Karine Mangion-Thornley is an executive coach and Senior Lecturer at Regent’s University in London, where she lectures in International Business, Global Management and Organisational Behaviour. She recently completed her PhD in the role that coaching plays in talent management. In this interview she shares her insights from the research she undertook.
Thank you Susanne. Completing a PhD can be a real challenge, but it can also be a very rewarding experience!
My study focuses on how coaching is used as part of talent management programmes within a global bank. Nowadays, coaching is widely used in large organisations as part of talent management and leadership development programmes. A recent study from the International Coaching Federation (2020) revealed that the global coaching industry is valued around $3 billion, which shows the extent of the corporate investment into coaching. My study analysed the views of talented employees from junior to executive levels, HR managers, internal and external coaches involved in talent management programmes. The findings revealed that coaching is experienced as a pivotal career event, yet it is a complex practice which is difficult to implement, especially when delivered internally by senior business leaders.
In which ways did your findings confirm your theory and in which ways were you surprised?
In my study, I drew on the social exchange theory and the psychological contract to explain how people develop long term reciprocal relationships (social exchange theory) and how coaching affects the set of un-written mutual expectations between the talented employee and the organisation (psychological contract).
One of the most surprising findings is that coaching symbolises the talent status: it confirms to employees that they are identified as ‘talent’, typically defined as a combination of high-potential and high-performance attributes. As such, talent coaching contributes to strengthen the psychological contract between talented employees and the organisation. For example, talented employees would expect a clear career path and a fast-track advancement. Yet, they recognise that coaching does not guarantee career progression due to other factors such as economic downturn, strategic change and internal politics. Nevertheless, talent coaching is seen as critical for personal development, internal visibility and networking. Also, it represents a unique opportunity to establish strong ties with senior leaders, especially for less experienced talents.
Based on your research, what are the biggest opportunities and benefits of talent coaching?
Coaching used in the context of talent management can be pivotal for organisations gearing towards leadership change and the development of a coaching culture. By embedding coaching in talent management programmes, individuals and organisations may benefit from the positive ripple effects of coaching, such as motivating employees to adopt a coaching leadership style with their teams and direct reports. Further, from an organisational perspective, talent coaching may be deployed to develop the breadth of management skills of its future leaders and build a coaching culture.
How can these benefits best be measured?
This is a great question, which is still being debated by practitioners and academics. Existing studies on corporate coaching have attempted to evaluate its benefits in terms of return on investment (ROI). However, quantitative approaches of evaluation often focus on short-term performance, which does not account for the long-term effect and value of coaching at individual, organisational and societal levels. We need to evaluate coaching in organisations in a holistic way to capture its many knock-on effects on the quality of relationships and collaboration, which in turn may support organisational growth. Some alternative approaches to evaluate the impact of coaching may include aspects such as employee engagement, wellbeing and corporate culture.
What are some of the pitfalls that managers need to be aware of when investing in talent coaching?
My study participants’ opinions converge on one critical point: “Coaching is not a panacea”. Not everybody wants or needs coaching. Also, ethical concerns may emerge when talent coaching is delivered by internal coaches or HR managers. For instance, individuals being coached may develop career goals which do not align with the organisation, which leaves the internal coach wondering how do I handle this information? Also, when a junior talent is coached by a senior business leader, this can put the junior talent in a awkward situation asking themselves: ’how honest can I be without jeopardising my future career?’. Power and influence are critical dimensions at play in talent coaching. If overlooked, negative outcomes may emerge from talent coaching relationships. So, to avoid the pitfalls of ethical concerns, adequate coaching training and supervision are essential, particularly for internal coaches.
Which other tips do you have for managers who want talent coaching to generate results for themselves and their teams?
In addition to the need for coaching training and supervision mentioned earlier, coaching readiness is an important factor for successful talent coaching. This involves approaching coaching with an open mindset, curiosity and willingness to discuss difficult leadership situations in a safe learning environment with a coach. Trust is paramount in the talent coaching relationship. Finally, it seems that talented employees would benefit from considering coaching not only as a one-to-one short-term intervention as part of a talent programme, but more as an opportunity to establish long-term relationships with senior leaders, increase their visibility and learn the ropes of career progression from their coach.