Interview with Yulia Uzhakina, Director and Partner at Amplua-Broker, Expert on the personnel training and development market

Send to email Print Save

Yulia Uzhakina graduated from Lomonosov Moscow State University, IBS and the National Academy of Economics under the auspices of the Russian Government (Executive MBA). She has been working in HR since 1999. She knows how to run organizational diagnostics, analyze a company's need for training, training's effectiveness and she can form a personnel-training system. She is a partner at Amplua, which represents Amplua-Broker (tenders and recommendations for the best personnel management provider) and Amplua-Insights (research and benchmarking for different types of personnel management and for the HR services market, as well as consulting and organizational diagnostics).

TEI: How is the coaching market doing these days?

Yulia Uzhakina: The coaching market is growing very quickly. Our analysis has shown that, despite the crisis, the number of coaching requests at the end of last year grew by 15%, while the training market fell by 40%.

TEI: What is the coaching market's structure like?

Yulia Uzhakina: We conducted research among roughly 200 coaches. Even though there are more than that on the market, this number allows us to draw some conclusions. As a result we have divided up coaches into the following categories:

First, you have a pool of those one can call executive coaches. This category is made up of people that work with chief executives and do nothing but coaching for a living. These types of coaches often work both in Russia and Europe, are multilingual, and sometimes they are foreigners that know the Russian market well, and may even know Russian.

The next category is for coaches that also work with chief executives, but in the meantime are able to switch to various different formats. This category includes many professional trainers that see coaching as the next step in their professional development. For example, they can quickly switch to individual training if the coachee turns out to not know a certain topic or does not wield a certain skill.

The last group is the largest and least homogeneous. Itincludes many trainers that are looking for a way to make money and, when sensing that there is now a very large demand for coaching, think to themselves: Why not? They do not, however, see the big difference between a trainer and a coach. We also include former or current psychotherapists in this group, which there are a lot of among coaches and who do not always see the big difference between psychotherapy and coaching.

TEI: Why is it hard for a psychotherapist to work as acoach?

Yulia Uzhakina: We define coaching as an instrument that helps a person or group solve concrete goals that have to do with their profession. Psychotherapists who work as coaches are geared toward something different. They work in what is called the “problem field,” meaning that they follow the coachee in moving from one specific professional issue to the next, which is often a personal one. Therefore the contract length cannot be specifically laid out because each person’s problem field is endless. Moreover, if the client wants to stop working with the psychotherapist, the latter may request one or two more sessions to “ease out” of the coaching process.

TEI: So you see coaching more as a way to reach certain business goals and less as being targeted toward personal or psychological problems?

Business coaching can be both about business and personal issues. What is important is that the company makes a conscious choice about what its goals are. For example, one large bank let its top managers' coaches cross into personal space if need be, and this was laid out in the contract with the coach. To put it more simply, if a person has to solve their own personal problems rooted in their family life in order to solve a bank's complex issues, a coach could be used for doing just this. This is why they looked for coaches with experience in psychotherapy.

However, there are other companies where doing just thisis forbidden. In such a case the company tells the coach, “You are working in a business context, and if you have discovered that the coachee needs to work out his personal problems to reach certain goals, let us know and don’t get involved.

”You need to remember that a coach works with a coachee as a whole, and not just with his business side. It is tough for companies to get a guarantee that the coach will respect that fine line that separates a person's personal and corporate goals. For example, not too long ago there was a case when a business-unit director, who had a coach hired for her by her company to prepare for an upcoming position, came to the management and said, “You know, I have decided to become an artist because I have found it to contain the meaning of life.” This was a shock for the company management, which had invested thousands of dollars in her, with the assumption that she would work in the company. Many coaches believe that this was the right thing to do, because what is important is that a person finds oneself, realizes their potential, finds harmony, etc. This is good for the person, but is it for the company?

TEI: How does a company get the idea to use a coach?

Yulia Uzhakina: Our experience tells us that HR people are usually the initiators, which is why they are often the main clients. Having said that, the company's HR department needs to sell this idea as well. For example, a department manager comes face to face with some problems in the team and asks the HR manager to organize a team building event. Here a smart HR will say, “We can have a coaching session instead.”

«Despite the crisis, the number of coaching requests at theend of last year grew by 15%»

Such a request by company management can occur when a coaching-style management is welcome in a company. Here, a manager that has a problematic situation or a difficult subordinate can request a coach for either goal.

Is it true that people use coaching more when problems arise rather than to reach ambitious goals?

There are various different examples, but more often than not people look for a coach's help when the fat lady has already started tosing. Why is it here that the coach is most needed? It is because managers in fact have it pretty tough these days. They make tough decisions, and they need a person they can think with.

TEI: What kind of employees is coaching used for?

Yulia Uzhakina: As for employee status, external coaching is used for those who are at least middle-management, but more often than not for executives.

A rather popular practice is to use coaching for so called HiPos, or potential future successors of high positions. Very few companies during the economic crisis have shut down their HiPo programs, although they all have looked for ways to cut expenses. Coaching, being less expensive than high-cost MBA programs and so forth, was an easy solution to this problem.

Many HR managers point out that coaching does not need to be used for young employees. Mentors and career development consultants fit these types of employees better. A coach is more effective when working with older employees.

TEI: Are there instances where managers hire coaches themselves?

Yulia Uzhakina: Yes there are. Cases like this have appeared this past summer in fact. Sometimes in these instances HR managers help find a coach, while the employee pays for the coach's services. Occasionally, an individual coach (if coaching is not used in a company at all, butt he need for it has arisen) can be paid from the training budget. This is a very reasonable decision in many cases.

TEI: What practices are used to analyze coaching's effectiveness?

Yulia Uzhakina: The most popular practice is to use the percentage of goals that coached employees have reached for the year as the key indicator of a coach's work. Another way is to track the changes in the indicators of the process accompanied by coaching.

Analyzing the effectiveness of coaching programs by looking at the changes in survey results on employee satisfaction is gaining popularity. These types of surveys usually include parts that can be correlated with the quality of coaching within an organization — for example, a block of questions on management style or developmental responsibilities.

Yet one more popular indicator of coaching's effectiveness is the decrease in personnel turnover. Separating a coaching's influence from other factors, of course, is difficult, but nonetheless this is an indicator that companies take advantage of. I should point out that employee turnover as a whole should not be taken into account, rather only people who quit for reasons such as, “there are no prospects for growth” or “dissatisfied with management”.

«Business coaching can be both about business and personal issues. What is important is that the company makes a conscious choice about what its goals are»

Russia is responsible for coming up with the following method for tracking a coach’s effectiveness: looking at changes in behavioral indicators of the references that are made using a 360-degree assessment. The problem, however, is that competency models have recently created a cause to doubt their effectiveness, triggering many companies to have a second look at their own competency models because of the crisis.

Some companies are replacing effectiveness indicators with quality indicators, such as a coachee satisfaction analysis. This is not exactly the right way to do things. There are examples where a coachee has given the coach very bad feedback because the process was very difficult, while the changes in his behavior were in fact enormous.

TEI: How are relations built between management, the HR manager, coach and coachee?

Yulia Uzhakina: The coachee's manager sets the coaching program's goals, and this is the best way to do it. Some of these goals may be behavior related. If the coachee sets goals, then this represents more of an encouragement system and less of a development system. If an employee consciously works with a coach, then a lot will depend on the coach, because it is the latter that is responsible for the coachee having fulfilled his or her set goals. You cannot, of course, force the coachee to work if he does not want to, but you also cannot believe a coach that washes his hands of the situation beforehand and states that nothing depends on them.

The coach needs to understand that his client is the company that hired him, not the coachee. The beginning of the program must consist of a trilateral meeting, and intermediate trilateral meetings are also desirable.

The HR manager has a definite role in the coaching process: he is what makes the process move. The HR manager's goal is to achieve the needed communication, and to have the coach-coachee pair work well together so that the coaching process does not drag along. Monitoring feedbackis also an HR manager's job.

TEI: How are coach-coachee pairs made?

Yulia Uzhakina: There are a few ways. A really popular method is when an HR manager speaks with each coachand employee, and then makes the pairs himself. This works pretty well, but it is important for the HR manager to have the coachee understand that the coach can and needs to be changed if he so desires. Moreover, you should not hope that the employee will say this himself. You need to constantly ask how things are going.

«The company that decided to hire a coach for its employee should determine the confidentiality lines. The lines depend on how afraid they are of what goes on between a coach and coachee behind closed doors»

A different kind of format is the group format. Miniature presentations for a group of employees soon-to-be coached are given by the possible coaches. Here the HR manager leads the presentations in a talk-show like atmosphere, as the coaches talk about themselves and answer questions. After meeting the coaches, the coachees then say with whom they would like to work. But lack of chemistry is always a risk, even when the coachee chooses the coach.

TEI: How do companies deal with the issue of a coach's work confidentiality and monitoring?

Yulia Uzhakina: The company that decided to hire a coach for its employee should determine the confidentiality lines. The lines depend on how afraid they are of what goes on between a coach and coachee behind closed doors. There can be different approaches here. Some companies set up complete control, and the coach and the coachee write reports on each session they have. At the other extreme there is no formalization whatsoever and the company announces that whatever goes on between a coach and a coachee is their own business. Our recommendation is to keep sensible reports, one or two for the entire coaching program, that are then sent to a manager or program curator.

TEI: Can a coachee be open and honest with a coach if the former knows that the coach writes reports to be read by management?

Yulia Uzhakina: This is an issue of the coach's professionalism. A professional coach can create an atmosphere of trust and prove his usefulness and benefit that he or she provides for the employee, even if the coachee knows that the coach talks with the management every day about what went on during the sessions. A coachee should understand that everything is done in his own interests.

TEI: What factors do companies focus on when selecting a coach?

Yulia Uzhakina: The first and most important factor is the personnel level that the coach has worked with. If the coach has worked with regular managers, then it is better not to assign him to work with executives.

People will always prefer a coach that increases his own coaching qualifications, is a member of professional associations and finished some short-term program, for example. There are, however, some red flags to be aware of, including schools and applied methods that have a negative effect on one's resume.

The number of client hours is also very important, but the client list is no less important. There are a lot of coaches on the market that have racked up many client hours, but the clients they have worked with are either friends, relatives or fellow coaches.

It is important for a coach to name the coaching model and tools that he uses. Many companies expect to see coaches that have come from the business world, but in reality we have very few such coaches. Business has yet to run out of steam, and people that over time could become coaches are still active in their own work.As for one's psychology background, opinions often differ: some companies believe that it is needed, while others forbid it.

A coach's willingness to follow the rules and be disciplined is an important criterion for hiring one for a corporate environment. This criterion is checked by the coach's willingness to fill out a form, present information on time, etc. If a coach cannot do this, then one starts to wonder whether this coach is able to work in a structured manner with a coachee.

«A coach's willingness to follow the rules and be disciplined is important criterion for hiring one for a corporate environment»

Western companies often have very stringent requirements for a coach to provide recommendations, but there is one problem here. A coach is not always ready to give out a recommender's contact information. We do not see this as being a coach's problem, but rather a peculiarity among Russian clients, as many would rather not talk about them having worked with a coach or having hired a coach for their employees.

We also recommend that the coach have a supervisor. Unfortunately, this factor is often overlooked.

TEI: Could you share some numbers with us: how much does coaching cost, how many meetings does a standard program entail and how often are meetings organized?

Yulia Uzhakina: We should point out that our survey has not uncovered a correlation between the cost of coaching and the criteria for choosing one – qualifications, number of client hours, etc. One hour of coaching costs from two thousand rubles to thirty-five hundred euros. The median price is roughly three hundred euros an hour. The number of meetings is usually spelled out in the contract beforehand, with standard practice calling for six to seven sessions per program. There are no rules set in stone for the number of meetings, since everything depends on the time needed for fulfilling the goals at hand. If a goal needs to be reached immediately, then meetings could take place every day.

This article was published as part of the third issue of Talent Equity Newsletter "Coaching as a Management Development Tool".

To read all other journal issues, please follow the link to TE Newsletters page.

Related material