Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

How coaching could help your firm

How coaching could help your firm


Businesses are starting to recognise the value of coaching for organisational development and the growth of the individual, both personally and as a resource for the company, writes David Cliff

Coaching is perhaps one of the most overused words in the world today. It has taken the place of counselling, which some 30 years ago meant everything from a helpful chat to foster understanding through to outright coercion. Counselling has gained a professional reputation, ethical frameworks, and a research base that supports its efficacy, when delivered appropriately.

Coaching is unlikely to have such a long gestation period as its value to businesses, in terms of organisational development, employee engagement, and the personal and professional growth of the individual, is well documented. It is no accident that more than 80 per cent
of Fortune 500 companies recognise its benefits and have some form of coaching regime
in place.

In legal practice, relatively little coaching in its truest sense appears to actually occur. It is very different to supervision, which is typically confined to ensuring that cases are managed properly and that professional standards are met. Coaching
is far more focused on the development of the person
as an individual resource that
will ultimately benefit the organisation, a perspective which is often a bridge too far on the developmental landscape for many a legal practice.

External coaching

Most companies do not opt for the benefit of an external coach. Internal arrangements ensure that the company's basic needs are addressed, and contain the cost base of the activity within the organisation. However, internal coaches often have to strike a balance between their coaching duties and other roles and activities that must be addressed, and therefore, for many organisations, it simply does not happen.

Conversely, external coaching provides the opportunity for individuals to develop themselves personally and professionally in ways that
are primarily person centred,
but cognisant of the multi-faceted nature of coaching arrangements, which ultimately must show a return for the organisation for it to be worth the investment from the beginning.Whether coaching is internally or externally delivered, coaches need to take some professional responsibility for the delivery
of their service. They need to conform to a code of ethics,
and coaches need to have undertaken some personal development to ensure that they can fulfil this role effectively, with an understanding of relevant change theories, respect for professional boundaries,
and the ability to ensure that personal and organisational agendas are respected and harmonised wherever possible.
In order to maintain this delicate balance, coaches themselves need supervisors.

That tends to be the problem with bringing coaching into modern business practice. It is not a word but a complete discipline, which, if it is to be effective, requires time and investment. Where it is effective, staff engagement, retention, skills, and business growth
are often key benefits, but it requires considerable insight on the part of busy practitioners, who must accept that this is not just about stepping away from the business of fee earning,
but a 'must-do' in dynamic organisations. Coaching is subject to a number of different perceptions, from being central to performance and growth through to being some avoidable distraction with obscure practices and disciplines.Despite these varied perceptions, coaching is coming of age in many organisations, and the opportunity for legal practitioners to both receive and, in some cases, give coaching is one that stands unaddressed in many firms. As a starting point, the simple benefit of the person at the head of the organisation receiving external coaching support would be a significant step forward.

Coaching falls into the genre of 'softer' skills, which some organisations see as dispensable. Those who have effectively integrated coaching practices within their organisations, irrespective of the sector, have reaped the benefits, while others still categorise the practice as an unaffordable luxury.

David Cliff is managing director of Gedanken @David_Cliff