Career coaching

October 2010 » Columns » BUSINESS Q & A
Gerry Salontai

Dear Gerry,
We have a pretty good mentoring program in place to help our “up and coming” professionals with their career development. I am also considering outside professional coaching on a selective basis. Some have told me that the use of outside professional coaches does not bring the returns needed to justify the cost and that our mentoring program is sufficient. Others have told me that coaching brings a new dimension that will refine and strengthen abilities of individuals. What do you think about professional coaching?
M.L., N.Y.

Dear M.L.,
Learning is not only a lifetime and continuous process, but also one that requires multiple initiatives to receive the most value. There are four basic ways to gain knowledge in life and with your career. First, you can learn through formal education that is generally available through educational institutions or programs offered by an employer. Next, you learn and gain knowledge through self study and your own experience, including from the successes and failures that you encounter through time. Third, you can learn from mentor relationships you develop both internal and external to your organization. Finally, you can use coaching to refine, change, or drive one’s capabilities to the next level. All four are important to develop the full potential of a person’s capability.

Of the above, mentoring and coaching are often confused — some people believe they are interchangeable. They both have the overall goal of helping an individual improve performance in certain areas. However, a coach and a mentor each have a unique way to reach the stated goals.

A mentor has a one-on-one relationship with the person and is someone a protégé looks up to in order to tap into a greater level of experience. The mentor uses their own expertise to help guide their protégé on the right course through technical, business, and personal decisions by offering advice from their own experiences.

A coach observes the routines, activities, or strategies of the individual and provides them with feedback to help the individual make the necessary decisions, whether those are one of refinement or complete change. The primary job of a coach is to find and correct any problems or weaknesses within a person and their performance. Coaches also help to build skills and increase knowledge within a specific area. They are also generally outsiders who have no personal relationship with the individuals with whom they are working.

I have personally used coaches in my career and observed the impact coaches have had on others. I have experienced or witnessed coaching applied on an individual basis to improve leadership capacity, interpersonal interaction, executive presence, visioning, accountability, teamwork, general communication, and public speaking. It can also be applied to teams or entire businesses to help with goal setting and strategic planning to achieve agreed-upon goals.

If you are considering the use of professional coaches, first decide what the desired outcomes are for your organization as a whole and how the best benefit can be derived. Is your intention to target individuals on the path to assume more responsibility in the organization — to help “round out” their capabilities? Or is it intended for the current top leadership to change or become better at what they do?

The next step is to quantify how many will receive coaching opportunities. Outside coaching is generally limited to the top two or three levels of an organization and cannot be realistically offered at all levels because of cost. Alternatively, coaching can be expanded by having a professional coach train your top leaders to be better coaches, thus extending the impact to multiple levels throughout your organization.

After deciding who will participate, you must assess the needs of each potential candidate. This can be done in several ways, beginning by asking each of the candidates what they believe their individual needs are. This should be followed by formal measurement approaches — such as 360s, the EQ-i, and the Meyers-Briggs — that are commonly available to assess these gaps or needs. Finally, choosing a coach that both you and the individual are comfortable with is important. Similar to mentoring, coaching cannot be forced, and some chemistry is beneficial between a coach and the individual to achieve the best results.

Good luck and let the learning begin.

Gerry Salontai leads the Salontai Consulting Group (www.salontai.com), a management advisory company focused on helping companies achieve success in the areas of strategy, business management, and leadership. He can be reached at 858-756-5169 or gerry@salontai.com.
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