A body in motion stays in motion. So does a company. Continuous and meaningful innovation—products, processes, channels, services, customer experience—is the Holy Grail for companies that want to remain competitive. Innovation, however, can be easier said than done. Managers who know how to use coaching techniques to surface ideas, refine them and put them on the path to successful execution can be the difference between a profitable growth strategy and a going-out-of-business strategy.
The employee engagement problem…
Innovation can be a tough remit for any organization, because frankly, people may not care enough to bother. In their 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 59% of employees lacked interest, motivation or energy at work. They’re not enthusiastic about either their work or their workplace, so it stands to reason they might not be all that jazzed about helping out. And, around 20% had difficulty focusing or wanted to quit. That’s a pretty uninspiring—and uninspired—combination. If you’re stressed out, checked out and ready to get out, just how willing will you be to help the company innovate anything?
… and how coaching for managers—and everyone else—can help
Coaching for managers teaches leaders how to foster innovation through one-on-one conversations, intentional practice and reflection, and goals for personal growth. That alone is worth the investment in management leadership coaching. But giving everyone throughout the organization access to professional coaching—and (this is important!) giving them the time to take advantage of it without making them cram the same amount of work into their day—can do amazing things for a company. That’s because it does amazing things for the employees who comprise it. It can make them feel seen, feel valued as individuals and intrinsic to the company’s success. It can open their eyes to new ways of thinking and solving problems—and get them excited about doing so. That’s the essence of innovation.
Coaches guide coachees on every step of their journey, offering feedback, clarification and support, and suggesting exercises and techniques to help them achieve what they’ve set out to do. Regardless of industry, education or area of expertise, coaching is a proven way to foster innovation. By focusing on everyday situations and concrete challenges, managers can help employees change their perspective, activate existing strengths and get past roadblocks. Recent research also makes the case for integrating gratitude into a series of manager coaching sessions to increase well-being, which can be a powerful antidote to the feelings of disenfranchisement that inhibit innovation (see journal paper #8 in the CoachHub Coaching Research Bulletin).
But how does coaching work for a remote (or hybrid) workforce?
Coaching using external experts, and to a lesser degree internal resources such as coaching managers, continues to grow as a key way to deliver behavioral change. According to CoachHub’s research, the three most popular techniques in training and development are e-learning (67%), on-the-job learning (60%) and coaching (51%). The vast majority of coaching is now taking place online, with very few external coaches conducting in-person sessions. That makes it accessible to everyone.
Management leadership coaching was once seen as an expensive development opportunity exclusively for people who’d already ascended to senior roles. The ability to deliver the same outcomes digitally has democratized it, and it’s now permeating deeper into organizations. That’s a good thing. More than half of the learning and development professionals CoachHub surveyed said they’d already embraced individual coaching as part of their people development practices, and most of the rest were giving it serious thought.
Innovation isn’t some mysterious thing other people do
“Knowledgeable creativity” is the springboard to innovation, and every person in an organization has something to contribute. Coaching helps people discover their potential. Coaching for managers guides leaders toward becoming effective innovation gurus themselves. The innovation blockers above fall into three categories. Let’s take a look at how employee coaching and management leadership coaching can address each of them.
No one knows the challenges your organization faces better than the people in the trenches day in and day out. They probably also know how to overcome them if given the opportunity, time, tools and team to implement them. The great majority of innovations are incremental and derivative. Coaches democratize innovation by encouraging people to seek new ways of doing things, exploring even the wildest of possibilities, and coaching managers to foster, embrace and advance innovations large and small. After all, great ideas don’t care who they come from—and companies shouldn’t, either. LearnCheck out how B. Braun created a culture of empowerment that made every employee an innovation driver.
People often think of innovation one-dimensionally. Take a commoditized product, for example. There’s nothing new under the sun, right? Wrong. Even if your product is almost indistinguishable from competitors’ products, there’s still plenty of innovation to be had. Coaches can encourage people to transcend the status quo. What small thing about the product could be perfected? Can it be marketed more effectively? Would another type of buyer use it in a new way? How can production or sourcing be improved? No single person, team or department “owns” innovation. By encouraging them to effect change where they can, explore beyond their everyday experience and seek the input of others where they lack expertise, coaches allow innovation to take wing.
Getting from idea to implementation can seem daunting. Not only do coaches help people think more broadly, they help them think incrementally. Either mindset can be a powerful tool for innovation. Coaches work with coachees to break down complex ideas into easier-to-envision milestones, then brainstorm ways to achieve them with the help of others. They shift the definition of innovation from the big and disruptive to the meaningful and doable. They give them confidence in their ideas and in their ability to effect change. And, coaching for managers enables organizational leaders to surface and champion all types of innovation—and become effective innovation coaches themselves.
If innovation is at a standstill, employee coaching and management leadership coaching can help your company overcome barriers and to get your teams back on a positive trajectory.