A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Thinkers360 and asked to contribute a prediction for 2023. I thought and thought and could not come up with anything that felt original, new or worth taking up valuable online space – or audience time with sharing.
Over the six weeks since that time I have seen a huge change in our world. It was not hard to predict – as an economist I recognize that pumping huge amounts of money into the system was bound to result in inflation. Supply chain issues would do the same, and people would start to spend less. We would go from the great resignation to potentially a great depression. That does not make the decision to prop up the world economy wrong, just that the consequences were predictable.
For all of this year I coached groups as well as individuals from around the world, who by some strange coincidence (or because of my coaching profile) tended to be individual contributors or new managers making the transition to leading.
When we started coaching earlier in the year and even last year, the biggest problem on everyone’s mind was how to get the staff they needed. And if you are an individual contributor transitioning to management and leadership it is already hard to keep from using your expertise to get things done. It is even harder when you have fewer staff than you want and more projects than you can reasonably share across the resources you do have. How do you resist the siren call of work you can do with your eyes closed and feel good about?
My clients were stressed. How will we get it done? How will we find people? How will we keep people? How do I stop myself from doing instead of training?
Luckily those with coaches had a sounding board. They had someone with whom to strategize. They could explore options, challenge priorities, even come up with ways to make the case for change at work. They flourished and grew into their roles and developed passion. It was exciting to witness and travel with them finding their path. All year I have seen how valuable coaching is, not just to those who have direct access to it, but the ripple effect on their staff and colleagues is huge and of course there is a ripple effect to customers and other stakeholders too!
Then things began to change. The economy slowed; prices went up. Commentators assured us it was just a blip. They kept reassuring us until one day they didn’t and inflation, rising interest rates, sagging consumer confidence – and demand – were gaining momentum. The war in the Ukraine would not stop and gas prices soared through the summer. People I know could no longer afford the gas to drive to work…
And companies stopped hiring and even started laying off workers through organizational restructuring programs. From 80 mph to -10 in a few weeks. The whiplash was palpable. For most people it was a shock – even if they had thought it would come at some point. For some, this is a totally new phenomenon. They were not in the workforce in 2008 for example and have not experienced the uncertainty before.
And our new managers had a new challenge to navigate. Helping people to keep their heads in the face of such uncertainty while they were also trying not to lose their own heads!
It is hard to be anyone in a company that is downsizing. The individual contributors worry that they are not contributing enough, or that their project or product will be de-prioritized. New managers are having to figure out how to implement tougher corporate policies, reassure staff without misleading them, recognize that we all need room and time to process what is happening AND keep people focused on getting the work done and developing their skills. This is no time to sit back and do less!
Many of these new managers see the value in this new experience. As hard as it is, they recognize that management and leadership is not always about good times and easy markets. They want to grow and navigate bigger challenges with grace, empathy, and pragmatism. They understand the tremendous value of curiosity, humility, and empowerment. They feel for their team members AND the feel for their managers who probably don’t know much more than them now, or know and cannot share yet, or are feeling insecure about their own roles. After all restructuring often begins with rearranging the top!
I have been impressed by their professionalism, self-awareness. They provide me a lot of hope!
And I worry for them. When organizations face financial and economic headwinds, an early casualty is often the support for new and middle managers. The guidelines for who gets coaching get narrower and there is more focus on the problems and the high-flyers.
My hope for 2023 is that organizations will maintain their focus and even increase their use of coaching for their staff. It helps reduce attrition, burnout, and disengagement. I hope that organizational leadership will see that coaching is a resource that no one should have to do without especially when times are more challenging and uncertain.
My fear is that coaching programs will go on the chopping block. Experiments with the spreading of the coaching wealth will fall be the wayside.
So here is my plea. If you MUST cut funding, change the program don’t get rid of it. Replace or supplement 1:1 coaching with group and team coaching – it can easily be made more cost effective and produces its own special benefit that is different from 1:1 coaching. Provide spot coaching programs that give access to a coach on a more ad hoc basis. Invest in mentoring programs and peer coaching. Do whatever you can to maintain – and grow – a coaching culture. Even offer group coaching to the people you are forced to let go!
During tough times we need more coaching not less!
Then when the worm turns again – and it always does in the end – you will be glad you did. Your teams will be more effective, more nimble, more loyal, and more efficient. Your staff will have more resilience and be more adaptable and your organization will be primed for growth!
What will you invest to get that ROI?