Magazine article Workforce

Need Peak HR Performance? Consider a Coach

Magazine article Workforce

Need Peak HR Performance? Consider a Coach

Article excerpt

Looking for that secret competitive advantage that could launch your HR career into orbit? Would you believe that the answer might be to hire your own coach? Business may not be a contact sport, but if you want to be a superb human resources manager, you might benefit from the edge that having a professional career or life coach can give you. Staying current often requires staying ahead of the game. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky, explaining his success on the ice, once said, "I don't skate to where the puck is, I skate to where the puck will be." The point is, if you don't have a sense of where your career needs to be, you probably won't get there by accident. Coaching could very well help you figure out your next move and how to reach your destination.

Call it trendy but hiring a coach seems to be taking off as a career booster far executives-and it reportedly delivers results. IBM and Ernst & Young, for example, have developed what are reputed to be the very first in-house corporate coaching programs in the United States, and have begun to report positive outcomes in revenue, market share, productivity recruitment, and retention. IBM, AT&T, Bear Stearns, Citicorp, Motorola, Salomon Smith Barney, and Sears all are using internal coaches or external coaching services, according to a recent Fortune article.

Individuals and corporations are now hiring business and personal coaches at an unprecedented pace to be their combination mentors, taskmasters, motivational speakers, management consultants and sounding boards, according to, a virtual coach-- training firm based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. US. News & World Report named coaching the runner-up as the hottest consulting field in the United States in 1997, just behind management consulting. Coaching is getting a lot of press. And with a good reason. It seems to work.

Coaching benefits

"A coach supports someone in bringing out a person's best. It's akin to being the coach of an Olympic athlete," says Sandy Vilas, CEO of `All Olympic athletes have coaches because they know they're not likely to excel without a coach supporting them in the process.

Even so, what can a coach help you achieve that you couldn't accomplish on your own? Try a nearly 66 percent better performance than if you just took a course on HR management alone. An article in Public Personnel Management (Winter `97, vol. 26, issue 4, published by the International Personnel Management Association based in Brighton, Australia) described a study in which training alone was compared to coaching combined with training. The study showed that training alone increased productivity by 22.4 percent, while training plus coaching increased productivity by 88 percent.

Coaching isn't a technical or "hard" skill, but in HR those aren't the only abilities you need. Increasingly, as HR pros serve as business partners and lend their peers a consultative ear, the "softer" skills of communication and interpersonal interaction have come to the forefront of HR excellence. If you're being coached today, you might find yourself able to coach others tomorrow.

"For HR, almost more than for any other function, building relationships is key," says Vilas. Because of what HR people do-building human capital-they need to be especially effective in their jobs. "They're typically viewed as models within an organization. So if their life is a mess, and if they're not as effective as they can possibly be in their jobs, they aren't going to be well-respected in the organization ," says Vilas.

"There came a point in my career where I wanted to accelerate to the next level and it was beyond [just getting more] technical knowledge, it was more of the competencies that make great leaders," says Elizabeth Norberg, area director of human resources for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, based in Denver, who hired a coach 18 months ago. "It may sound a little New Age, but I think the truly exceptional leaders of the world really understand themselves and the many different facets in which they perform at work, at home, and so forth. …

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