Using coaching to change employee behaviour

by 07 Aug 2007

Coaching for behavioural change in your staff is a minefield that should be entered with due care and attention, writes Stephanie Sparrow

How coaching is and should be used are matters of constant debate. Are buyers of coaching using the intervention to achieve individual or company goals? The jury is still out. But the 2007 CIPD Learning and Development Survey found that coaching activities are closely linked to business goals in 44 per cent of responding organisations, though typically not fully integrated into wider learning and development strategies.

Generally, there is still a sense that coaching is used to help individuals, rather than teams, reach their personal goals, with the expectation that this enhanced behaviour will, in turn, benefit the business. So how does an organisation know what kind of behaviour is the most suitable for its business?

“Typically, it’s not that easy to find the right combination of person and job,” says Robert Myatt, director of business psychology firm Kaisen Consulting, which works with senior leaders to produce psychological profiles.

“We look at their risk areas and what derails them, plus the strengths that can also be weaknesses, such as self-confidence, which can lead to arrogance,” says Myatt.

Kaisen offers three levels of analysis before the coaching stage: profiling via interviews and psychometric tests; looking at self-limiting beliefs; and skills practice through role-play or feedback from a colleague. This stage can also involve a coach watching the person work.

“Kaisen’s feedback then goes to a coach who will show the client what good looks like. You have to do this to help someone develop,” says Myatt.

Myatt would like to see organisations take psychological profiling and its follow-up more seriously. “Peoples’ careers are a very big deal,” he says. “They have to be managed carefully otherwise you get situations like over-promotion, where the senior person leads an exhausting existence in an exposed situation because the organisation was not honest.”

Working to bring about desired behaviours in senior people can have a liberating effect on the rest of the organisation, says Marielena Sabatier, founding partner of coaching consultancy Inspiring Potential.

But, as she points out, it is important for the coach to come to the relationship in an unbiased and objective manner. After all, they are working to change behaviours agreed by organisations and individuals that have been discussed at the initial contracting stage.

“The coach has to discuss the individual’s and the organisation’s desired outcomes,” she says. “Because if the individual doesn’t want to change or cannot see the benefits of changing then they can’t change.”

Limits of change

Sabatier believes it is important to understand how much change is possible. The coaching should not be about imposing a new personality on to the coachee, but is about getting rid of beliefs that are not appropriate for them. “It’s about starting to clear what is in their head,” she says.

The techniques the coach might use also have to be agreed up-front. For example, powerful questioning – defined by Sabatier as about awareness and identifying internal beliefs – is unlikely to cause ethical dilemmas but use, and even mention, of the more controversial tool of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), with its origins in psychotherapy, could cause the coachee to clam up.

“The coachee and client company have to be on board for NLP,” she says. “But it can be useful for particular issues that are a bit sticky.”

Sabatier says the main aim for the coach looking at behavioural issues “is to open up a way of thinking so that the coaches can ask themselves similar questions and develop more tools to deal with other people.”

Positive effects

At Atkins, a major engineering consultancy, director of HR development Brian Fitzgerald deploys coaching as a positive route to enhancing behaviour.

“I see executive coaching as a valuable part of our portfolio,” he says. “It is not suitable for every training and development need, but we position it as making good people even better.”

Fitzgerald is clear that objectivity and a good fit between coach and coachee are necessary to accelerate behavioural change. This change in turn will have been identified by 360-degree feedback.

“Sometimes you have successful people, for example, whose 360-degree feedback says that they don’t influence people sufficiently,” he says.

Fitzgerald says it is first useful to assess what he calls the coachee’s behavioural traits and image and point out other characteristics and behaviours that they may be able to adopt. He recommends using an empathetic approach when doing this.

Broad range of skills

He expects the coach to show the coachee how to deploy a broader range of influencing skills by encouraging them to own the problem. Ownership leads to change as the coach can then motivate the subject to deal with the agreed issues.

Of course, for this process to be successful there has to be a good fit between coach and coachee. Fitzgerald has a portfolio of coaches and knows their particular areas of expertise. “We source an appropriate fit, then we have a personality chemistry test,”says Fitzgerald. “The potential coach and coachee meet to talk and then come back to say if it would work for them.”

Overall, his approach and expectations are that a coach will show the coachee a range of tactics for change, not change the coachee’s personality.

“It is important to let the coach see the feedback report first,” says 360-degree feedback expert Harvey Bennett.

Bennett, who is managing director of development software distributor 360 Is Us, says the coach needs to pick out the threads and themes from the data.

“But a caveat is that the data belongs to the individual. The individual needs to own the outcomes and the role of the coach is to challenge – it’s not about imposing your view of the data on the subject,”he says.

Bennett says these methods work best when the 360-degree feedback is also included with Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and FIRO-B assessment tools. FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation-Behaviour) was developed by the US Navy in the Second World War to assess attitudes to: inclusion (loner or team player); control (in charge or follower); and affection (how close does the subject want to be to others).

“The three tools together give a complete picture of personality traits and habitual ways of behaviour,”he says.

Bennett’s other caveat is that the combination of coach and 360-degree feedback should be run more than once.

“The 360, on its own, has limited value,” he says. “The benefit of running it regularly is it gives the subject ongoing feedback on how they are using their self-awareness. Including guidance from the coach the second time around will give support and encouragement to show they have moved from weakness to strength or give a reality check.”

Bennett says the worst thing an organisation can do is to ignore the role of the coach in facilitating behaviour change and dealing with 360-degree feedback.

He recalls working with a team of lawyers who were so shocked by the feedback about their senior partners that they ‘buried’ the results.

“Organisations must realise that focusing on behaviours can have a domino effect. Giving leaders a fresh set of tactics or helping them to become more self-aware and understanding means that they can effect great change and move the organisation forward –because other peoples’ responses to them change,” he says.

Not just for senior management

Behaviour change programs are often seen as the preserve of senior managers but it needn't be so, says Tracy Meachin-Adams, managing director of Dynamic Solutions Europe.

She ran a behaviour change program at a commuter train company for all levels of staff, including cleaners, frontline employees and managers. This involved using actors and facilitators in a mock railway station to demonstrate desired behaviours. This was backed up by separate individual sessions for managers and supervisors so that they could demonstrate and reinforce behaviour in the workplace, but she says the principles are the same as for any coaching course.

"You have to look for emotional engagement, and remember that the coach is there to guide and provide options," she says.

Courtesy of Training magazine. www.personneltoday.com