What is 'Career Coaching' & Should I Try It?

Employees are increasingly looking for learning and development opportunities at work – discover how career coaching engages many and builds community.

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When it comes to employee benefits, learning and development is increasingly reported as a perk that employees are looking for. And the research makes sense – as the workforce becomes more nimble, honing skills in a variety of areas keeps employees interested, engaged, and able to apply a broadened toolkit to their everyday work. In a recent Gallup poll, 87% of millennials reported development as an important factor in their career satisfaction. In recent years, the concept of “career coaching” has become more sought after, and thanks to our own Senior HR Business Partner Jeni Corso, we were able to pilot a program internally for our team at Zenefits. In this post, Jeni shares her experience in kicking off ZeneCoaches, tips she has for getting your own program started, and ways to approach the coaching world if you’re completely new to the field (like me). Enjoy! 

The value of career coaching in the workplace is growing for leaders, managers and individual contributors. How have you seen the perception of coaching change and how did discover your own passion for it? 

Having worked in Human Resources over the years, I’ve seen the landscape of coaching evolve quite a bit. My exposure to coaching early on was as an additive program that was once reserved for executives or leaders that needed extra support in a development area. In recent years however, I’ve seen coaching become more accessible within organizations–which is a great thing. Moreover, much of the language around the talent, leadership and management space has shifted to talk about ‘being a coach’ as a way of operating if you are a people manager. This was another shift that definitely piqued my interest.
On a personal level, I discovered my passion for coaching through my sheer interest in learning about others. I’ve always been curious about people, enjoyed learning what makes them tick, and understanding the information they use to make decisions. This natural curiosity has served me well in pursuing coaching as that element of discovery plays a big role in the growth process.

How did the idea of creating ZeneCoaches come forth, and how did you prove its potential value for the team? 

It was certainly a culmination of things. I had worked at another company that had a successful internal coaching program. As I was researching bringing executive coaches into Zenefits, a number of people I spoke with recommended Peer Coaching as an effective way to create a coaching culture. Prior to that, we had sent out various surveys that revealed a resounding interest from employees for greater development opportunities at work. This was a consistent theme across many departments and employees at all experience levels. It started to become clear that creating an internal program would be the best way to engage more employees and demonstrate Zenefits’ commitment to investing in development and creating a coaching culture.  
The benefits of a company coaching program are multiple, but the most salient that come to mind are:

  • Better communication skills; employees that participate hone their skills in various forms of dialog like giving and receiving feedback.
  • Confidence in following your personal goals; if you are not on the right path, coaching helps you find the direction that you’d like to pursue.
  • Being coach-like as a manager is preferred; you guide employees to an outcome that they own, rather than trying to solve the problem for them.
  • Creating a more connected group of employees; the Coaches now have a communal connection and this gets expanded each time they coach someone internally.  

For someone who’s never participated in a formal coaching program before, why do you recommend that they do? What are two of the top benefits you’ve seen come to fruition?

If you’ve never participated in a formal coaching program, there’s no time like the present! It is truly worth the investment. I personally have gotten so much more done in the 3-4 months I’ve been working with my own coach that I only wish I took the plunge sooner.    
The top two benefits from my perspective related to the Zene-Coaching program have been:
1) Building a community of coaches:  The value of building relationships and connectivity with your colleagues outside of the day to day does powerful things. Our coaches now have a relationship with one another that is deeply rooted in trust, vulnerability, support and admiration for each other – something you hope for in an organization but is hard to achieve through day-to-day work interactions alone.  
2) Transforming communication: When you learn to be a coach, you learn an entirely new language. It’s a new way to communicate where you learn to listen, observe and help others without an agenda. It’s truly fascinating and empowering.

Is it difficult to set up a coaching program? What about expenses?

It can be very simple. My advice in getting a program off the ground for your company is broken down into the following steps:

  1. Use data to build a case for investment.  An annual engagement survey, attrition data, number of first time managers – this is where I’d start looking. Assuming there is data to support the investment, get clear on the goals for the program.
  2. Start with people managers. This will be your best point of leverage to impact more people across the organization.  On average, a people manager has direct oversight of 3-5 employees and if you can make them more effective, their employees will directly benefit.  
  3. Hire an external Coach to train the group. He/She will bring a level of credibility, expertise and experience to a program like this.  Enroll as many people as possible to get the best bang for your buck. A program like this is better with a larger group – we started with 20.
  4. Practice is key for building confidence in your coaching skills. Design the program to extend over time so that people learn new skills and have time to practice in between.  Our program was 10 weeks long with a combination of in-person workshops and video workshops with our Coach Trainer.   
  5. Normalize the program by sharing real success stories. We used our TV monitors to promote the bios of Coaches participating and later shared stories from ‘Coachees’ about the impact the program is having. As people saw their colleagues share their experiences, it made coaching more ‘normal.’  
  6. Let the matching of Coach & Coachees be organic. Employees interested were encouraged to reach out to anyone they felt would be a match. This worked well but the next time around, I’d provide more opportunities for employees to get to know the available coaches.    
  7. Gather feedback: Mid-way through the program and at the end, I recommend gathering feedback.  This allows you to make adjustments if needed and confirm if the program met its goals.  

How do you measure the progress of coaches and coachees?

As I shared above, I conducted a few simple surveys of the coaches and coachees.  The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. However, I felt as though surveys weren’t painting the entire picture of the coaching and coachee experience. So, I then asked participants to share stories about the direct impact they feel coaching has made on them. We incorporated this feedback into a series of posts called the Zene-Coaching Chronicles.
The anecdotal feedback from both the coach and coachee delivered exactly what we were hoping for. Participants shared that as a result of this program, they felt more confident, connected, and had a clearer understanding of what they want from their professional careers. By participating in the Zene-Coaching program to begin with, they took the initial steps to pursue what they want – and that can often be the most challenging step.

I’m not a coach, but I’d love to know how to offer my colleagues/friends/family better guidance when they’re grappling with a problem. Do you have any advice?

Try asking open-ended questions that start with ‘What.’ This allows the other person to expand their thinking and their understanding of what is happening. For example:   

  • “What about that is important to you?”
  • “What would you like to see happen?”  
  • “What if it did happen….what if it didn’t?”
  • “What are you willing to do differently?”
  • “What do you know… what don’t you know?”

Can you tell us a story of a personal benefit you’ve realized from being coached and becoming a coach?

This may sound overly simplified but I find having space to talk to someone about a topic I’m struggling with helps me to arrive at my own conclusion or action plan. A more tangible example was working with my coach to create the Zene-Coach program. On several occasions, I used my time with her to clarify why I wanted to do it and what success looked like.  
As a coach, I’m often reminded of how powerful it is to take an active interest in someone else.  My mom always said ‘everyone’s favorite subject is themselves.’  As a society, we don’t spend enough time listening to one another without judgment or trying to drive our own agenda – when you start getting curious for the sake of being curious, it is incredible what gets unlocked for the other person. Watching that happen is powerful.  

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