So I watched the mens final at wimbledon this week. It was great to see a fellow Scot (or Brit) reach the finals with the hope of a first male home victory in a long time. Sadly it wasn’t meant to be. The news reported of Andy Murray’s valiant attempt (ignoring Federer’s heroic 7th win, but that’s another story). It also reported about the new generation of players inspired to take up the game in search of becoming the next Andy Murray. They all have different reasons, some because they come from the same city as him, some from the same country and some purely because they think it’s amazing what he can do with a tennis ball. Now I know that there are very few who will reach the same heights as Andy Murray but there is a large portion of national funding going to support tennis for future generations and hopefully help find the next great talent. The investment in development of these youngsters, however fruitless, is, to me, inspiring. The particularly patriotic will always represent their country and be thankful for what they have received.
Where is this in business?
Beyond a graduate scheme, there doesn’t appear to be much in house intensive development available to employees and that includes management. Now I don’t know the inner workings of every company and this is a huge generalisation but beyond the junior tennis academy in business there don’t seem to be many coaches to assist along the way. Don’t get me wrong I know there is a lot to be learned on the job. A tennis player will refine and improve their serve over time by themselves if they are curious, looking at the mechanics of what happens but a good coach can offer drastic improvement in a short space of time. The same can be applied in business, over time someone can become more confident during a presentation. With a little support that can happen a lot quicker. My big issue here is that very few people I have worked with have the belief or curiosity that is needed to take on a new challenge. They don’t notice they are developing half the time.
Where are the coaches?
Coaches in business are big business. Some would call them the holy grail of development. But with everything that happens on the job, it always comes second, behind the job. Coaches are put in place in organisations without a thought to the resources needed. A lot of managers are expected to become consummate coaches over night and develop their team rather than drive them. A lucky manager may have a natural fit and fall into this role nicely but still may not have the time to actually coach. Some larger organisations pay a lot of money for executive coaches to work with the senior team. They come in, make a difference, and leave. At great expense. When you don’t have the time, skills or mindset, coaching is as much use as a coffee break. There is a debate on ROI for coaching and if it has any real value. This is something I’m not here to talk about.
I think coaching has it’s place amongst a broad spectrum of development tools. A lot of employers sponsor their staff to take external courses. During class I sit next to HR managers who are being paid by their employer to gain new knowledge and requirements for CIPD accreditation. If that was tennis, it would be a theory class on why the ball bounces the way it does and a critical evaluation of the effect of weather conditions on match day psychology. A nice to do. It takes a long time, it’s expensive and can’t always be applied to the every day. If a tennis player took a year out to study the theory, their ranking would quickly plummet.
Ok coaching and development might work, why bother?
For the same reason that national funding is given to tennis. To develop the future stars. There is a lot written about the war for talent and how we have a huge skills gap. Government aside, it is up to businesses to help bridge that gap. The training might even help a candidate fill a crucial role in your company or become a finalist at your industries “wimbledon”. I know there are many reasons why companies don’t budget highly for development of their staff. The main one is money. There is no guaranteed return on any development funding and those highly trained and competent staff may just join a new company in a better position after all you’ve given them. Sadly businesses can not hope to achieve the patriotic loyalty a nation is bestowed. The second reason is when staff are knowingly developing, they aren’t working. Another money drain. Ok so it mostly comes back to money and its short term loss.
How could it be different?
The list below is not a one-size-fits-all list of recommendations that can work for all organisations but some food for thought
Highlight to staff the massive development opportunities available in the everyday and the special occasions. Help them to understand the benefits given. Communication is free. Awareness is invaluable.
Bridge the gap between graduate training and external courses. Get creative with how staff are developed. In fact, bring staff together for a think tank of how best to develop them. They know the job role best and when is right to develop. Training courses are old.
Develop your developers. The burden of a coach/mentor/trainer can sometimes be a difficult one when they aren’t seeing results. Create a mentor or coach network to allow for cross development or assign a master coach to share their skills.
Inspirers aren’t always the best developers. Andy Murray may have inspired a new generation to pick up a tennis racquet but he might not turn out to be the best coach. Don’t confuse performance and knowledge with coaching ability.
Strategy isn’t only relevant to your senior managers. They may have the experience and the industry knowledge but don’t rely on them solely to bring about new initiatives. Offer developmental experiences alongside current roles to more junior employees to work with your senior managers. Diversity brings creativity and improves communication links through the management levels. A think tank can develop more than just a new idea.
Allocate staff time to reflect on their working week, their accomplishments, wins, challenges and how they overcame them. Everyone can be their own coach if they have time. Sure, half an hour on a friday afternoon may not be best used to learn but find a time to rejuvenate your staff.
Not an idea but a mindset. Be Brave about developing your staff. Parents want the best for their children even when they leave the nest. If we genuinely devote time to supporting and developing staff, there will always be a link there to call on, especially when talent is running low.
So when you’re thinking about training up the next Andy Murray, the more balls you have, the better.