The common image of HR at board level is red tape and stick-in-the mud dinosaurs, says David Carter, chairman and founder of Merryck. If HR is to be heard in the boardroom, then HR directors must speak the same language as the rest of the board, he warns.
Coaches are there to help on an ongoing basis with whatever issues the job may throw at you. High-status directors may be perceived as very effective by others but if they are self-critical they may want to improve their performance, suggests Jenny Rogers, who specialises in coaching at Management Futures. It is usually when they reach a turning point in their career that they appear at a coachs door.
Sometimes they will have taken on a new role and after four months, when the honeymoon is over, discovered that they dont have all the skills they need. David Denney, vice-president of HR for Pitney Bowes Europe, has witnessed coaching work particularly well for a colleague who was making the transition from one industry to another.
Management Futures is not alone in addressing life issues such as personal relationships, concerns about elderly parents, children or health and career issues.
But Stephen Schneider, managing director of CPS, suggests there is a difference between coaches and mentors. Coaches develop skills, whereas mentors look at the larger picture including personal and career issues. CPS, which has just taken on an HR director of a FTSE-100 company, runs a programme which entails 20 one-and-a-half-hour sessions over the first year. Schneider believes this offers clients a good balance of contact while giving them time to reflect. When they take on a new role there is pressure on directors to make an impact at the very time they should be digging below the cultures surface. Coaches can help to slice the firm horizontally and discover where the pockets of resistance will be, comments Schneider.
Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, has used CPS services and believes all directors should have a coach.
CPS starts with a psychological profile that forms the basis for initial discussions highlighting strengths and weaknesses. HR directors need space to reflect on their jobs. It is all too easy under pressure to fall into bad habits, he says.
An external coach offers objectivity on intimate corporate issues that directors would not be able to discuss with anyone else, says Robin Linnecar, director of Change Partnerships. Change currently has on its books HR directors from a leading bank, a utility company, a service leasing company and the telecoms industry.
Diana Palmer, former HR director of the RAC, believes that using coaches sends out a powerful message to others in the organisation that HR people are prepared to learn and grow.