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Andrew Ng HR director for Sanofi Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei

Are you having the right coaching conversation?

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As the business landscape shifts, coaching has to be more of a partnership than the directive approach it currently is. Andrew Ng, HR director for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei at Sanofi, explains his views.

With the constant changing and competitive business environment in Asia as a result of globalisation, coaching has been a buzzword in many organisations.

There has been an increasing need for coaching in the workplace, particularly in multinational companies. Meanwhile, many training institutions have started to provide training or certification programmes on executive coaching, business coaching or performance coaching.

Coaching is maturing into a profession, with more professionals with various disciplines going into full-time coaching. Additionally, some organisations have invested in training their line managers to be equipped with coaching skills, while others have given line managers performance objectives to measure their coaching efforts.

In the corporate world, coaching is now commonly bundled with leadership development programmes and introduced as a key element in leadership transitions.

However, many business leaders are yet to possess a clear understanding on what coaching is exactly, and often relate it to mentoring or giving advice.

The International Coach Federation defines coaching as “a partnership which encourages thought-provoking and creative interactions between coach and coachee; a process which will inspire the coachee towards his or her maximum potential”.

In the coaching process, it is crucial for the coach to set the expectations right from the beginning by sharing with the potential coachee on the differences between coaching, mentoring, counselling, teaching and consultancy. This will allow the coachee to understand that coaching is very much forward-looking and goal-oriented by leveraging on their strength without solutions being provided by the coach.

In this context, the coach will focus on what the coachee wants to achieve – or often we call it the “coachee’s agenda”.

The coach will engage the coachee in a meaningful conversation by active listening, creating awareness, asking thought-provoking questions, providing encouragement and subsequent follow-up with the coachee on the progress made.

Personally, I’ve always shared with my coachees that coaching is a self-developmental journey for them because it requires them to learn and unlearn, acquire new knowledge or competencies, make a mindset shift as well as do things differently. In the coaching journey, the coachee will be able to set clearer goals and take ownership in achieving them.

In the market, a certified and professional coach may work with their coachees on any topics, for example, career, business, performance, finance, life or even relationships. Before any coaching can take place, one of the fundamental prerequisites of effective coaching sessions is the coach’s ability to build rapport and create trust – having a “heart to heart” conversation rather than a “head to head” conversation.

In the workplace environment, promoting a coaching culture often comes with many challenges.

Many a time, people managers are not able to see the benefits of coaching or how coaching can benefit them and the employees at work. They have the tendency to “tell” and give solutions to their direct reports rather than “coach”.

They use the same ways of work which were effective in the past and teach the same to their team with the belief it will get the desired results.

To some people managers, they have the perception that coaching is time consuming. Hence, they use their hierarchical power to provide answers when being approached by their direct reports with a work issue.

Eventually, this does not allow the employee to have full buy-in of the decision and take accountability of their actions. However, the real consequence is this directive approach will limit the potential of the employees and they may end up being dependent on their line managers for decisions.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we need to apply the coaching techniques in all work situations.

Adopting active listening by understanding the context of what the employee means is definitely an essential ingredient for a meaningful conversation. Leveraging from my coaching experience and practising the powerful questioning techniques in some work discussions helps to strengthen the engagement of people in my interaction with them.

Combining both active listening with asking powerful questions, while facilitating brainstorming workshops, will enable the participants to gain better insights into the topic, find resources, as well as options and opportunities to move forward in a way which will allow them to take ownership of the final decision.

I believe in the future, coaching in organisations will increase in importance as new generations enter the workforce.

A directive and telling approach will not be effective in managing them; instead, taking the coaching approach will empower them, while leveraging on their creativity and strengths will make employees feel valuable and appreciated.

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