Is Coaching the Holy Grail of Performance Management?

In today’s business world we now can compete with each other in a virtual market space where time and space get a whole different meaning. However, amongst all these changes, some things remain the same. Business is essentially still about making money or saving money and therefore about managing the performance of the organisation and perhaps more accurately managing the human capital performance.

When we think of human capital performance, coaching is one of the first things that come to mind. In the last decade, coaching has firmly taken its seat in the business world and has proven that it is here to stay. But what is “coaching for performance”? How do you do that? There is still a lot of confusion and misconception around it and people are wondering if coaching really is the Holy Grail of performance management.

Having explored performance management, it seems to be mainly a process driven system that is externally imposed on the employee i.e. outside-in. However, introducing coaching creates an inside-out approach, for the power of coaching lies very much in the fact that it works exactly the opposite way. With coaching the employees themselves are the centre and starting point for performance management and they are asked to evaluate themselves. This particularly works well when you have a high-trust culture, helpful systems that are tools not goals in themselves (Stephen Covey, The 8th Habit).

Looking at performance management, it is captured between two extremes; one end can be defined as “managing with the carrot” or using ‘soft’ development techniques and the other end of the scale as “managing with the stick” or using ‘hard’ measurement techniques. Each approach has its own positives and drawbacks. Organisations that have implemented a performance management system will fall somewhere between ‘development’ and ‘measurement’ (Hay Group, 2006)

Most companies are managing for performance through performance measurement (Hay Group, 2006). The traditional way to do that is through performance appraisals (a method by which the job performance of an employee is measured and evaluated), and that is where the performance management system starts to break down.

For many organizations and managers it might feel as a paradox, but it seems that to get your employees to become more self-evaluating, self-developing and ultimately self-managing, you need to loosen the grip and start getting used to being in command but out of control (Malcolm Gladwell, Blink).

We have seen that a balanced approach is needed in performance management, between measurement and development, left and right brain approach.

In coaching, great breakthroughs in reframing an employee’s perception and letting them move forward (i.e. develop) are made when balancing the left and right brain approach to things. The typical left brain dominant person will look at things in a narrow and deep way, while the right brain dominant person tends to take a wide and perhaps more shallow view. The combination of left and right (not necessarily both at the same time, as it can be very powerful to switch sides multiple times) will give the person a wide and deep view.

Therefore a person who is extremely left brained in their view of a certain situation will benefit hugely by shifting their perception through looking at things from a right brain perspective (and vice versa).

So there is only one last thing to do and that is to answer the question… is coaching the Holy Grail of performance management?

Based on my research, the answer is ‘No’, it is not. Although coaching has brought balance to performance management by shifting the focus towards performance development, we also need to be realistic and admit that the corporate world at this point in time is still dominated by the focus on either making money and/or saving money. Therefore businesses will ultimately remain aligned and organised to support that goal.

However, coaching has not just shifted the balance, it is very much shifting the balance towards performance development and focus on people. It might just be a matter of time before we reach the tipping point, that magical moment when the concept of coaching has reached a critical mass and tips the scales. How far we are removed from that moment is unsure, but perhaps later in hindsight we are able to say… ‘Yes’ coaching was indeed the Holy Grail, not just for performance management but for the entire corporate world.

 

Post by Vincent Bouw – Director & Principal Consultant at C2C

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