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The HR Director as a Coach: 7 Steps for Coaching Excellence


A consequence of more organisations taking coaching in-house is that HR directors are increasingly finding themselves in the role of coach. But how can they best combine coaching with their substantive role as HRD?

Keith Nelson, Director of Coaching Programmes at the Møller Institute, recommends seven top tips to achieve work-coach balance.

1. Stop being the expert

One of the challenges you might face as a human resources leader when learning to coach is your expertise. It’s a necessity when interacting with leaders and managers in day-to-day business. You are guiding managers appropriately and following due processes to keep the organisation compliant and ensure best practice.
But in coaching, you don’t give advice or solve problems. Learning to coach might mean you work counter-intuitively. Your expertise might shift from adviser/problem solver to that of coach. Here the expertise lies in coaching that leaves the ownership with the client.

2. …and politely turn down invitations

Don’t be surprised if your manager-client asks your opinion in coaching. “What would you do?” “What do you think I should do?” Faced with such questions, it can be all too easy to slip into expert ‘HR’ mode. Be mindful of this.

3. Let go of your assumptions and biases

If you have been in the organisation for some time, you will know a lot of what goes on – both said and unsaid. Sometimes people can be ‘typecast’ with particular labels. But often, this is based upon general observations and third-party feedback.
Approach each client with an open mind and curiosity. Allow new paradigms to emerge. You may find yourself (pleasantly) surprised as you get to know people who you know only a little about.

4. Trust me, I’m a coach

Trustworthiness lies at the heart of the coaching relationship. The client needs to be able to trust you, the coach. Otherwise, coaching is never really effective. So it is important the client accepts you as a coach. What is discussed in coaching remains confidential. The client needs to feel safe discussing and exploring thoughts and feelings with you. In the coaching role, you need to achieve balance; working authentically with the needs of the individual client and those of the organisation.

5. Accept the complexity

If your coaching practice grows and you coach a number of people in the business, you will see further complexities at play. Two clients might talk about each other! And you might hear their very different perspectives or ‘realities’ about their relationship. Inevitably you start to ‘hold’ this information. Resist the urge to step in with a quick solution. It’s up to them to find their way forwards and take ownership for their relationships.

6. Keep yourself in school

Many people in senior HR positions have described to me how they have almost ‘falled into’ coaching as part of their role. They then go on to explain that they are embarking upon formal coach training to gain reassurance, confidence and competence that what they are doing as a ‘coach’ is appropriate. Developing the knowledge and skills then builds much stronger foundations for their coaching practice.

7. Get yourself a supervisor

Ongoing supervision is essential if you are going to coach regularly in the organisation. Navigating your way through the complexity described above is one example of an occasion when supervision might be helpful. Other challenges might be balancing the needs of the organisation with the needs of the individual. Supervision allows you to explore and analyse your coaching practice.

It is good to ensure you:

  • Coach appropriately
  • Continue to grow as a coach
  • Deal with those occasions when you might feel stuck or uncertain about what to do.

Holding your own work up to scrutiny is always a good idea.

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