Play of the Day
Fostering employee loyalty in a tight labor market, companies are
offering workers personal coaches as a tool to help them thrive.
September 25, 2000 Vol. 156 No. 13
By Francine Russo
Dan Carlson should have been a happy man. After 10 years as a department
manager at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., the 19-year veteran
was given a big promotion this spring, to division manager for color-film
sensitizing. But after a few months, Carlson felt frustrated. Instead
of spending time with the technical folks on the shop floor, which
he had always enjoyed, he found himself fidgeting through cost-review
and planning meetings. So he brought his dissatisfaction to his
coach, Jan Austin. She responded with a bold suggestion: Carlson
himself should choose where to spend his time. So Carlson assigned
subordinates to go to those boring meetings, freeing him to hold
two-hour workshops to inspire his people about the future of the
photographic-film industry. Thanks, Coach.
Eastman Kodak had contracted with Austin, director of corporate
coaching training at Corporate Coach U, a training institute, to
offer personal guidance to Carlson and other managers and to train
managers to coach their own people in turn. Kodak is far from alone.
Coaching management is a hot trend at a growing number of FORTUNE
500 companies, from IBM and Dow Chemical to Marriott International
and Glaxo Wellcome. It is a kinder, gentler variant of the sort
of bare-knuckle corporate training made notorious last month on
Survivor by corporate trainer--and winner--Richard Hatch. Eastman
Kodak's Charles Barrentine, who oversees Carlson and 4,000 other
employees, finds coaching "invaluable. It points out things
people would not notice themselves and plays a big role in shaping
The main reason
behind the trend is the booming economy, which makes good staff
hard to get and harder to keep. All the more reason, a growing number
of megacorporations think, to hire even more people to help good
managers over the bumps and hurdles of adaptation. Companies also
see it as a way to help valued employees evolve in a swiftly changing
business environment. "It's basic human nature," says
Tony Latham, divisional V.P. for executive sourcing and development
for Abbott Laboratories World Wide, who is starting up an in-house
coaching program. "It boils down to caring."
There is evidence
to support this belief, says David A. Thomas, Fitzhugh professor
of business administration at Harvard Business School. "Some
data show that the quality of the relationship between boss and
subordinate is a major predictor of intentions to remain. Coaching--which
can help managers talk with subordinates about their developmental
needs--absolutely affects that relationship positively. And there's
a big potential payoff."
niche was first carved out in 1992 with the founding of Coach U,
a university without walls that trains personal and professional
coaches by teleconference. The private company was created by Thomas
Leonard, an accountant and financial planner whose young clients
in the San Francisco Bay Area began leaning on him for personal
and lifestyle advice. Leonard developed a system of management tools
for helping people set priorities and solve problems. With Coach
U, he started training others who wanted to set up their own practice.
Now the business
has two additional branches, Corporate Coach U, founded in 1997,
which trains business coaches, and Corporate Coaches, which hires
them out to needy firms. Currently owned by CoachInc.Com CEO Sandy
Vilas, the company, based in Steamboat Springs, Colo., has 60 staff
members who work from home and 3,800 students and graduates in 36
countries. "Last year we took in $4 million," says Vilas.
"We're expecting revenues of $10 million in 2001."
Coach U is by
far the largest coach-training institute, but there are at least
12 others. They include the Academy for Coach Training in Bellevue,
Wash., and the Newfield Network in Silver Spring, Md.; both offer
in-person workshops as well as teleclasses. Coaching's rise is just
beginning, predicts Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, a research scientist
at M.I.T. who studies workplace change. "It's a vehicle for
the transfer of knowledge and skills. And in a knowledge-based economy,
it will be increasingly important."
39, who attended Corporate Coach U's first teleclass in 1998, is
a case study in the merits of online coaching. An overstressed IBM
product manager in Raleigh, N.C., Creswell sought training because
she wanted to leave IBM and set up an independent coaching practice.
While continuing her job, she coached a few outside clients on the
phone. "I realized," she says, "that I was talking
about things I needed to talk to folks at IBM about--stress on the
job, communications problems with people, whether they were doing
the wrong kind of work." She approached the head of her division
and asked to coach colleagues who might be interested in talking
about such issues as job-fit and departmental-communications problems.
She got permission to try a pilot project. "That pilot never
ended," says Creswell.
Within six months,
she was appointed full-time coach at her office, at her previous
salary. Six months later, IBM's corporate chieftains invited her
to the company's global headquarters in Armonk, N.Y. When her successful
division was spun off this year to become Home Director, there were
several full-time coaches at IBM, and the program was growing. "We've
done lots of research over the past three years," says Tanya
Clemons, V.P. of global executive and organizational development
at IBM, "and we've found that those leaders who have the best
coaching skills have better business results."
When these corporate
higher-ups describe their coaching sessions, they sound suspiciously--well,
shrinky. But coaching is not therapy, practitioners insist. Neither
is it mentoring, training or some other form of repackaged management
skills. Actually, it's a grab bag of techniques that combine bits
of all these with "nuggets of wisdom" from arenas as diverse
as football and 12-step programs. Sometimes what a coach does, says
Kathleen Phillips, an in-house coach at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young,
the former management-consulting arm of Ernst & Young, is help
a client see a problem--or a problem job--a different way. In that
way, say proponents, coaching helps shore up weak points in their
employees as well as build on their strengths.
use some of the 27 prepackaged Coach U assessment "programs"
that resemble school workbooks, with fill-ins and progress charts.
The CleanSweep program, for example, lists four categories: physical
environment, well-being, money, relationships--with 25 statements
in each, alongside little boxes to be checked if true. These range
from "My teeth and gums are healthy" to "My investments
do not keep me awake at night" and "I receive enough love
from people around me to feel good." You're not allowed to
check one as true until it is virtually always true, and the program,
which promises that it "can be completed in less than one year,"
asserts, "You have more natural energy when you are complete
with your environment, well-being, money and relationships."
Once you have swept clean, you can go on to the NeedLess Program,
which makes the incredible claim that you can learn how to have
all your needs permanently met. It takes you through the steps of
identifying 20 unmet needs, reducing them to the four most important
ones and then redirecting your behavior and that of those around
you to get them met.
methods they employ, many of those who go through the programs persuasively
describe positive results: practical solutions to problems, increased
job satisfaction, even advancement. Moreover, although there are
no direct data, says Harvard's Thomas, corporations believe that
coaching helps keep employees and that the dollar investment in
it is far less than the cost of replacing an employee. Still, in
encouraging folks to follow their feelings and develop their strengths,
corporations are taking a risk: that their most valued employees
may be coached right out the door. Companies accept this risk--because
they have to. "I expect job movement, job redefinition, attrition,"
says Creswell. "Those are the realities. It's the people who
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