By Ryan Panzer
In the previous three blog post in this series, we explored the importance of coaching to organizational effectiveness. We sat down for a conversation with Madison-area coach Brandi Davis, and explored the basics of executive (manager) coaching. In this fourth and final post of the series, we will take a quick look at an integrated model of coaching - which, though time intensive to implement, has been shown to be the most impactful coaching model to an organization’s productivity and bottom line.
We might define integrated coaching as the capacity for individuals within an organization to have a meaningful feedback-driven conversation in the moment. Integrated coaching conversations address real behaviors as they happen, providing the opportunity for instant improvement or continuous high performance.
Integrated, or job-embedded coaching, is perhaps the inverse of that which is traditionally offered to managers or executives. Instead of 1:1, formal sessions that are somewhat contractual and often part of an official development plan, integrated coaching is entirely informal. Though it still occurs on a 1:1 basis, integrated coaching is rarely scheduled, seldom official, and never contractual. Because of its innate flexibility, integrated coaching has the capability of benefiting every single employee within an organization - not just the people leaders deemed worthy to receive the investment from a human resources department. A 2014 CEB (now Gartner) study identified that integrated coaching drives a 12.2% uplift in the performance of customer-facing teams. The same study suggested a neutral to slightly net-negative impact from formal coaching initiatives, likely a consequence of significant time away from customer-facing responsibilities.
Perhaps the most appealing part of integrated coaching is in how easy it is to staff up a team of coaches. Rather than outsourcing to a pricey coaching firm, you can draw on the fleet of coaching talent already in the door of your organization: your front-line managers. Integrated coaching gives front-line managers the training and the reinforcement they need to have a feedback conversation in the moment!
What do these managers need to be trained to do in order to have an integrated coaching conversation? It comes down to the skill of asking the right questions. In his book The Coaching Habit (an instant classic on organizational coaching), Wall Street Journal bestselling author Michael Stanier suggests that there are seven questions that effective practitioners of coaching can ask their employees. By repeatedly asking these questions, coaching becomes a habit - and therefore ingrained into the culture of an organization. From Stanier’s perspective, effective coaches can call to order an integrated conversation with the simple question “What’s on your mind?” From there, coaches seek to uncover the needs and wants of the individual - and how they as people leaders can be supportive. Coaching at the integrated level then lacks the connection to long term individual development, to SMART goals, or to performance improvement plans. But these punctiliar engagements are flexible enough to accommodate all workplace challenges, frustrations, and needs - to provide support when and where it is needed the most.
So how do you get started with the integrated coaching model? Front-line managers need two things to establish integrated coaching. First, they need training. They need to be upskilled to ask coaching questions that help their teams to uncover insights and feedback on their performance. A secondary training need, by the way, might be to “tame” what Stanier refers to as the “advice monster.” Coaching, remember, is about asking the questions that lead to insight - and not about giving advice or directives.
But training alone is not enough to implement integrated coaching. Managers need to be re-trained, incentivized, and re-incentivized to ask coaching questions within the course of the workday. Whether this is done through manager meetups, standup meetings, or regular motivational huddles, your integrated coaching program will flop without some commitment to reinforcement and continual coaching skill development!
The training and motivational needs of integrated coaching are highly variable depending on one’s organization. For this reason, many practitioners of integrated coaching hire an outside partner to provide an integrated coaching framework, and to provide L&D staff with "train the trainer" support. A partner can also consult on the ideal blend of coaching within your department. Integrated coaching does not need to be a substitute for formal, goal-directed coaching engagements. In their 2014 study, CEB, now Gartner, recommends striking a balance between the two, where approximately 75% of coaching time is spent in an integrated setting; 25% in a formal coaching session.
So while integrated coaching is not the panacea to all organizational challenges, it may just be the key to driving performance improvement at the most important levels of your company.
Ryan Panzer is a trainer and instructional designer at Zendesk's Madison office where he is currently working to launch a coaching program. Prior to working for Zendesk Ryan trained sales and customer support teams at Google's Ann Arbor office. Ryan is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently working on ATD's CPLP certification. He is passionate about Badger football and building cultures of learning.
Disclaimer: ATD-MAC is proud to have a blog that features local ATD-MAC members as authors and contributors. We’d like you to know that the views and opinions expressed in this article or by any author/contributor in publications outside of this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ATD or ATD-MAC.