5 Steps to Launching a Scalable Career Coaching Program
Organizations of all sizes and stages are recognizing the value of career coaching for developing their people. It often starts with one person experiencing a transformative coaching experience and passionately wanting to disseminate it across the entire organization. However, many HR leaders soon discover that most career coaching programs are not designed to serve a large group of people effectively. In addition, individual coaching initiatives can be expensive, time-consuming., and inconsistent. Given the barriers to delivering career coaching to scale, the passionate coaching supporter often gives up. Program failure is not proof that large-scale career coaching is not valuable, it’s proof that the program wasn’t designed to succeed.
The most successful of these programs are well planned, executed based on data, and are designed around a high-tech and high-touch model that includes a learning portal and individualized career coaching sessions.
If you’re hoping to elevate the level of your learning and development programs, here are five tips to make sure your program is successful:
Tip #1: Define the business objective of a career coaching program
While this first step may sound elementary, too often the planning stage of these types of programs are missed amidst the excitement of offering something new to employees or the pressure to get initiatives underway. Defining the business goals of a career coaching program will help you determine the who, what, when, and where of individual coaching opportunities.
Embarking on an organization-wide career coaching program without a plan and business goals attached to it represents a missed opportunity for HR leaders to show the effectiveness of learning and development initiatives from a bottom line perspective. Since the coaching sessions will be paid for by the organization, it makes sense to apply KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to the program. Demonstrating that career coaching not only establishes a positive workplace culture where employees feel engaged and valued, but also solves overall business objectives ensures that the HR professionals leading those programs are regarded as strategic business partners who contribute to business growth and success.
Allowing a career coaching program to take place within the organization without established business goals will set the program, and its initiator up for failure. Coaching sessions with purpose can take many different paths. Without specific business goals for these sessions, individuals may decide to focus on areas that do not result in the types of changes the organization is seeking.
Career coaching can help organizations solve a variety of problem. If you haven’t created goals for career coaching before, here are three common outcomes to get you started:
- Providing greater career potential internally for employees and managers
- Teaching managers to be mentors and to have developmental conversations with employees
- Unleashing greater employee potential to increase engagement, improve productivity, and bolster retention
Tip #2: Establish your impactful hot-spots
When deciding where to begin offering career coaching, identify the groups, divisions, and roles in your organization that are the most impactful and find those individuals who are most likely to help you achieve your business goals. Once you’ve defined who they are, offer them coaching first.
While career coaching has value for every member of your organization, the cost and time commitment involved will most likely limit access to the program. Instead of leaving it up to individuals who are interested to volunteer, make the selection of career coaching participants a part of your strategic plan. A well-executed coaching program, involving certified career coaches can be a high-impact process. Prioritizing participants doesn’t mean necessarily limiting the program to high-performers. There may be other valuable employees in highly impactful roles who are seeking a clear career path and opportunities for growth. Know who these people are in your organization and be sure any learning and development opportunities that are available are offered to them, first.
Losing key employees who have been at the company for a length of time can leave critical holes in the organizational chart as well as loss of institutional knowledge. Offering meaningful learning and development (L&D) programs is a positive step toward retaining those individuals.
Getting started with groups and teams with high visibility will help sustain your L&D program and allow you to demonstrate your business case for the initiative with early wins. For example, if your engineers are working on a new product launch—one that has tremendous attention and investment—coaching will help the team operate more efficiently. The effectiveness of your program can be clearly demonstrated when the team delivers a product on time or ahead of schedule that is more precisely aligned to market needs.
Tip #3: Integrate career coaching with other learning, especially online learning.
Career coaching can take many forms. The most efficient way to use a career coach is to integrate the coaching program with an existing Learning Management System (LMS) or to purchase the program as a bundled offering. Increase the effectiveness and efficiencies of coaching by giving the coaches access to the LMS. Certified career coaches will know how to elevate the coaching experience for the employees by directing the learning activities to the LMS system while providing the feedback and individual direction not possible through a portal-only solution.
Giving employees the ability to complete specific learning modules on their own time and then discuss those learnings and apply them to practical situations compresses the time individuals must remain in the coaching model and ensures they are getting feedback and direction on specific learning objectives. In addition, having pre-determined learning paths enables the career coaches to focus their sessions on meeting larger company goals.
Tip #4 Use data and insights to inform program trajectories
Use data from coaching to drive your learning and development plan. When multiple people in an organization are coached around the same general topics, trends easily emerge that can help drive other learning plans. For instance, are you finding that your IT people are most commonly coached around communication skills? Is the product team often coached around their balance of drive and empathy?
Of course, you won’t be able to obtain specific data on each individual’s career coaching discussions or progress. However, having access to the aggregate data about which topics people are choosing to focus on both in the LMS and in their coaching sessions will give you insights into organizational or team trends. Instead of continuing to offer individual coaching services to cover the same content for larger groups of people, consider other mass learning vehicles to deliver the training. If many people in the organization or on the same team are looking for training and coaching on a particular topic, consider delivering the learning and development as a webinar or group seminar.
Using data and insights from initial and ongoing coaching programs to inform the entire career coaching program will elevate your coaching initiatives and drive engagement. Identifying topics that can be generalized to the larger population will ensure that the coaches are focused on larger organizational needs and can move beyond simply covering the basics for every employee.
Tip #5 Prepare the culture to devote time to coaching
Career coaching programs often fall apart when the individual being coached is pulled into the black hole of their workload—emerging only for meals and coffee breaks. For coaching to work in an organization, leaders must embrace the investment of time.
As part of your planning process, include a manager training session to help leaders understand what they can expect from their employees during this time. It’s critical that managers and supervisors observe employees who are taking part in the training and comment when they see positive improvements in work quality or when they notice new behaviors emerge.
Ideally, senior leadership will also be participating in career coaching and will be able communicate to others in the organization the importance of taking the time to participate in learning and development programs and the value in integrating career coaching into their daily work routines.
Once candidates from within the organization are identified for the career coaching model, meet with each of them individually to make sure they have buy-in to the process. Much like any kind of counseling or coaching, if the individual isn’t ready to receive the advice being offered, the time spent will not result in growth or change. Ask individual candidates to reflect on their own career paths and set goals prior to meeting with the certified career coach. In the best-case scenario, your LMS will have career path options to lead employees to determine their individual career growth paths.
Workforce engagement, productivity, candidate attraction, employee retention, and business success are all challenges for which HR leaders today are seeking solutions. Shifting attitudes toward workers as assets and not simply transactional commodities, have brought a plethora of learning and development solutions to the foreground. However, the challenges still remain. Online learning is not enough and career coaching models that can’t be scaled don’t serve organizational needs or meet goals. Careful planning, leadership buy-in, and a hybrid approach that combines online learning and a robust career coaching model may be the best step forward for organizations looking to solve a few of the many talent challenges facing them today.