Edition 42, Human Resources

Coaching: Tomorrow

By: Francisco J. Fernández

A crisis raises striking and often contradictory scenarios. Fast food chains rack up increasing profits while long-standing prestigious restaurants are forced to close. Low-cost carriers run solidly in the black while traditional airlines struggle to re-invent themselves and barely skirt the red. But the inappropriately named luxury sector has seen double-digit growth in recent years, in segments as diverse as cars, retailing and real estate.

What place does coaching play in this? Or rather, where does the market place it? Is it a product of mass consumption, or is it an elite but widespread luxury? Is it a strong brand? Is there some permanent place it can aim for, or will it end up being a “cork” service that bobs along wherever the current takes it?

A lot has been said about coaching, both good and bad. My approach to the topic began with hearing comments in personnel or human resources departments. I decided that the best way to learn about it was to talk in greater depth with experts in the field, and before I knew it, I was a certified coach. Since then, besides working in that capacity with people in the business world, I’ve continue to read and speak with coaching professionals, and I think there are questions that can be addressed from both sides of the counter.

The way I see it, there are three things that raise concerns about this discipline, some of them justifiable and some from hearsay: a diffuse, ill-defined methodology that tends toward superficiality; purely short-term results; and finally, the possible hazards of working with emotional aspects.

Let’s begin with the methodology. Objectively, coaching has two facets. First, the process is defined in clear phases, and even has a procedure that may be surprising to some once the details are known. The steps run from introducing oneself to the coachee and how and what to explain about what comes next, to the process of follow-up and closing. Because we’re talking about people and not, for example, nuts and bolts, I don’t think the coaching methodology is any more diffuse than a strategic plan, which is applied once we have conducted the evaluation and other necessary processes to thoroughly understand a company’s philosophy and identity. Yes, there are intangibles, which tells us that coaching is also something of a craft, and they give it value.

Moving on to the second concern, regarding the timing of the method. For obvious reasons, short-term results are the easiest to quantify. In coaching, these results come when the objectives of the coachee and the mirror of the coach are in tune. Normally, coaching includes six to eight conversations of about 90 minutes with mature, trained people, all of them with their own manias, phobias, philias, prejudices and other obstacles. Coaching can modify a behavior, but if we expect someone to change much after these encounters and the work done, we’ve made the mistake of harboring excessive expectations. When the process is deeper (and more prolonged), we can generate a personal transformation. Good coaches have been there. It becomes obvious during the training, and is then transmitted in the relationship and work with a coachee.

The third concern is the psychological impact of working with other people’s emotions. This is something that can happen. People become honest with you, tell you intimate things. They do it because they believe the coach can help them get what they want. That’s why this can happen, because two people are talking, one of them confident that they will receive all or at least enough of the information, and the other confident there is a different way to focus on what is obstructing the other. The same thing happens between a boss and a subordinate, or between two friends. There are no magical recipes or instructions; there is just reflection, and the possibility of seeing things in a new light. And there are always irresponsible people.

Coaching should be associated with a professional development plan, and serve as one more tool for closing the gap between the finish line in a competition, and the real situation. It doesn’t work in every situation or for everyone. There has to be a frame of action. If the sessions are built on thin air, the results will be carried away on the wind.

To attain goals in the professional world, one has to have a thorough technical knowledge of the coaching process. But to be an executive coach requires even more. Sufficiency comes from an affinity with the coachee in his or her environment. It is very important to speak the same language as the other person, because that why you understand each other better.

To conclude, the coaching business needs a standardization and alignment of service through certifications that guarantee a certain minimum. There are already international certification organizations, like the ICF, ICC, IAC and ECI. It is essential that we avoid intruders and separate the wheat from the chaff to position coaching as a serious, professional and well-controlled activity.

In Roland Emmerich’s film “The Day After Tomorrow,” climatologist Jack Hall predicts a sudden worldwide climate change due to global warming. The planet’s momentum was irreversible, and the movie shows us striking images of the scale of the catastrophe. It would not be wise to allow this sort of momentum to take over our profession. It would be much better if it were like what we saw during the transmission of the Annual Awards of the Cinematographic Arts and Science Academy of Spain—The Goya Awards—during which at least two actors thanked their teams, their families and their coaches.

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