The point of education, someone once said, was to replace an empty mind with an open one.
In today’s highly competitive environment, making your staff smarter, better skilled and more flexible in their thinking could mark the difference between business success and failure.
For all these reasons, many companies have turned to training, management coaching and education as the best route to a more productive and effective workforce. But how should these programmes be approached?
For someone given the job of organising the sessions, they may have to consult widely with other departments such as human resources and know where to find the external experts to run the programme itself.
What are the key points that should be kept in mind when organising training sessions and how do they differ from other kinds of staff meetings, teambuilding activities or company conferences?
From small start-ups to multinational organisations, executive coaching and management training have become a mainstay of personal and professional development. Executive coaching has made its way from the home offices of a few consultants to become a major component of corporate culture.
Charlie Lang, managing partner, executive coach and trainer at Progress U, and the author of The Groupness Factor, says: “While there is no official definition for management coaching or executive coaching, it is a process where the coach assists managers in their professional development and/or decision making to ultimately become more successful.”
It is important to distinguish corporate coaching from consultancy. Where consultants give an opinion in their area of expertise, a coach is there to “inspire new and expanded thinking, which often leads to new insights, a change of mind, awareness of more and better choices, and as a result a change that is initiated and ‘owned’ by the ‘coachee’, not the coach”.
Consequently, the manager being coached is much more likely to implement the changes and to follow through.
Says Angela Spaxman, career and executive coach in Hong Kong: “Essentially, coaching is about moving from a directive approach to a collaborative approach.” Today, she notes: “Many managers within companies are learning coaching skills. It is of interest in a lot of workplaces to change the corporate culture to focus on learning and development and the value of human potential. External and internal coaching is a part of that.”
Whether attacking new problems or as an inspiration for more deep thinking on how to implement changes, coaching can play an important role in the development of a more successful, invigorated company. Where coaching was once seen as a tool to correct underperformance, it is now a way of supporting those at the top in becoming better, more effective leaders.
A new way of working
Coaching can be broken down into two sections: coaching training for middle and upper managers, and external coaching for senior-level executives. But, from a one-hour introduction for the entire company to an ongoing relationship between CEO and coach, coaching can and should affect every aspect of an organisation by changing the process by which decisions are made. Coaching training asks managers to be collaborative. Instead of dictating, they ask questions so that those on their team are encouraged to think creatively, come up with ideas, and harness the brain power of all employees for the benefit and development of the company as a whole.
Because many groups in Asia operate within more traditional frameworks where the boss makes the decisions that the rest of the company follow, coaches in the region advise companies to engage every member of staff in an introductory course, which could mean a seminar at the company’s annual conference, or smaller meetings of groups or departments.
Spaxman comments: “Introducing the idea of coaching to everyone can be helpful. If managers are going to shift to a style of passing responsibility or asking questions and people aren’t used to it, they may interpret it as a threat and don’t realise that it’s simply a different approach.”
In fast-developing countries like China and India, effective managers are needed but, with a younger workforce, experience is very limited.
In that vein, coaching can be an effective way of teaching managers to delegate responsibility and teach employees how to think, not just follow orders. While many HR departments are often helpful in the process, says Spaxman, “if the executives themselves are turned off to the idea, coaching simply won’t be effective”.
Analysis for development
SHL, a talent management company, uses psychometric tools in combination with personal consultation to assess strengths and weaknesses among managers.
Dr Helen Fung, a senior consultant with SHL in Hong Kong, explains: “We use advanced tools based on psychological principles to identify human potential within an organisation.”
The customised evaluation process starts with a consultation with the company to identify their needs: retention, identifying people with particular skills in one area, or general assessment for further development of executives.
Says Dr Fung: “The first stage is the definition stage. We want to know what exactly the issues are. To do that,we speak to key stakeholders to get the perspective from the business side, so we can decide how our solutions can best fit in with the company’s goals.”
Adds Kendrew Yu, marketing manager for SHL: “While most senior management see the development of their people as a key priority, before taking those next steps we need to identify the issues they are facing: such as productivity issues, absenteeism, staff engagement, motivation, and so forth. We then see how we can help lead the way to better performance by the team.”
With online questions, consultations and at times role-playing in business situations, depending on the aim of the assessment, programmes can take from just an hour to up to a few days.
Dr Fung says that clients are encouraged to do this offsite, “somewhere far away for individuals to concentrate on the assessment; away from work so they can focus on something new. We’re looking for the person’s potential outside of their comfort zone.”
Thus, an offsite or small corporate retreat is an ideal location for one-on-one or group assessment. For companies looking to see how their executives behave in managerial situations and what their individual strengths are, SHL can monitor and assess up to 15 candidates in group exercises, such as discussions or business problem-solving role plays.
“We then give the company results as well as our own observations, directing the company to the areas that need improvement,” says Dr Fung.
It is then up to the firm to take decided action. That, she says, is the only way that assessment solutions provided by SHL can be truly effective.
“You have to be fully prepared and ready to take action. Assessment is the beginning, but you need to follow up with the developmental actions afterward to make sure that the investment in assessment sees a return,” Dr Fung says.
This type of analysis can be very instrumental for coaches. Spaxman says: “The first step is assessment of the situation – their leadership role, personality, where we are now and what the situation is.” Part of this can certainly be directed through analytics tools and observations.
Progress u Ltd
KEEPING IT SIMPLE – AN INTRODUCTION TO TRAINING
The first thing external trainers do is establish a relationship. While coaches may have a particular expertise in a subject or corporate sector, the more important aspect, says Angela Spaxman, is “a coaching approach that allows a person to come up with his or her own solution”. Unlike resources within a company, a coach is an unbiased, completely objective person.
Once trust is established, a coach will speak with the company, the executive and any other stakeholders to assess the situation. “There may be one or two areas that a person needs to work on – like leadership development or self-promotion, diplomacy or work/life balance, so we would set goals in those areas.” On the other hand, if the relationship is more of a “brainstorming, sounding-board type of relationship – maybe the company is new, or going through a turnaround – then, in that case, it’s more about consultations on individual issues.”
The relationship can last for several months at a time, during which “the coach and coachee work together learning various things, applying changes and checking how well it works,” says Spaxman.
But she also notes that there is “huge potential” for corporate retreats to act as a positive starting point. “Discussions about topics outside the ‘strictly business issues’ like culture, values, motivation and engagement are a lot easier to talk about when away from the office, and something that people have difficulty discussing.”
For group-coaching, conferences or seminars work equally as well for the same reasons.
“Participants will be asked many reflective questions,” says Charlie Lang, which may be answered out loud to a coach or simply to themselves. But then again, just being away doesn’t guarantee success. Exactly what people get out of the session is directly correlated to their participation level. “The more they participate in the workshop – exercises, role plays, etc – the more they gain for themselves.”
After one of Lang’s typical seminars, one-on-one coaching and/or a follow-up seminar will take place within the next four to eight weeks to check in on the action plan set in place during the seminar. “This is to assure that change actually happens and participants get supported and motivated during the implementation.”
For one-on-one coaching, one of the most common benchmark checks is the self-assessment by the client.
“You see very quickly whether they are happy with the progress or not; whether they are reaching goals or not,” says Spaxman. Looking at lower level coaching skills, there is more oversight by HR departments and other directors, all of whom will see a noticeable difference or request that more training is necessary.
The important part about coaching is the way that it serves as an objective tool to change, enhance and develop managerial skills. “After a coaching session, you should feel inspired and empowered – like you have come up with something on your own that is specifically relevant to you,” she says.
Organisers need to understand these modern approaches to training in order to set the scene most effectively. One key area is choosing the correct venue. Getting the participants out of the office and in a new environment free from the routine pressures is essential. This won’t always entail a far-flung resort but it does need to offer the privacy and seclusion that generates focus.
A second issue is time. If your training programme involves a select group of executives, you may need to look at scheduling issues with the time taken by key individuals away from their posts balanced against allowing the programme to run its course.
The third factor is follow-up. For training to have its full effect, individual programmes are of little use, training needs to be integrated into an overall corporate strategy and not a flash in the pan.
These days ,arranging training programmes that make an impact is much more than booking a room with a whiteboard and marker pens. It means changing the mindsets of participants and motivating your staff to excel.
Understanding these crucial factors will help meeting planners play a creative role in the training field.
THE RIGHT APPROACH
Get participants to ask themselves: if a change is needed, are they willing to change?
Is the organisation ready and willing to benefit from the experience?
Find a coach working in the particular area you want to work on
Go on intuition when making a final decision; the relationship is more important than their CV
The ideal mindset includes endless curiosity and a cycle of constant improvement
Encourage participants to be as active as possible; they’ll get more out of it
Remember that learning and development never end, no matter what your role