Why Is Coaching Important in Today’s Workplace?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Coaching for Performance" by Sir John Whitmore. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is coaching important in today’s workplace? What are the benefits? What does it mean to coach for performance?

According to Sir John Whitmore, the reason why coaching is more important than ever in today’s workplace is that we’re more interconnected than ever before. Since leaders are no longer the gatekeepers of information, Whitmore argues that they must embrace a “we’re in it together” mindset.

Read on to learn why coaching is important in today’s workplace, according to Whitmore’s explanation.

Why Coaching Is More Important Than Ever

In Coaching for Performance, Sir John Whitmore provides strategies to maximize employees’ potential and performance. He further explains why coaching is important, especially in today’s workplace, arguing that in a work world changed by globalization and the ability to exchange information instantly, leaders must shift from a command-and-control mindset to one that recognizes workers’ value. Coaches can help leaders to reveal employees’ talents and step into this new reality.

Whitmore says that globalization and the ability to communicate information instantly have made the workplace more interconnected and interdependent than ever. As a result, the traditional command-and-control management model—in which company leaders hold all the information and workers are wholly dependent on them for directives—is now irrelevant because leaders are no longer gatekeepers to that information. 

(Shortform note: Experts agree that the command-and-control model, which emerged as World War II veterans entered business leadership roles, is dead. Research has since revealed that the approach damages worker morale and produces poor results, leading even the US military to largely abandon the model. Also, workers today are less likely to put up with it because they’re far less tied to a single company for the duration of their career than they were seventy years ago—so they’re less likely to stay in jobs where their voices aren’t valued.)

To compete in the new, dynamic work world, leaders must recognize why coaching is important and embrace a “we’re in it together” mindset that values employees and their learning, growth, and autonomy. When each team member performs at their best to achieve a common goal, the collective thrives. 

Experts call the work world that Whitmore describes VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous: 

Volatility refers to how fast an industry, market, or the world changes (the faster the change, the more volatile the world). For example, Blockbuster was the top video rental business for two decades but went bankrupt in 2010 when video-on-demand hit consumers’ homes.

Uncertainty relates to your ability to accurately forecast what’s going to happen (the more uncertain the world, the more difficult the forecast). For example, the COVID-19 pandemic came unexpectedly and dramatically altered the face of the tourism industry, shutting down attractions and resulting in mass layoffs

Complexity refers to the number of, variety of, and relationship between factors that you analyze (more factors, varieties, and interconnection mean greater complexity—making analysis more challenging). For example, if you expand a business in another country, you have a host of new challenges you may confront, like different regulations, tariffs, and export controls. 

Ambiguity is how obscure or difficult it is to interpret a situation (the more ambiguous, the harder to interpret.) For example, the rise of the internet and rapid development of technology forced businesses to learn how to exist in a digital world without a “how to” manual (since one didn’t exist). 

What Are the Benefits?

In his book Coaching for Performance, Whitmore explains not only why coaching in the workplace is important but specifically why coaching for performance has numerous benefits, including these four:

1. Coaching for performance is important for maximizing employee and company performance. The process taps workers’ and teams’ potential and fosters learning cultures that encourage risk-taking and innovation. 

(Shortform note: Experts say that to encourage innovation in remote work environments, leaders must foster a culture that welcomes vulnerability and emotional honesty to make workers comfortable sharing ideas.) 

2. Coaching for performance can improve job satisfaction, engagement, and retention. When coaches ask employees questions and show interest in them, workers feel valued. Workers who feel their voices matter are more satisfied, engaged, and likely to stay at their job 

(Shortform note: Experts say retention is critical in a post-pandemic, VUCA work world because losing employees costs more than just money. Less tangible factors associated with worker departures can slow a company’s momentum and compound problems. For example, when an employee leaves, you have two choices: 1) Make other team members work extra to fill the void, which can lead to resentment, or 2) focus on restaffing, which can strain your HR team. Either way, your team loses time and focus needed for their regular work.)

3. Coaching for performance is important as a tool for revealing information that helps companies succeed. When leaders meaningfully engage workers, including through coaching, employees are more inclined to share vital, on-the-ground information that can inform organizational decisions. This fosters a worker-centered culture that sees staff as integral to the company’s problem-solving processes.

(Shortform note: In The Fearless Leader, Amy Edmondson says that NASA could have prevented the Columbia shuttle explosion and the death of its crew members. Had it fostered a worker-centered culture and listened to the concerns of a lower-level engineer about the shuttle’s health instead of ignoring them, the explosion could have been avoided.)

4. Coaching for performance is important as a way to balance responsibility evenly across companies. Coaching strengthens employees’ capacities and confidence and encourages them to take ownership of their work. When workers function autonomously, leaders can focus on big-picture issues, not minutiae. 

(Shortform note: In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink And Leif Babin argue for Decentralized Command, a work delegation strategy based on the idea that leaders can only effectively manage six to ten people at a time. In this approach, teams are broken into small groups where senior leaders manage junior leaders, who directly manage teams of workers. Senior leaders lead the whole team to meet big-picture goals and empower junior leaders to make decisions that allow their teams to meet those goals. Trust, confidence, and balance are critical to senior and junior leaders’ relationships.)

Why Is Coaching Important in Today’s Workplace?

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Here's what you'll find in our full Coaching for Performance summary:

  • A guide on the ins and outs of performance coaching
  • Strategies to maximize employees’ potential and performance
  • How to measure organizational culture and the impact of your work

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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