by Zenahrea Damon

How to retain top talent

Coaching circles can help develop and retain talent

Coaching Circles is a new way in which to retain and improve talent in a company
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Research from the Centre for Coaching at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) is demonstrating that coaching circles – a relatively new coaching training technique – may be a cost-effective solution to developing and retaining high potential employees. 

Internationally, the quest for talent is top of the agenda for most organisations. Thamsanqa Maqubela of the SA Graduates Development Association pointed out earlier this year that in addition to university qualifications, employers are looking for: “People with an ability to communicate the theory and apply it in the work place … In addition, they want people with confidence, humility and individual brilliance.”

Such individuals are rare. Knowing this, many companies spend billions of rand annually on training and developing their people through in-house training and external training development programmes incorporating proven techniques like action learning, mentoring and other coaching techniques.

The aim is to motivate, empower and inspire staff to ultimately increase productivity while retaining top talent. Finding the right balance is a full-time occupation for many talent managers in big organisations.

Janine Everson, academic director at the Centre for Coaching, says that coaching already plays an important role in most organisations’ talent management programmes, and that their research shows that novel applications like coaching circles are proving effective in accelerating these initiatives.

“Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that coaching circles are effective, this is one of the first formal studies to test the validity of this relatively new development tool,” says Everson.

The study showed that managers who participated in coaching circles had more empathy, tolerance of others and self-confidence, resulting in a more harmonious workplace with better business outcomes.

The research, which was carried out by MBA student Nadia Barsch, used a mixed-methods approach for a sample of participants from an Absa in-house integral coaching programme run by the Centre for Coaching.  

The Absa banking group initiated their ambitious coaching programme in 2010 for their African operations, using coaching circles to develop and motivate managers and high potential employees.

Absa’s talent development expert, Maria Cussell Humphries has said that coaching circles have had a profound impact on the organisation. “We realise coaching is a powerful tool for unlocking talent and is a core skill to have internally. So far we have found it extremely beneficial in terms of talent retention and leadership development,” she said.

"By using their professionally trained, certified pool of internal coaches, all of whom have studied for at least seven months through the GSB's Centre for Coaching, the bank has been able to afford to offer coaching to many more staff than previously ever thought possible and at approximately 9% – a fraction of the cost of doing the same amount of coaching using external coaches.”

In addition, developing in-house coaching expertise has saved ABSA quite a bit of money. If the group had gone with external coaching at about R60 000 per coaching contract, the total cost to Absa would have been around R25m. The cost of providing the training to internal coaches was around R35 000 per delegate or a total of R350 000 – a saving of R24,6m.

Coaching circles involve small groups of people, who share a project or an activity, and meet regularly to work on problems in a supportive environment. But unlike action learning, which has problem solving as its prime goal, coaching circles have a triple focus on solving problems, empowering individual members of the team, and teaching and embedding coaching skills in the organisation during the process.

“Most adults struggle to learn and change under conditions that make them feel vulnerable, defensive, or open to judgment. Coaching circles, like action learning, create a haven for real-time problem solving and learning, whether personal or professional, by allowing participants to reflect on their behaviour and receive immediate feedback,” said Centre for Coaching director, Craig O'Flaherty.

Evidence from the GSB study revealed that 90% of participants felt that the coaching circles offered the ideal space to make mistakes and be corrected in a safe environment; while 100% thought that it enabled them to develop a sense of camaraderie and teamwork; and 100% felt they developed more self-awareness along with better listening skills and skills to ask the right questions of others.

As the demands on top talent increase, so too does the need for effective talent management interventions. Coaching circles, which merge two already proven techniques – action learning and integral coaching – allow organisations to tap into the best of both worlds and develop individuals while building more resilient organisations. 

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