Learning & Development

Is coaching the key to reviving our productivity?

By James Brook, Joint Founder and MD, Strengths Partnership Ltd
Learning & Development
Published: 17 July 2017

The UK’s productivity is languishing. Recent ONS figures[1] show that we are third from the bottom of the productivity league table of the G7, the world’s seven most advanced economies, only just beating Japan and Canada. The gap against the average for the top seven is also increasing and according to government figures, is the worse since modern records began in the early 1990s. This is undermining wage growth and our future prosperity as a country at a time we can ill afford it, we need to be a strong trading nation in order to attract new trade deals post Brexit. There are of course no shortage of ideas to improve productivity including easing austerity, attracting more investment from overseas, accelerating research and technological advancement and investment and updating our ageing infrastructure. While some of these ideas will undoubtedly help, there is one even more powerful solution within the control of organisations – investing in building coaching and learning cultures throughout the UK.

A coaching culture has the following characteristics:

  1. Top executives enabling and encouraging coaching and learning through investment (financially and in their day-to-day actions) in longer-term development, role modelling, participative leadership and challenging managers to pay attention to the style and techniques they use to achieve results as well as the outcomes they are expected to deliver.
  2. Managers helping people develop a positive mindset about learning and continuous growth and develop not just people’s skills, but also their ability to solve problems for themselves.
  3. Managers at all levels helping people to discover and optimise the full power of their strengths, skills and experience by creating an environment where people feel they are valued, developed and positively challenged to improve.
  4. Feedback of all types (top-down, bottom-up and sideways) is actively encouraged and taken on board without fear of recriminations.
  5. Powerful social learning techniques such as peer coaching groups and mentors are actively encouraged and widely promoted throughout the organisation.
  6. People are encouraged to experiment by inputting their ideas and using their strengths in novel ways to learn how to create more value for the company. Employees need encouragement and space to experiment and try new ways of using their talents. Learning involves trial and error, as well as occasional mistakes so the culture should be tolerant of mistakes and provide employees with coaching and support on how to recognise when things are going wrong.
  7. Individual and team progress is encouraged and recognised, not just when quarterly financial goals are met, but also when productive behaviours and attitudes are spotted.

Our own experience and decades of research on coaching suggests a number of significant shifts in attitudes, behaviours and outcomes when organisations create such as culture including:

  • Enhanced ability to attract and retain best in class talent
  • Improved learning speed and agility
  • Greater levels of resilience to deal with and grow through pressure and setbacks
  • More empowered workforce, leading to higher levels of engagement and motivation to go ‘above and beyond’
  • Improved sense of purpose and connectedness with the organisation
  • Stronger pipeline of internal talent to fill leadership positions in future
  • Improved value of the company (as measured by financial analysts and markets)
  • Better productivity and results!

With such a strong track record of delivering exceptional returns for companies that intentionally build a coaching culture, isn’t it time we invested a lot more in this approach across all sectors in the UK instead of looking at people as assets to be sweated over the short term to maximise profits? Although not a panacea for the UK’s current productivity malaise, coaching will go a long way towards unlocking the diverse talent, energy and ideas our great nation has to offer.

[1] International comparisons of UK productivity (ICP), final estimates: 2015, Office for National Statistics, April 2017