As We Transition to Internal Coaching, What Obstacles Should We Expect?

February 1, 2011
Dear Out to Nurture:
It sounds like you are embarking on a pretty comprehensive talent management program. You haven't given much detail on how you will design the process, but there are some common patterns and pitfalls with any design.
Be aware that a program with this wide a reach requires a lot of work if you wish to produce something meaningful and keep it up-to-date. A good program should be multifaceted and detailed.
The best "career-pathing" tools help an employee understand:

1. What jobs are logical next steps?
2. The skills and competencies needed for those jobs.
3. How the employee measures up to each of them.
4. What he/she can do to build any skills/competencies they are missing (and in particular whether there are jobs, projects or teams that can serve as skill-building stepping stones)
Often, HR professionals who are trying to build these programs underdeliver in one or more of these four areas. It's important to ensure that your plan addresses all of these areas, because if it lacks substance, it will not be useful.
The most common mistake I see is in not paying enough attention to item No. 4. Many organizations merely provide employees with a list of books, training classes or websites as growth tools. The better way is to build a system that helps people find "on the job" roles and projects to round out their skills.
Employers also have difficulty designing item No. 3. Their programs do not offer employees any way to frankly and accurately assess their own skills. Employees have a pretty good idea of their capabilities in their current role, but many struggle to vet their skills for roles they have not held. You can avoid this problem by ensuring your employees connect with your company's HR professionals who can help them informally evaluate their skills or have access to skill assessment tools they can administer themselves.
As I mentioned above, if a system is not robust, then it isn't valuable to the workforce and therefore isn't used. To ensure that your program is meaningful for your population, it might make sense to involve a group of employees—either in design or for feedback—before you go live. This can help you tailor aspects of the plan to ensure that it meets user needs.
Another area that causes problems with programs of this type is oversight. In other words: Who is responsible for seeing that employees improve—and how will effectiveness of the program be measured?
It's no surprise that the programs that require managers to take an active part in shepherding their employees' careers are more successful. Some companies ensure manager commitment by evaluating managers on how many of their direct reports have development plans in place, have been promoted or have moved into a role that will improve their skill set.
Likewise, organizations that measure things like the increase in the number of internal promotions or turnover of employees being actively developed, compared with the general employee population, tend to correctly focus on impact rather than activity.
Finally, ask yourself how long this will take. Building a program with the specificity and breadth you mention can take three months to a year depending on the complexity of your design. Employee learning and growth on the other hand is constant and ongoing. Remember, growth paths for employees will mirror your company strategy. As the business needs change, so must your career path tools.
While employee development programs take time and attention if they are done right, the payoff far outweighs the work.
SOURCE: Ellen Raim, vice president of human resources, Cascade Microtech, Beaverton, Oregon
LEARN MORE: Please read an outline of eight steps to use in the coaching process.
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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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