"Carey-Ann is very results-focussed. She works with clients to help provide them with the tools to achieve their goals."

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Ron Sison, Financial Planner
Royal Bank of Canada

 

 


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Every Team Needs a Coach: Structured coaching and mentoring programs can help Canada's P&C industry leaders raise the next generation of the best and brightest.

CANADIAN UNDERWRITER.CA - NOVEMBER 1, 2011
BY CAREY-ANN OESTREICHER

Imagine what a professional sports team would be like if it did not have a coach.  There would be utter chaos. Now think about your own team at work. Who is the coach?

I work with leaders within the property and casualty insurance industry, and I can tell you there is a lot of pressure on people in top positions to do more with less. These individuals want to spend time mentoring and coaching their staff, but in reality they are so busy with their own jobs, they often do not have time to effectively coach staff too. As a result, I become an extension of these top leaders. Not only do I coach them, but I am called upon to act as a mentor and coach to their staff as well.

This is perfectly reasonable: anyone who knows the economic theory of comparative advantage understands that people will reap the greatest profits by spending time doing what is their area of expertise and outsourcing the rest.

But in terms of having adequate time to coach their employees appropriately, leaders within the insurance industry have been hit with a double whammy. Organizations are already very lean due to the economic downturn, and now the insurance industry is grappling with the financial effects of an extraordinary number of catastrophes around the world this year. The industry's senior leaders feel the need to be stronger, more efficient and better mentors. But the reality is that we can't be all things to all people. We know that stretching our resources too thin doesn't work in terms of our product offerings in business, so it is ridiculous to think that people can overextend themselves and still be effective in their jobs - or happy in their lives, for that matter!

If we don't have time to coach emerging leaders ourselves, then we need to ensure a program is in place to provide them with support. I am concerned for organizations that do not have effective coaching programs in place, either internally or through a third party. In September 2011, the Association for Professional Insurance Women, based in New York, released a study that it produced in partnership with the Insurance Networking News. The Women in Insurance Leadership Insight Report suggests progress has stalled in key areas for women in leadership. It says women require mentoring and coaching to acquire and sustain top positions within the insurance industry. "This data offers a new window on women's professional development in an industry primarily comprised of men in top positions," Pat Speer, chair of the Women in Leadership Forum, said of the report. "The groundbreaking perspective it delivers on the constraints women face in advancing will help organizations make informed choices about corporate led initiatives in the future."

There is a desperate need for mentorship and coaching in the Canadian industry as well. And I can tell you from the work I do within the industry, this issue is not exclusive to women. I have male clients who come to me because they are looking for an external person to be a sounding board regarding issues that come up on the job. They know what they tell me is confidential so there is no risk of them getting caught up in office politics. They just need someone to listen to them and help coach them through their own decision-making process.

Creating an Effective Coaching Program
• Coaching programs need to be supported at the top level. This means senior executives, including the CEO, should have a coach themselves.

• There is a benefit to having both internal and external coaches at your organization. An internal person is accessible quickly and is very familiar with specific company issues. An external coach can give the client perspective that comes from dealing with a variety of different individuals from different organizations.

• Choosing a qualified coach is key. Coaches training is not a regulated activity; anyone can say they are a coach regardless of their training and expertise. So look for a professional trained by either the Coaches Training Institute or The International Coaches Federation.

• Ensure the coach is working with you and/or your employees on a measurable action plan (a scorecard, for example).

• If the company pays for the coach (as opposed to the participants themselves), the participants are more likely to work with a coach long enough to see tangible improvements.

• Give your staff enough time and a dedicated space to have a coaching conversation. If employees have a coaching session scheduled but are told by their boss to cancel it to attend another meeting, the coaching will lose its credibility and not be effective.

• Ensure your employees have a conversation with the coach in advance of the coaching relationship to ensure a good fit.

• A coach with executive experience will help to embed a coaching culture, since he or she provides credibility for the coaching profession within the corporate world.

• Allow the coaching process to be confidential between the coach and the client. The boss should not be privy to the personal details of the sessions so as to not erode trust within the coaching relationship. His or her concern is about the performance outcome of the employee(s). That being said, it can enhance the coaching culture within the organization for the coach to have a conversation with the boss at the onset of the sessions. The coach can then receive and discuss employee scorecards, which can help to map out areas of employee strength and weakness. This will ensure the coach keeps corporate objectives in mind throughout the coaching process.

• Coaching based on an assessment tool helps to build a credible and effective 'coaching action plan.'  This is what I use in all of my corporate/executive coaching. It sets the foundation, along with the individual's corporate scorecard, for our coaching action plan and therefore the coaching sessions.