Coaching for organisational success

Fouad Al-Obaid
Oct 29, 2020

A few years ago, at a different organization, I was in charge of internships. That experience of sourcing and onboarding interns made me aware of two distinct issues; the first was that I was glad not to be in the recruitment business! The second issue and perhaps the most pressing—students today are disconnected from corporate reality.

It quickly became evident to me that a grand majority of those that were about to graduate did not honestly know what they wanted to do with their future careers, and those that did had a distorted vision ready for a rude awakening.

The sad reality is that this false sense of entitlement does nothing to prepare the students for corporate life

As part of the internship process, one candidate, in particular, distinguished himself. Today, I can still vividly recall the interview.

What made this individual memorable was the earnest belief that he had about his career ambitions. When asked the questions, “Where do you see yourself after the internship? What are your career aspirations?” he answered, “Since I graduated with a degree in management, I want to become a manager!” The response, although anecdotal, reflects a challenge that many Human Resource departments across industries are faced with.

The millennial workforce is pushing HR functions to consider how to balance the need of its younger employees with the realities of the business. An additional challenge is to match the demand for recruits to perform at their best in their entry-level jobs, with the call to identify talents that could be developed and groomed to rise through the ranks.

A further complication is a new mantra shared by their peers and professors that give them the sense that they can be “whatever/whoever they want to be!” Young candidates are taught, “With the right skills you can be the next [insert famous leader]!”.

The sad reality is that this false sense of entitlement does nothing to prepare the students for corporate life, and instils in them a belief that a piece of paper will magically empower them with the skills and the competencies required to succeed in life.

For all the challenges of leading millennials—courses on how to manage millennials have become a thing—the energy and passion that some of them bring is a source of company vigour. When appropriately channelled, that vitality can give companies a renewed drive to connect with a growing consumer base.

The dilemma that recruiters now have to contend with is based on the realities of the millennial mindset, and the need of the business and its growth; what is the value proposition that will allow companies to attract, hire, train, and retain the best talents possible?

This emphasizes two distinct needs: the first is to hire candidates capable of succeeding in their current roles. The second is within the pool of candidates employed, to ensure that you have a sizeable number that would be eligible when the time comes to rise across the ranks.

With a general tendency towards encouraging social mobility, the “hiring from within first” policy that many companies promote as part of their employee development, could become problematic if the sourcing equation is not fine-tuned. It has some advantages in the sense that the candidates would be more familiar with the company culture, be less expensive, and require less onboarding time.

The disadvantage is that they might be too embedded in the culture—which may be, at times, undesirable. They might not be able to manage the hierarchical shift relative to former colleagues and could be faced with former-colleague insubordination, amongst other things.

Along with seeking the right talent, companies need existing people that can read the corporate political environment and align themselves with the right internal stakeholders. Rising to the peak of the corporate structure requires a high degree of awareness and interpersonal skills. Those that are incapable of politicking may find themselves hitting a glass wall.

“For their part, managers of leaner, faster-moving organizations began to recognize the need for a subtler set of competencies: the communication and relationship skills required to influence and energize employees, adaptability to rapid change, and respect for people of diverse backgrounds. Today, executives expect emotional intelligence from supervisors and colleagues but find it’s in scarce supply.” (Sherman & Feras, 2004)

In such a climate, it becomes vital for corporate Learning & Development units to balance the need for external business coaches with internal business success coaches that would work on developing the talent pool and grooming them towards achieving company targets. The key benefit of having an external coach enter the organization is to help give an outside-in perspective on what otherwise would be business as usual. To truly benefit from business coaching, a culture of genuine feedback with minimal consequences needs to be created. The higher people rise in an organization, the more they will want to emulate the current leaders and find their source of inspiration in the glorious past, rather than in the vision of a brighter future.

The deeper we move into a VUCA world, the more crucial the need for a clear external-contracted feedback mechanism becomes. It is critical to have a sounding board to measure the strategy and to guider calibration. The cost of coaching might be steep, and investing in such programs might be daunting. However, it could be seen as an investment in the overall growth of the company—a cost of business of a sort.

“There is also a growing recognition that leadership development should not be restricted to the few who are in or close to the C-suite. With the proliferation of collaborative problem-solving platforms and digital “adhocracies” that emphasize individual initiative, employees across the board are increasingly expected to make consequential decisions that align with corporate strategy and culture. It’s important, therefore, that they be equipped with the relevant technical, relational, and communication skills.” (Moldoveanu & Narayandas, 2019)

As much as traditional courses, sessions—and today webinars—, and eLearning are useful, they are only as good as the adoption of the knowledge into skills that impact the day-to-day function of the unit/department that the individual is currently working within.

The cost of coaching might be steep, and investing in such programs might be daunting. However, it could be seen as an investment in the overall growth of the company

Many of the training programs that have been the industry standard in the past only give learners the tools and the general concepts or the rationale behind the tools. Trainers seldom have the time to truly check that each of the participants in their sessions is aware and able to digest, or more crucially transfer, the new knowledge back into their work-flow.

With the increase in competition, leading high impact teams while maintaining morale requires a series of skills that cannot be downloaded into the leader’s mind in short sessions, or even in extended programs without a precise feedback-loop mechanism. What leaders across industries need is a voice that can help refine and develop the essential skills that would allow them to unleash their respective teams’ potential.

They need to do so while at the same time managing the reality that their teams might not emerge unscathed from the ongoing pandemic. Therefore, they need to learn how to communicate in a manner that creates hope, balancing for any possible news that might create disunity or fear.