How Employee Engagement platforms can help you instil a coaching culture

Employee Engagement platforms such as Peakon are a great way for your employees to tell you how they’re feeling about your organisation and their job. As well as collecting a lot of quantitative data, they can also leave comments as qualitative feedback on how they’re feeling about a given topic. Typically these comments would be reviewed by departmental, line or senior management or the HR team who will identify systemic issues, and take action. It’s important that this happens, of course, but there’s another way we can work with Peakon to bring about change in the organisation. There are many definitions, but we can simplistically define a “coaching culture” as one in which management encourage employees to think about what they’d like to happen, and to begin to make it happen, using their knowledge and resources, rather than waiting for others to make it happen for them. It’s about taking action that unlocks performance and growth.

In my experience, the comments given in relation to low satisfaction scores are often problem statements — “pay isn’t competitive” or “my laptop is too slow”. As managers, we often assume that we know what the person wants (more pay, a faster laptop) and then take on the problem and solve it on behalf of the employee.

The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, how do we know what the person wants to happen? For the person who says that pay isn’t competitive, maybe they do want more money. But maybe they want to work reduced hours. Or get other benefits. Or apply for promotion, transition to a new role or even leave the organisation. We simply don’t know.

Secondly, whilst Peakon is a great way to collect detailed feedback across an organisation, it’s quite difficult to ensure that everything raised in comments is acted on, given the level of feedback.

Of course, a lot of comments raised in Peakon are just employees venting in a safe space, but I’m surprised just how many seemingly important things are raised — for the first time — in Peakon.

This might be because the employee doesn’t feel able to talk to their manager about it, or doesn’t believe that anything will get done about it. Or maybe they didn’t think it was worth raising in the first place.

Regardless, where there’s a desire (or, at least, a problem) but no sense of action it can stick around in the employee’s mind and eventually begin to erode their engagement.

What would happen if we used a coaching approach within Peakon?

At its simplest, coaching is about helping the other person take action in their current situation, based on what (and who) they know. This contrasts with a mentoring approach where we might tell them what action they should take, or how to take it, or a helper approach where we take on the problem to solve it on the other person’s behalf.

The first thing we can do when presented with a problem is to find out what the employee wants to happen — an outcome. Simply asking “what would you like to have happen?” in the comments chat can be enough to get the employee thinking.

The second thing we can do is to find out what needs to happen for that to happen, and who can do it. Often, those actions can be performed by the employee. Simply asking “what needs to happen for X?” or “who can help you X?” and perhaps “can you do that/ask them?” can be enough to get the employee taking action instead of dropping the problem in Peakon and expecting someone else to sort it out.

For example, in my capacity as an internal coach (not a manager) I responded to a Peakon comment about the office environment:

“The office is untidy and we have lots of broken furniture lying around.”

Note that there was no sense of what needed to happen (though we could have guessed, perhaps incorrectly) and definitely no sense of the employee feeling able or motivated to take action.

At this point, I could have chosen to take on the problem, and forwarded it to someone else to sort out, which they might have done, eventually.

Instead, I asked them “what would you like to have happen?” and they responded along the lines of

“The broken furniture needs to be taken away”

Note again, that there’s no sense of involvement by the employee. But at least there is now a sense of an outcome (something they want to happen).

So I asked “What needs to happen for the broken furniture to be taken away?”

“We need to find someone who can take it away”

Aha! Now there’s a sense of the employee perhaps being able to do something about it instead of just raising it as a problem for someone else deal with.

I then asked “and who could do that?”

To which they replied “well I can find some local companies and ask for approval for the best quote”.

And a few days later I heard that they had made this happen, the furniture had been removed and, as a bonus, a few colleagues had joined together, tidied things up and also ordered some new cupboards to keep things tidy.

By responding to the comment in a coaching style it turned out that the employee could make it happen and in doing so they had a much better sense of empowerment, built a mini team around it, and it had a knock-on effect with a tidier office and new furniture.

Of course, it might have been appropriate for me to forward the problem on to another team. But in this case I knew that the employee was more than able to sort it out, if they were empowered and motivated to do so.

The point is that everyone in that office had seen the broken furniture and done nothing about it, for a long time. Peakon gave them the opportunity to report it anonymously and safely. And a coaching style helped them solve their own problem and grow as a result.

It seems to me that encouraging and empowering employees in this way can only help improve engagement, whilst not burdening central functions with a never-ending to do list that’s been dumped on them by others.

And if coaching is about taking action, then a culture where people take action instead of complaining or passing on problems is surely a coaching culture? Employee Engagement platforms such as Peakon give us a new way to achieve this, for organisations of any scale.