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Joe, a new hire, is one of your most knowledgeable sales associates. Ask him any question about your products and services, and he can practically quote you the information verbatim. He has a great personality, came to you with seven years of experience, and gets along well with clients … but, after three months on the job, he has the lowest closing rate of your four new hires.

Sally, a veteran sales manager at your firm, has been conducting training sessions with all the new hires, including Joe. She just can’t figure out how to get Joe up to his potential performance level. Sally has come to you for permission to send Joe to a training session out-of-state. Of course, that will take Joe out of the field for another week and will cost a bundle. But do you have an alternative?

Historically, if employers wanted behavior or results to change, they simply “trained” people.  Training certainly does have its advantages. Replicable training that can be used time and again with different groups can be a cost-effective way of conveying information. The time spent in training is measurable. The trainees are “in training” for the duration of the training session, so a cost can be assigned to it and work schedules can be arranged around it. You can undoubtedly name several other advantages.

However, behavioral change after training has been shown to decline rapidly after the training experience has ended. And only 25 percent of employees say their training programs are effective at measurably improving performance, according to the 2010 McKinsey Global Survey. It seems that training alone might not always be the answer.

What about coaching?

Google’s Project Oxygen study has shown that coaching is the number one key behavior of good managers. Additionally, Bersin by Deloitte found that organizations that are highly effective at coaching are (a) 33 percent more effective at engaging employees, and (b) 30 percent more likely to have strong business results.

Additionally, the relative long-term effectiveness of training compared to that of coaching is drastic. In the longer-term, retention is 65 percent higher with coaching than with training.

Coaching has become recognized as one of the most powerful ways to change behavior more permanently.

Why is coaching so effective?

Some research suggests that approximately 70 percent of employee learning and development happens on the job—and all of coaching is “on the job,” either scheduled or in-the-moment. On the other hand, training, which is usually conducted in groups in a formal or informal training venue, typically is not conducted while the trainee is performing his or her job.

Good coaching enhances the relationship between the manager and employee by improving communication, which facilitates change and increases performance. Another reason that coaching works is because it includes repetition and feedback over time. And, finally, coaching is typically tailored to the individual receiving it; it’s not one-size-fits-all.

So, what exactly is coaching?

Coaching is inside-out. By inside-out, we mean that coaching is the process of helping a person “draw out”: to become aware of and use, his or her talent and knowledge. It involves the difference between teaching (what the instructor does) and learning (what the receiver of instruction does). Coaching helps people learn.

Contrast that with training, which is usually outside-in. Training is mostly about increasing knowledge, which is not necessarily the same as increasing skill. After all, if knowledge were all we needed, we’d merely read the book and be world champions!

Coaching is not an event. Rather, it is a process: a journey from where a person is to where that person needs to be.

Coaching, when done well, creates a safe environment in which people can explore different ways of thinking and doing over time. This not only reinforces necessary skills, but also opens the door to innovation and improvements that might otherwise not emerge.

Can training and coaching work together?

Yes, training and coaching can work together. You can take the best of both and create a synergistic effect. The training can help provide the knowledge and techniques, and coaching can help employees apply them appropriately.

What does “training and coaching” bring to the table that “training only” doesn’t?

Coaching brings discipline to people’s attention over time and causes them to tap into their most powerful faculties: their inherent ability to learn and their child-like curiosity. When that is coupled with the safety of the coaching environment for repetition and feedback, the coach can repeatedly help the person’s attention come back to the here and now. In other words, to what needs attending to now. This allows the employee to contribute his or her best.

And, one of the most important aspects, coaching is “in the moment” and, therefore, inherently relevant.

Why do we not coach more?

Some commonly held, but false, beliefs regarding coaching in the workplace are that coaching is only for when there’s a problem and that it’s a time-consuming activity that must be done in addition to everything else and, therefore, is difficult to squeeze into a busy day. Because of these beliefs, it’s easy to justify avoiding this powerful driver of results. And yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. It can be a way of saving time and driving results.

What is the “secret” to effective coaching?

One secret to effective coaching isn’t so secret! It’s to recognize that every conversation has an impact.

Conversations are how we begin to solve all business challenges. When we are working through an issue, we first think it through for ourselves, which could be described as a conversation with ourselves. After we have thought through the issue, we then almost always have a second conversation, one with other people. That is normal everyday work.

So, what’s the difference between a “coaching conversation” and other “conversations”? People describe effective coaching conversations as being supportive, caring, truthful, encouraging, results-oriented, with a lot of listening. Does this mean that in other conversations, we don’t incorporate these characteristics? Sadly, much of the time the answer is yes. Every conversation we have has an impact, and the mindset and tools of coaching can help us to have more of an impact on more people, more often, and to be more effective in every conversation we have.

Ideally, we want our employees to be able to make decisions and, therefore, solve problems for themselves. We don’t need their problems in addition to our own! So, we need to coach them to be good decision makers and problem solvers.

Solving business challenges requires people to take different actions, and actions come from decisions. Therefore, most coaching will center around helping people improve their decision-making skills, which will then lead to improved results. Having a map for navigating through decision making makes the process more effective.

One of the most powerful models for coaching, (whether for oneself or others), is the GROW® Process. The GROW® Model is a way of mapping the stages of decision making. It can be used to guide conversations and to help a person determine what to focus on at each step of the way.

GROW® labels the critical stages of decision making. The acronym GROW® stands for:

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Way forward

First, a person articulates a concise goal, then describes his or her current reality, followed by brainstorming options, and then selects one or more options to use in an action plan (their way forward), and then they can solve, or begin to solve, most any challenge.

Without a map, decision making takes place in a random fashion, bouncing back and forth repeatedly between the stages. Understanding the map helps decision making happen in a systematic and focused way, improving the quality of the decisions that lead to actions that lead to results.

In conclusion

If we were contemplating piano or math lessons for our children, we would not send them for three hours of training and expect their performance to improve. We would, however, send them for ongoing coaching over a period of months, because we know that repetition and feedback over time make a difference. It’s no different in the workplace. Giving people ongoing repetition and feedback, with or without training, is one of the ways we can leverage the coaching revolution.