Coaching on strengths: we have a lot of catching up to do
Do you have schoolgoing children? Have you ever attended a parent-teacher conference? If so, which teachers did you meet? Teachers of the subjects your child does well in ? I could recommend a visit like that. More than often, that teacher is very surprised; not just because he was wondering why such a meeting was necessary but because it provides him with a very pleasant perspective for looking at the development of his student.
For the sake of convenience, we often assume that when we’re talking about coaching we need to concentrate on that which can be improved. It is because of experiences like the one I describe in the first paragraph, that my interest in coaching people on their strengths started to grow. Perhaps today this theme has lost its place on the agenda, but on the eve of financial crisis – and the inspiration of the labour force shortage– it became a theme placed ever higher on the agenda’s of the companies BCT had contact with. The insight that there are perhaps some elements out of balance in the way we work with people’s potential is getting stronger.
Investing in Talent Management and long term investments in High Potentials are asking to be evaluated on their return on investment. Questions like are being raised like “How effective and efficient is this investment? Have we properly mapped out any barriers there might in the road of development? Are we sufficiently aware of our employees strengths? Do we properly develop those strengths? Are we too rigidly grasping on to existing company structures?” Thorough research (from, amongst others, The Gallup Organisation) shows that working more on talent and strengths is successful both in terms of motivation and retention as well as customer satisfaction. This research coupled with the questions asked, taught us that the added value of coaching on strengths is that the biggest growth margin cannot be found in “points that need improved.”
First strengths need to recognize and discussed. Several instruments already exist to identify preferences (MBTI®, TMS®, …), provide 360° feedback, allow succession planning, organise Hipo-programs as well as questionnaires like Strengthfinder®; all available on the internet. These instruments allow your employees the chance of identifying /recognizing their strengths as well as providing them with the space to explore the results free from any anxiety. The mapping of strengths is a two-way street: on the one side coaches need to share whatever input they might have, while on the other, coachees need to learn to ask for input. Developing strengths and using them is a living process. Listening is half of the communication story. What’s striking is that we describe people who are good in explaining things as being very communicative but have you ever heard this said about someone who is good listener? I certainly haven’t!
Solely concentrating on employees’ strengths would be naïve but there is a lot of catching up to do. We need to find a balance between coaching on ‘development points’ (which should lead to acquirement of the competences necessary for a function) as well as on strengths. Aiming for this balance is something employees experience as very pleasant when done in a believable way. A way of doing this for example is coupling development goals with strengths in an personal development plan (PDP) or monitoring the ratio talking /listening during coaching and evaluation talks.
Focussing on strengths will start to show itself more and more in the objectives of training sessions, individual coaching paths and team workshops.
1 Apr. 2009