Why coaching is an essential skill for HR professionals

Most people do not really understand what coaching is all about or what a coach is meant to do.
A skill for the pro-active HR practitioner

Coaching is reported to be one of the world’s fastest growing professions. Look up ‘coaches’ or ‘coaching’ on the Internet and you will find enough information to keep you busy for a very long time! Yet, most people do not really understand what coaching is all about or what a coach is meant to do.

I have done sports coaching; I have trained hundreds of people across a wide range of subjects and I have coached and mentored numerous young HR interns. Yet it was only when I booked myself on an on-line coaching course that I got to see a different side to coaching.

The professional coach is normally contracted for an agreed number of sessions. Goals for the coaching would be agreed up front with the coach’s main aim being to help the coachee think through and resolve his/her own issues. After the agreed number of sessions, the coaching ends with the coachee being in a better place to confidently go forward with his/her career and life.

In the process of coaching, the coach has to develop trust and rapport with the coachee so they feel free to discuss their career ambitions, difficulties at work and even personal problems. Mostly, coaching is about listening and asking the right questions. Instead of giving direct advice as a consultant would do, the coach’s role is to rather empower the coachee to solve his/her own problems.

Questions are used to get the coachee to consider, explore and evaluate options. A good coach probably talks for less than 20% of the time, with the coachee doing most of the talking. When listening, the coach is required to pay attention to not only what is being said, but also, more importantly, to what is not being said.

The coach has to be tuned in to the coachee’s body language, voice tones and emotions. The coach listens to understand and uses catalytic questions to get the coachee to consider and explore options, think through possible consequences to actions and make his/her own decisions. Common sense, learning to ask the right questions and listen to understand are critical. This brings me to the role of HR.

The role of the HR Manager in a business is a difficult one. People are wary of HR because the HR department has access to their personal information. HR has a role in determining employees’ salaries, they see their performance reviews, they know when employees have been disciplined and they usually have some input when promotions are considered. This unfortunately goes with the job.

All this means is that HR practitioners have to work harder to build trust relationships with their customers. One way they can do this is learning how to coach.

Human Resource Management covers a number of fields including manpower planning, recruitment and selection, performance management, training (learning) and development, talent management, ensuring legal compliance, remuneration and reward and industrial relations.

All these areas lend themselves to coaching, but I will take the issue of discipline as an example.

Most employers today recognise the need to train their management and supervisors in disciplinary handling. However, it often happens that in spite of training, supervisors (and managers) still ‘mess-up’ disciplinary cases.

Very often supervisors don’t do return-to-work interviews; don’t monitor absenteeism; don’t issue warnings where they are warranted; and sometimes turn a ‘blind eye to misconduct.

This is where the HR practitioner can play a critical role by providing the link between the training room and actual workplace practice. After people have been on training, the HR practitioner can make a point of following up to ensure that the learner applies what they learnt.

If approached by a manager on how best to handle a disciplinary matter, instead of advising the manager what to do, sit down and use questions to get the manager to think the matter through, always leaving the decision to the manager.

In case of serious misconduct, instead of telling a manager what to charge an employee with, (or worse still, drafting and issuing the charges to the employee – as some HR departments do), coach the manager. Use questions to get the manager to think through the case, consider disciplinary rules and standards and draft the charges himself!

Coach him/her in how to prepare for the hearing so that they know what to do next time there is a problem. Not only will you be empowering your managers, but you will enhance your own credibility in the process!

The Centre for Leadership offers Coaching Skills for HR Practitioners, a seven module on-line e-learning training programme specifically aimed at HR Practitioners, is accredited by the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP). To find out more, please get in touch with us.