Coaching: An Employee Retention Superpower

In a recent conversation with a large market news director, I was telling her how much I’d enjoyed my first coaching session with one of her anchors.

“She loved it,” the news director told me. “She came to me immediately after the session to tell me how excited she was and how eager she was to use what she’d learned on the weekend newscast.”

Then, just as I was feeling good about helping with the quality of the newscast, the news director continued in a way I hadn’t expected.

“She’s a rock star,” she said. “And I want to do everything I can to keep her. I’m not sure how much time having her meet with you bought me, but I’m certain it’s considerable.”

She went on to explain that, in her world, nothing was more relentless challenging than the work of finding and retaining good people. Coaching, she believed, was critical to her ability to succeed at that.

Researchers and human resources experts say she’s right, especially when it comes to younger employees. Consider this, from an article posted in February 2019 to cnbc’s make it digital site:

“…according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94 percent of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.

“This interest in learning and development is particularly strong among younger workers. LinkedIn’s research found that roughly a quarter of Millennials say learning is the number one thing that makes them happy at work, and over a quarter (27 percent) of Gen Z and Millennials say the number one reason they’d leave their job is because they do not have an opportunity to learn and grow.”

Post-pandemic, research continues to bear this out. The November 2021 digital edition of the Harvard Business Review features an article titled, “6 Strategies to Boost Retention Through the Great Resignation.” Strategy #2: Provide opportunities to grow.

A new Harvard Business Review article argues that it’s really about making your people – especially the ones you value the most – feel special. (The Real Secret to Retaining Talent: The subtle art of making people feel special, March/April 2022). 

Roger L. Martin, the author, is former dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. He says the key is taking on the practice of three “never dos.” All of them are inherent in the way that we structure and manage sessions with talent. If you’re a manager doing your own coaching (and you should be!), I’d recommend them to you, as well.

Never dismiss their ideas. 

When you’re coaching, there’s a lot more to this than respecting someone else’s input — as valuable as that is. 

When I was in graduate school, I had private tutorials with a master teacher who began every session by asking me, “What do you want to do today?” Sure, it was a way of letting me know that he was interested in what I had to bring to the conversation. But, even more important, it was also a way of making me accountable by signaling that he was not going to take responsibility for managing my growth and development. I was expected to come to the table with ideas of my own.

I realized later that he was also using my input to structure his own work with me. Understanding where I had an interest in working clued him to where I might be most open to challenge and change. Even if he believed that the most important work for me was in some other area, it was a place to start and to begin gaining my confidence and trust.

Never block their development. 

The best coaching addresses this inherently, because it is about envisioning and mapping what’s possible, as opposed to correcting something that’s wrong. In addition to asking clients what they want to do in our sessions with them, we work to understand what they want to do in a larger sense. What are their aspirations? What do they dream of doing or becoming? 

Can you make everyone’s dream come true? Of course not. But valuing and supporting it is an important sign of respect. When we believe an aspiration will be difficult to achieve, we never hesitate to be honest about the odds. But we never discount the dream itself. In fact, as coaches, we kind of see ourselves as being in the dream support business.

Never pass up the chance to praise them. 

The best coaching is always at least as much about what’s right as it is about what might be improved. In fact, if we can we start with what’s right. For one thing, starting with legitimate praise and encouragement signals clients that we are not just about tearing them down and fixing things. We can see and honor what’s working just as well as we can see what’s not. It helps them trust us when we do move to address challenges.

Even more important, it lays the right kind of foundation for supporting change and growth. There is now a ton of research showing that we’re each much more likely to make progress by building on our strengths than trying to correct our weaknesses. Improved performance is often a matter of doing more of what’s good than doing less of what’s not so good. 

Finally, to be honest, it’s just a whole lot of fun to talk to people about what they do well. And who wouldn’t want to hang around an organization – not to mention a coach or manager – who knows how to articulate and celebrate what makes them valuable?

When you think of it that way, it’s easy to see why coaching belongs on your employee retention To Do list. It’s smart. It’s fun. And it’s a whole helluva lot easier on the budget than losing and replacing people.

Barry Nash is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on television newscast performance and delivery. He’s been coaching television news talent for 40 years and is the designer/curator of TV HeadCoach™, the only app in the world designed exclusively to support the growth and development of TV news talent.

If you’re looking for a coach or looking for someone to help you do a better job of coaching yourself, he’d love to talk. 

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