Coach­ing the coach

En­cour­age boomer man­agers to teach younger staff

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

THE ob­jec­tive of a re­cent sur­vey of hu­man re­source pro­fes­sion­als was to iden­tify the po­ten­tial skills gaps that might oc­cur as younger and older work­ers en­ter and exit the work­force. It was in­ter­est­ing to learn that 52 per cent of the HR pro­fes­sion­als say their most se­ri­ous con­cern is the lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and work ethic.

On the other hand, only 27 per cent of HR pro­fes­sion­als said younger work­ers were lack­ing in the crit­i­cal think­ing and the type of prob­lem solv­ing skills needed to be suc­cess­ful in the work­place. Other gaps such as writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tions, self-direc­tion and lead­er­ship were not con­sid­ered a weak­ness among the younger, new en­try work­force.

While is­sues such as a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and work ethic can in­deed cre­ate havoc in an or­ga­ni­za­tion, it is also in­ter­est­ing to see the other side of the equa­tion. What do the younger work­ers say about a skills gap? In many of the re­cent en­coun­ters with younger frus­trated work­ers, I see a cou­ple of is­sues aris­ing.

First, sev­eral of the frus­trated young work­ers I’ve met re­cently do in­deed have ex­pe­ri­ence gaps, but more im­por­tantly, they seem to have a broad set of nat­u­ral gen­er­al­ist think­ing skills that com­ple­ment their aca­demic ed­u­ca­tion. Th­ese skills of­ten place them 10 years ahead of their peers with re­spect to how they can more rapidly con­trib­ute to an or­ga­ni­za­tion.

There­fore, one of the key com­plaints ex­pressed by th­ese highly tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als is that em­ploy­ers fo­cus too much at­ten­tion on the lack of ex­pe­ri­ence ver­sus a young per­son’s ac­tual tal­ent and abil­i­ties. This not only hin­ders their op­por­tu­nity to en­ter the work world at a level that matches their tal­ent, but of­ten hin­ders their pro­gres­sion once they do start work.

The prob­lem for or­ga­ni­za­tions is that they might miss the op­por­tu­nity to hire a strong, highly in­tel­li­gent young pro­fes­sional who could learn and grow quickly in their or­ga­ni­za­tion. And, if they do hire some­one with tal­ent, em­ploy­ers can in turn quickly squelch any en­thu­si­asm by fail­ing to pro­vide sup­port, en­cour­age­ment and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment. The re­sult is a high turnover of young pro­fes­sion­als who will leave look­ing for bet­ter and more sup­port­ive work en­vi­ron­ments.

So what can be done about this sit­u­a­tion? Part of the chal­lenge is that baby boomers are of­ten caught in a per­sonal con­flict. For in­stance, they may not be quite ready to re­tire from a psy­cho­log­i­cal per­spec­tive, yet they may be threat­ened by an up-and-com­ing tal­ented pro­fes­sional with more ed­u­ca­tion, but less ex­pe­ri­ence. Many also don’t know how to set ca­reer plans for younger work­ers and don’t know how to go about coach­ing th­ese in­di­vid­u­als. And to be hon­est, man­agers also face that all con­sum­ing time crunch and let’s face it, coach­ing and de­vel­op­ment take time.

Two so­lu­tions come to mind, both of a coach­ing na­ture. First, man­agers must learn how to coach, be­gin coach­ing those who re­port di­rectly to them more ef­fec­tively and play a key role in cre­at­ing, main­tain­ing and sus­tain­ing a coach­ing cul­ture. Coach­ing should also be part of man­age­ment per­for­mance re­views be­cause with­out this type of pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, the or­ga­ni­za­tion will be left with large skills gaps when a baby boomer man­ager leaves.

Let’s first talk about teach­ing man­agers on how to ef­fec­tively coach their em­ploy­ees. First of all, man­agers must be guided to­ward un­der­stand­ing the busi­ness case for coach­ing. Re­search points to sig­nif­i­cant per­sonal and cor­po­rate per­for­mance im­prove­ment for those or­ga­ni­za­tions that im­ple­ment coach­ing ef­fec­tively.

Next, man­agers need to un­der­stand their role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a coach. They must be helped to un­der­stand the ba­sic as­sump­tions of coach­ing and the fact it is a dis­ci­pline with a spe­cific, de­signed process. They need to learn and prac­tise the var­i­ous steps of the coach­ing process and be guided to im­ple­ment­ing this ef­fec­tively.

Young, tal­ented new-en­try work­ers, on the other hand, need to be open to lis­ten­ing to their coach, ask­ing for clar­i­fi­ca­tion and good, prac­ti­cal ex­am­ples. They need to be open to tak­ing on stretch as­sign­ments and to ask­ing for spe­cific tech­ni­cal ad­vice when they run into prob­lems. They need to be open to feed­back and con­struc­tive comment with­out tak­ing of­fence or be­ing fear­ful.

They need to fo­cus some at­ten­tion on un­der­stand­ing the cul­ture of an or­ga­ni­za­tion, the var­i­ous power dy­nam­ics within it and the be­hav­iours re­quired to be suc­cess­ful. Many young peo­ple en­counter dif­fi­culty be­cause they rebel against the cul­ture, try­ing to change it be­fore they un­der­stand it. They need to ask ques­tions about how to be suc­cess­ful, where ca­reer paths lead and what be­hav­iour is most val­ued in an or­ga­ni­za­tion. Fi­nally, they need to en­gage in healthy push back and chal­lenge their coaches and men­tors rather than be­com­ing de­fen­sive and then frus­trated.

Coach­ing younger work­ers has the spe­cific goal of help­ing them to un­der­stand the way things work and how to be suc­cess­ful within the dy­nam­ics of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Coaches need to lis­ten care­fully to their ques­tions and frus­tra­tions and pro­vide con­tin­u­ous chal­lenge and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. Coach­ing is the man­ager’s op­por­tu­nity to as­sess tal­ent, de­velop skills, mould be­hav­iour and/or im­prove per­for­mance.

Sched­ul­ing coach­ing ses­sions is also im­por­tant. If coach­ing isn’t built into the reg­u­lar timetable, it will not be viewed as part of a man­ager’s re­spon­si­bil­ity and more than likely, ap­point­ments will be can­celled and soon for­got­ten. When this hap­pens, your tal­ented young work­ers will be­gin to look for op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where.

Fi­nally, eval­u­a­tion is an im­por­tant part of the coach­ing process. With some of the highly tal­ented work­ers, es­pe­cially those gen­er­al­ists, you’ll find they will de­velop quickly and be thirsty for new and in­creas­ingly more com­plex re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. In this case, pro­vide unique stretch as­sign­ments, as­sign them to com­pany projects, or lend them out to other de­part­ments where they can con­tinue build­ing skills for the or­ga­ni­za­tion and not just your depart­ment.

Eval­u­a­tion is crit­i­cal in iden­ti­fy­ing those in­di­vid­u­als who need more as­sis­tance and those who will re­quire more in-depth train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore mas­tery is at­tained. While th­ese in­di­vid­u­als may not progress at an equally rapid rate, coach­ing and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment will cre­ate a loyal and ded­i­cated em­ployee who is a steady per­former.

Baby boomers will be steadily ex­it­ing the work­place and younger work­ers sin­cerely want to be there to fill the va­can­cies. Yet, if th­ese in­di­vid­u­als feel blocked right at the en­try door, both the em­ployer and po­ten­tial em­ployee will miss an op­por­tu­nity. Those who do get a job but face a lack of sup­port for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment will leave for more favourable op­por­tu­ni­ties. Train­ing your man­agers to un­der­stand the value of coach­ing and to en­gage in the coach­ing process is the best way to build and sus­tain a coach­ing cul­ture.

Source: Man­ager as Coach, Ca­reer Part­ners In­ter­na­tional, 2012, SHRM/ AARP Strate­gic Work­force Plan­ning,


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