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Not Whether, but When to Coach your Executives: Exploring Individual Educational Opportunities in the Workplace

Denise KayOne of my favorite quotes regarding education comes from John Harvey, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

As an executive coach and trainer, I've trained many executives, Board of Director members, managers, supervisors and employees in group and individual settings, and I'm here to make the argument that one-on-one coaching and training is the best investment an organization can make - one that reaps a huge return. Let's be honest, organizations struggle with the costs associated with investing in individual coaching and education. Yet, I argue that it's akin to an insurance policy, to avoid costly employment decisions that could result in bad hires, expensive performance management and, worst-case, lawsuits. 

In our January 2013 EPS Newsletter "Anti-Harassment Training: Why A Qualified In-Person Trainer Is The Best Option For Your Company," we made the case for live, in-person training for employees. We've recently seen courts deciding discrimination claims based on the awareness of the managers and supervisors and holding employers accountable for that education. The same concepts apply to individual executives. Employers often assume that executives who have moved up through the organization or hired from the outside, have the requisite awareness and knowledge of employment laws and general human resources decorum.

However, in my experience, it is usually the executive's technical expertise and not his/her "people skills" that propelled the executive into the role. The EPS article, The Bad Boss describes the various poor management tactics that executives and managers take: the Sabatour, the Mood Swing Manager, and the "Michael Scott" Manager (of "The Office" television fame) are examples. When a valued employee is in need of coaching for leadership or skill development, performance improvement, succession planning, on-boarding, or other issues, EPS provides executive coaching expertise to address the situation with a highly customized approach.

Therefore, there are several great reasons to invest in individual one-on-one executive training and coaching for the softer skills:

One-on-One Coaching is Personalized

"It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated." Alec Bourne. Do your homework, but any qualified coach and trainer should provide customized, personal content that accurately reflects the executive's needs. Progress should be quickly notable. Rapport between the coach and coachee is critical and customized learning content and context is essential. In situations where it is challenging to establish rapport prior to the coaching engagement, it is recommended to utilize an experienced coach with outstanding referrals. 

One-on-One Coaching is Private

Orson Scott Card wrote in Ender's Game,"The essence of training is to allow error without consequence." This individual coaching relationship allows for honest exchange without risk of public mistake or embarrassment. What better investment than to provide a safe haven to explore ideas and opinions without judgment. If an independent coach is utilized, it creates a safe environment for the coached individual to disclose and explore issues they might never address in front of colleagues or superiors. Because the coach is not burdened by organizational biases or power structures, these discussions tend to be more authentic and effective.

One-on-One Coaching is Proactive

So, how does it work? The anatomy of a successful one-on-one educational/coaching relationship incorporates assessment and "fit" of the relationship and evaluation of desired outcome. In some cases, EPS consultants are engaged to conduct one-on-one coaching for very particular and isolated management behaviors. Issues frequently addressed in one-on-one executive coaching include:

  • Performance Management
  • Visioning
  • Strategic Decision-Making
  • Diversity Issues
  • Effective Communication
  • Anger Management
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Team building
  • Harassment/discrimination (sexual, racial, religious, national origin and others)

When workplace behavior may not warrant termination and you are prepared to invest in the rehabilitation of a high-potential employee or group of valued employees, one-one-one sensitivity coaching is the ideal solution. Further, progressive employers are providing that safe haven of executive coaching to allow executives to explore ideas and perceptions without organizational risk. I encourage you to make the investment and reap the reward of individual education and coaching in your organization.