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Coach Leaders Prioritise People Development

Where are the Coach Leaders?

“We live in a world in which change is the only constant.”

The importance and impact of statements of this ilk diminish the more they are repeated. Eventually, they fail to command our attention; we hear the words, but they no longer direct our thoughts to the ramifications of what sits behind the words.

The other world of work maxim is: “Our people are at the heart of everything we do”. However, for the majority of organisations, it’s only 5% of their people who appear on the development radar. What does that mean for the remaining 95% of any business? It’s akin to any government recommending that only 5% of pupils need bother attending school – the other 95% can fend for themselves and feed off the educated few.

The fall out from these oft cited quotes, is that few organisations are making the connection between the changing needs of their business and the impact of change on their people.

How then do we equip our people to deliver today and be resourced to deliver tomorrow? How do we get to the 95% to help them face the future with confidence? If people don’t feel properly equipped and supported they’ll be unable to perform to their capacity. It is rare for people lacking in confidence within their current role to feel sufficiently emboldened to deal with unexpected live events or to accept greater responsibility than is currently expected of them.

People Development – the HR community are on a hiding to nothing. They are being asked to provide people development solutions to underpin the future success of the business whilst being instructed to do so with limited funds. They’re operating in an environment in which investment in people is seen as discretionary spend rather than critical investment. As a central function they are also being tasked with tracking employee engagement and being held accountable for the resulting outcomes.

In our obsession to put a value on our every action, we’ve devalued the importance of people development. If you could measure return on investment, we’d be talking with certainty rather than gut feel. We intuitively know that if we develop people they will likely fulfil their potential and contribute to an even greater level than at present, but by ignoring their needs they will leave the organisation or become disengaged.

The fundamental purpose of L&D is to create a skilled and confident workforce by giving people the tools to perform to their best within their role and to develop their potential to fulfill future roles. We won’t know the exact nature of these future roles but we can assume they will require a growing level of commercial and leadership acumen. In developing people to be at capacity we are in effect making businesses stronger and more resilient to future scenarios.

Whilst HR typically manages L&D budgets centrally, ownership for people development should sit within the leadership population. It’s the leader who creates the working environment in which their people operate and who observes them at work, facing the expected and unexpected challenges. It’s the leader who is closest and most able to identify the development needs of people to perform well within a role and to reconcile their appetite and ambition for future roles. I’m not proposing the exclusion of HR from being actively engaged in people development. They have a huge role to play in reconciling company objectives with people capacity and capability and in identifying how best and with whom to partner to address any shortfalls and to meet emerging requirements. However, I am saying that line management need to become accountable for the development and engagement of their people.

At board level businesses are adept at devising strategies to improve trading fortunes and will detail two or three priorities that will convert confident thought into positive action. Such priorities are highly quantified and defended when scrutinised. There’s always a bit about people, but it’s usually left to the end once the main business has been concluded. Yes, we need to ensure that those with greatest development potential are given every opportunity to develop, but what about everyone else. Are they less important or simply in less need of development? Usually they are the very people responsible for making the business tick like clockwork. The ambassadors who ensure that the customer experience promotes continued loyalty.

How do we really acknowledge the efforts of our people and recognise the individual capability that each person possesses? As leaders we devote more time to understanding performance through output measures than we do to understanding those at the source of performance. We’re looking at the wrong end of the pipeline because we’re more comfortable dealing with analysis and conjecture than with people and emotion.

Whatever the development options available we must ensure that any investment adds value to our people, our organizational capacity and our long-term performance. The clever bit is trying to squeeze as much value out of a finite budget as possible. It’s easy to compromise quality for the sake of targeting large swathes of people, just as it’s easy to invest heavily on a few to the exclusion of many.

Technology offers the platform upon which a more affordable and accessible learning and development programme can be delivered. Not only does it maintain quality it can also improve the learning experience. Online learning ensures quality content is accessible 24/7 thus allowing learners to fit their learning around their own professional and personal timetables, whilst Skype, or similar mediums, enables people to be connected and in contact with their coaches and tutors without the need to travel or be away from the day job. It also supports a more modular learning journey in which learning takes place over time rather than at a point in time and where new learners and new recruits can be added seamlessly.

We’ve found it easier to connect with multi-site businesses or where people work peripatetically and to re-enforce organisational goals and standards consistently. It helps to create a common language that becomes familiar to everyone in the business.

The democratisation of learning is about giving people the opportunity to develop themselves. However, the environment in which ambition is fostered is down to the quality of local leadership; without their active sponsorship only the favoured or demanding few will get on to the development radar.

In the fullness of time I expect the term leader to be augmented with the word Coach to become Coach Leader, someone who recognises the importance of their role in developing the capability and potential of others. This won’t simply be about identifying development needs and then sub-contracting in external providers, it will also necessitate being able to coach new skills and behavioural development where appropriate. By building a coaching capacity within your leadership population you’ll be able to meet your organisations development needs by better utilising existing investment.

In this engaged environment people will feel more valued and more encouraged to give of their best and be even more receptive and supportive to the evolving demands of your business. In a world where change is the only constant and where people are the heart of your business, this dynamic capability is not just desirable…it’s essential to your organisations very survival.

This article was written for Adiona Magazine, a digital publication for senior HR professionals.  It appeared in the April/May 2017 Edition.

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