News & Views

“HR’s Role in Closing the Coaching Gap”

Howard M. Guttman

April 09, 2012

Few would argue with the proposition that today’s corporate world requires a much more sophisticated player than in the past. Those at every level must be adept at influencing without authority, depersonalizing issues, accepting feedback, and asking themselves: How do I show up to others—and does this have to change? E.Q. has become a core competency, which is why professional coaching support has become a hot item, at least for those in the rarefied ranks of senior management.

But what about fast-track, mid-tier players? If they are to step up to greater levels of responsibility, don’t they need coaching support as well? Most companies provide mid-tier players with heavy doses of training, which is an effective way to transfer many skills. But coaching is a process that “intrudes positively.” Good coaches collect data about you; hold up a mirror to give you an unvarnished picture of the “real” you; deal with the whole person; develop plans to make adjustments; and hold your feet to the fire when you falter.  This is difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish in a room full of workshop participants.

To close the coaching gap, HR professionals must think seriously about championing the development of self-coaching skills among mid-level executives and contributors, especially those with high potential. Why not give those employees who seek to take accountability for their own professional development and success—either by eliminating behavior that is hindering them or by adopting new, more productive habits—a low-cost opportunity to do so? Why not encourage them to self-coach? With HR’s involvement, the self-coaching process can become a way to both bulk up the bench strength of future leaders and fully engage and energize valued employees at all levels.

The seven-step process that I recommend to self-coachees closely follows the model I use in my executive coaching, with a few variations. Here are the steps:

  1. Determine Your Self-Coachability
  2. Select and Commit to an Intention
  3. Identify a Guide and Circle of Support
  4. Solicit Feedback
  5. Analyze and Respond to Feedback
  6. Develop and Act on a Game Plan
  7. Track Success and Recalibrate

HR can and should play a pivotal role in each step.  Even prior to Step One, HR can help identify candidates for self-coaching: After all, who is better positioned to identify future leaders who would benefit from self-coaching? You know where the talent lies; you know which young managers have the smarts, the drive, and the E.Q. to successfully self-coach. Remember: Self-coaching is not some last-ditch effort to “fix” dysfunctional employees on the verge of flaming out. The best candidates for self-coaching are those who have demonstrated the potential to shoulder greater responsibility and who possess a certain cluster of qualities: the ability to set aside their ego and depersonalize the process; the willingness to view feedback as a gift rather than a threat; and an inclination to self-explore and assume personal accountability.

Once candidates are identified, you can explain the process to them and help them determine whether or not they would like to try it. This can be done one-on-one or in a workshop format that includes individual follow-up.  In Step One, I have developed a menu of questions that people who are thinking about self-coaching can ask themselves to determine whether or not they are able, ready, and willing to permanently change their behavior. The full list can be found on my interactive Website, It includes such questions as:

  • Are you willing to acknowledge that there are areas within yourself that you need to change/improve?
  • Are you able to step back and take a depersonalized look at yourself and your situation?
  • Are you convinced that you have significantly more to gain than to lose by going for your Intention?
  • Are you willing to accept your support group’s honest feedback and not be defensive or resentful?

While the final answers to these questions have to come from the self-coachee, the preliminary soul-searching can take the form of a dialogue with an HR professional. Sharing your thoughts and observations may spark new self-insights in a colleague. Your follow-up questions may cause the individual to think more deeply before answering.

If with your guidance the individual decides to embark on the self-coaching journey, you can continue to facilitate the progress through each step. For example, because self-coaching is not a solo act, Step Three involves having the self-coachee select a Guide and Circle of Support to help him or her along the pathway to self-improvement. You are well positioned to help the self-coachee develop the selection criteria for these supporters and even explore alternatives.  Even with a Guide as his or her primary support, a self-coachee can derail or reach an impasse. As an impartial third party, you can ask the right questions to get the pair back on track and make sure they “stay in process.”

You also have the advantage of being able to see the big picture. Once a number of individuals begin self-coaching, you are in the best position to lead a mutual support group. Arrange for them to come together and share problems, tips, lessons learned; help them help one another.

What’s in it for HR? Simple: To be perceived as an internal coach gives HR greater breadth, thereby enhancing its brand equity. It enables HR to help individuals assume accountability for their development. And it is a way for HR professionals to help shape the future of their organization.