The Emergence of the Workplace Coach

Emma Weber

A recent issue of Training Industry magazine looked at Coaching and Culture in organisations. Having experienced first hand the power of workplace coaching and with a TLA coaching based learning transfer solution as my life’s work, I was particularly drawn to one of the articles – “The Rise of the Workplace Coach”.

Kicked off with a quote from Peter Cheese of the CIPD; “In this changing world of work, learning as a capacity has to evolve and it has to be accessible, agile and flexible”, the article considers how even the most tech-forward learners need support with their learning.

The post-learning support often tends to fall to the manager. Training Industry agree that often they are not necessarily the most appropriate person to help the learner apply their new skills or knowledge.

Training Industry suggests that organisations should be entering an era of the “workplace coach” and details the multiple benefits that this can bring for learners and organisations. They believe this will help talent retention, cost effectiveness, and provide just in time support.

Interestingly in our recent Learning Transfer Research: Insights for Impact report, we discovered a very similar theme.

For a start we found that only 22% of managers are facilitating conversations both before and after the learning intervention, so is there any wonder that learning is not sticking back in the workplace? It’s a disappointing but not surprising finding. Many in L&D are used to getting push back from line managers saying that it’s “not their job” to focus on learning outcomes and this should be the job of the L&D department.

With a lack of manager support, it would seem Training Industry are correct and we should be moving towards a culture where workplace coaches are the norm.

  • Our research saw 25% of contributors respond that their “leaders practise and demonstrate coaching at every level”.
  • Of these 25%, 39% suggested that their organisation’s investment in learning was EXTREMELY beneficial, compared to only 16% of those from organisations where coaching is not practised and demonstrated at every level.
  • So twice as many learning leaders are finding their organisation’s investment in learning is far superior when leaders practice and demonstrate coaching at every level.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of these individuals at organisations where coaching is demonstrated also assessed that their organisation’s efforts to support learners in sustaining their after-training behaviour change was highly effective, compared to only 5% from individuals at organisations where coaching is not employed.

What does this research tell us? Although we found that there are various levels of coaching in organisations currently, on the whole this modality is highly underutilised, yet as Training Industry Magazine is suggesting, it is clear coaching will be essential in creating personalised and successful learning transfer support within organisations.

I’d like to see organisations considering how we can make coaching available to all levels of managers and leaders in an organisation and to really think about what the role is of a workplace coach? How are their activities being measured? What supervision do they have?

With annual performance conversations shifting to ongoing performance conversations, workplace coaching is also likely to support on the job learning on a weekly and monthly basis.

We encourage L&D professionals to choose their approach to solving the transfer dilemma in the context of the maturity of their leadership capabilities. With coaching as a core leadership capability perhaps we can now simplify this question to help you assess your organisation’s readiness for learning transfer by considering ‘What is the level of the managers coaching ability?’

We would be happy to talk to you about how your workplace coaches can support the transfer of learning. Or if you are starting from scratch, partner with us to develop a fit for purpose internal coaching resource able to support your organisations learning needs.

Check out the full Learning Transfer Research: Insights for Impact report HERE

Emma Weber

Emma Weber is a recognized authority on the transfer of learning. As CEO of Lever – Transfer of Learning, she has helped companies such as Telstra, Oracle and BMW deliver and measure tangible business results from learning. Emma has also been a guest speaker at learning effectiveness conferences worldwide and authored the hugely successful book Turning Learning into Action. Much more detail around the issues and solutions examined in this article are available in the book – please feel free to download a free chapter.