforts is to determine the goals you want to achieve. These goals should be aligned with those of the business.

An example goal might be that your organization wants its employee engagement and Net Promoter Scores to increase by x points and want to use coaching to achieve this. 

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2. Foster a coaching culture

In many companies, only (top) management tends to be coached. Therefore, the first thing to do when an organization scales its coaching efforts is to build a coaching culture. 

A coaching culture is characterized by the following elements: 

  • People trust each other; 
  • People have the ability to question the status quo regardless of their position in the organization;
  • Individuals have a growth mindset;
  • Managers have the willingness to grow their team members, and;
  • Peers also want to grow peers.

Building a coaching culture is the starting point and the key to success. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t something that happens overnight. It may take several years to develop a company culture, depending on the organization and its people.

3. Decide on the types of workplace coaching

This is not merely a question of what you want to offer, it’s more about the goals you want to achieve with workplace coaching and, of course, what budget is available to you. 

There are various types of coaching in the workplace. Each serves a different purpose and has its own benefits and drawbacks: 

  • Leader coaching. In this type of coaching, managers or leaders in the organization coach their team members. While this sounds great in theory, in reality, this type of coaching does come with a few challenges. One of them is that managers who receive training to coach people often haven’t (yet) received coaching themselves. As such, they don’t grasp what it means to be coached.  So, if you want the managers in your company to become coaches, let them go through a coaching process themselves first.  
  • Peer coaching. In peer coaching, two or more colleagues coach each other. As such, they can work together to reflect on current practices and build new skills, share ideas and teach one another.
    Peer coaching has plenty of benefits. It’s inexpensive, boosts camaraderie and engagement, and gives people a well-rounded view of their performance.
  • Digital coaching. A digital coaching platform enables organizations to truly scale their coaching efforts. Depending on the platform, these solutions can be digital-only or combined with digital coaching exercises and live coaching sessions. Besides its scalability, digital coaching has the advantage of employees being able to autonomously go through the various exercises while offering them an experience tailored to their specific needs.    
  • External coaching. Hiring an external writer can be of great value if the organization’s budget allows for it. For instance, to train your management team on how to coach (or at least on how to get a coaching mindset, more on that below).    

Ozlem Sarioglu, Professional Coach and co-founder of Digital Coaching Platform SparkUs, on managers who are expected to be coaches: 
“When organizations train managers, they expect them to be perfect coaches immediately. However, when people go home – or offline – after their training, they can very easily fall back into their old habits of telling people what to do, not really listening, etc., especially when there is a crisis situation. So traditionally, this was the limit of the coaching culture.” 

4. Integrate workplace coaching into your talent management practices

In essence, coaching is about learning and development. As such, it should be a part of your talent management practices and, more specifically, your performance management.

Here’s an example of what this could look like: 

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  1. During an employee’s performance review either their manager and/or HRBP together with the employee:
  • Identify their coaching needs based on:
    • Their performance evaluation 
    • Their areas for improvement 
    • Career development discussions
  1. Then, the employee, their manager and/or HRBP develop a coaching plan together by:
  • Identifying specific goals 
  • Identifying specific tasks, milestones, or deadlines that need to be met 
  • Choosing what type of coaching fits best
  • If necessary, by combining the coaching with other L&D activities such as an online training course or attending a product demo 
  • Creating a timeline 
  • Defining success metrics 

Both the employee’s manager and HRBP are available for feedback and support throughout the coaching trajectory in case the employee runs into an issue or has a question. If necessary, changes can be made. 

  1. During the employee’s next performance review (which shouldn’t be a year later), the employee, their manager and HRBP evaluate. 

5. Identify & develop ‘new’ management competencies 

Managers play a key role in workplace coaching. While some say managers should also be coaches for the people in their team, we like to be a bit more realistic. Coaching isn’t for everyone and being a good coach is hard, especially if you haven’t experienced what it is like to be coached.

That doesn’t mean that managers shouldn’t have certain skills and behaviors that empower a so-called coaching mindset. 

Think, for instance, of having a growth mindset, emotional intelligence, strong communications skills, and the willingness to grow their team members. These are characteristics that HR should look for in management candidates – and where necessary – develop in the organization’s existing management team.

6. Start small and run a pilot

Before you roll out an organization-wide employee coaching program, run a pilot. Have a few managers with some coaching experience – or at least a coaching mindset – introduce the coaching initiative to their teams. Note what people’s reactions are, what questions they have, and what concerns have been raised. 

Test the digital coaching platform you are planning to use in various teams. Here too, note how employees are responding to this. Do they find the platform easy to use? Are the exercises valuable to them? Do they have time in their busy work week to spend on coaching? 

The insights you’ll gather from running this trial are extremely valuable. They’ll help you prepare for employees’ (negative) reactions, solve practical issues such as a lack of time to spend on coaching, and tackle other bottlenecks that might pop up. All of this will make the eventual company-wide roll-out go a lot smoother. 

Ozlem Sarioglu on preparing employees for workplace coaching:
“Even though managers received coaching, their employees have no idea about coaching. So once the manager starts asking questions, employees wonder ‘Why is he or she asking me that? Am I on a test?’ As a result, managers who just received their coaching training suddenly bump into this barrier and internal resistance from their employees. We’ve learned that it’s very important to support the coach-like training for managers with a program where employees learn about coaching.”

7. Communicate 

Communication is an important part of HR’s role in enabling coaching in the workplace. This includes communication with managers on how to develop a coaching mindset, and what coaching tools and opportunities are available to their employees. 

HR must also communicate with the rest of the organization so that they are also informed about the coaching activities available within the company. 

As a People Team, take a look at your employee life cycle and identify in which stages of the cycle you can communicate the company’s coaching program, for example, during new hires onboarding. Your workplace coaching can also be something to highlight in your employer branding. 

8. Ask for feedback and finetune 

As with every new initiative, it’s important to ask for feedback. Ask employees how they feel about the company’s workplace coaching. Use various methods to collect this feedback:

  • A short survey 
  • Feedback managers have received
  • Data that your digital coaching solution has gathered (if you’re using one)

Look at the metrics you’ve defined at the start of your workplace coaching program, such as Net Promoter Scores. Although these might not provide direct feedback, they can still show you how the coaching initiative has been received. 

Finetune your coaching offering and further optimize it based on the insights you have gained from the metrics used.

Key takeaway

Coaching in the workplace can be a great way to support the growth of individual employees and teams as well as the organization as a whole. HR has an important role to play in enabling workplace coaching. 

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