When is Sponsorship Coercion?

Perhaps you’ve heard the words, directed at you or at someone else: “Jane we’d like to encourage you to get some coaching. We think it might be timely and very helpful.” What does this proposal or offer of support really mean? Is Jane a hi-potential whose upward trajectory management wants to accelerate, or is she struggling, floundering, or even faltering toward failure?

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We must always interpret the meaning of such propositions in context. Is coaching a positive thing in our organization, or has it been used just as much or more often to address performance issues? And how is the individual to discriminate management’s intent and motivations? Then too, there's the question of readiness of the person to make use of the offer at this time.

But those are not questions I will discuss at length or answer here. I simply want to call out the potential for confusion when coaching is offered on a case-by-case basis. If it’s a part of your organizations planned way of supporting start-up with a new hire or promotion, there’s clearly less risk of confusion – the intent is positive, at least constructive and systematic, it applies to all.

How to Resolve the Confusion

Remove case-by-case sponsorship as a general practice! That’s the solution I propose. By all means, sponsor the systematic and predictable uses of coaching to navigate transitions. In my opinion, we don’t do enough of that. But if you want people to have access to coaching on their own terms without the confusion of whether the offer (sponsorship) is a must-do, or a corrective intervention, there’s a better solution.

Provide a blanket benefit of time-limited coaching for all, or at least all employees at a certain level, e.g., professionals who use it like they would any other kind of learning and development benefit to advance their career. You may wish to provide guidance on approved providers, but beyond that, it’s up to the individual to request the service, initiate contact, and pursue the engagement.

You might allow people to pursue this coaching during business hours, or it could be an after-hours benefit. In either case, the employee is the client. The relationship between coach and client is confidential. The employee is free to link the developmental focus to their career and current work, but this is not something that they must report or involve their supervisor in unless they choose to.

Scalability of Such a Benefit (with quality)

It could be offered for as little as $1,500 per engagement. It could be provided by licensed psychologists with training and experience in work-relevant, assessment-based adaptive adult development. Quality assurance could be evaluated by client ratings of the service provider over time. In fact, this is a model that I've begun using over the past year.

After providing executive coaching services at the usual high fee structure for over 20 years, I and others like me, including psychologists trained by me, are doing our work at or near the clinical fee structure for this segment of the workforce – $175-200/hour. But that’s only part of what makes it scalable. The biggest part is the skillfulness of the provider – methods and tools are just that. Skilled practice is the key.

Of course, the skillful use of a virtual medium (videoconferencing) also helps reduce costs. But the bottom line for me and the psychologists that I refer clients to is that we take our professional oath and ethics seriously. Care for clients and attention to quality (client satisfaction, their felt sense of growth and development, and their gains in self-efficacy) are values that led us into this field of work.

If you want to learn more about how to provide this kind of high-quality, scalable benefit to your people to complement what you might be doing at a different price point for more senior leaders, please call (617.312.5305). I am happy to discuss what I have learned about how to make this work, and I can help you create your own provider network if it’s something you decide to experiment with.