How does an HR professional switch off

from the ‘day job’ and become a great coach?

by Kate Shaw

So often I read articles in coaching and HR journals about ‘how do line managers become coaches’ and the difference between managing and coaching their employees. What I have not seen is an article supporting HR professionals in the same way. There appears to be an un-written expectation in business that because coaching is very often a by-product of the HR function and, as HR professionals ‘people’ are our business, we must therefore know how to manage the differences between being in HR mode and coaching mode.

I remember one such occasion myself. I was in a succession planning meeting, having a healthy discussion about one of our National Account managers and their next move. The outcome was that there was no suitable next role, the individual had reached their optimum level of performance in the organisation. Not an un-typical outcome I hear you say, however the very next day, there, in my schedule was a coaching session with that individual on their career plan. I found myself faced with a set of quite awkward questions … Where is my loyalty, individual or company? How much do I say about the succession planning meeting? What’s more important my HR self which will tell him he has reached his optimum level of performance in the organisation and we don’t see another career move up the ladder? Or, my Coach self where I step into the non-judgmental environment focusing my energies on helping him define his own career plan whether that is with the company or not?
Yikes, not an easy place to be … or is it? On the one hand the answer could be simple, you are employed by the company so that is where your loyalty is, stick with the HR self. However if you also value the code of Coaching, where the individual owns the outcome (not the company) you have a tough decision to make. In the above example I decided to stick with being my Coach self as that was the expectation of the individual (and me) for that session. After reflecting on the questions it raised and how uncomfortable I felt I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be able to manage the boundary between being a coach and an HR professional in order that I satisfy my need to be truthful with the individual. I wanted to find a way of being able to be both, to support the individual in their decision making process. I had a discussion with my coaching supervisor and found a simple way of dealing with this common, yet awkward set of circumstances.

I just ‘call it out’. At the beginning of the meeting I say very clearly to the individual that I wear two ‘hat’s’, one as an HR professional and the other as Coach. I explain that both have different approaches to the career discussion and what that means to them. That way I have been up-front and honest, I give them the choice of what they want to do, be it to explore one or both ‘hat’s’, and most importantly I have laid a critical stone in the foundation of the discussion, truth. During the discussion I also ‘flag’ when I am in HR mode so they know that I will switch into advice giving, moving away from the non-judgemental coaching. This is important for the individual to understand the difference between the two styles and for me to remain true to the ethics of coaching. The advantage of operating in both capacities for the individual is that they get a larger ‘window’ to view their career from, having more than one perspective and more information than they would have otherwise had. My only, and not to be underestimated, responsibility is to manage the boundaries of the two with the individual. Since using this methodology I have not had one individual decline the opportunity of exploring both ‘hat’s’ and they have all said the discussion has been more informative giving them a deeper level of understanding and helped them to make speedier decisions.

The key learning I had is that I can operate confidently in three capacities; HR professional, Coach and a combined role. There is no longer a need to switch off from the day job and move into coaching mode as I can now switch seamlessly between the two by using this simple technique.


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