In Showtime’s Billions, performance coach Wendy Rhoades offers a valuable service to hedge fund Axe Capital: helping insecure traders feel confident so they can focus on making money.
Watching the show, now in its fourth season, planted a seed in the mind of Opencare founder Nikolai Bratkovski. His business of matching patients with dentists is rather different than financial services. But he wondered if offering career coaching to his employees as a free benefit could help take the company to the next level. Now, after several years offering coaching to all members of its 50-person staff, Opencare believes the answer is yes.
The company is among a handful of Canadian small businesses that are turning to career coaching to smooth out disagreements, develop personal goals and create a shared office culture. While coaching is nothing new for senior-level talent, these companies believe there’s a benefit to offering the service to all employees. Proponents – largely in the tech world – say the perk is worth its often-hefty price tag, as it helps with recruitment and creates an environment that makes people want to stay.
While the cost the employer pays varies widely, people interviewed for this story described a range of $150 to $600 an hour depending on the leadership level of the person being coached. Opencare spends about $50,000 on coaching for its team per year, not including workshops or leadership coaching for executives and management, says Megan MacQuarrie, the Toronto-based company’s people operations manager.
Ms. MacQuarrie says coaching has been particularly well-received by younger or less-experienced employees, a group that typically faces different challenges than management.
“It has helped with managing their time and prioritizing. It allows our team to be sustainably performing and reduces the risk of burnout,” she said. “We’ve noticed that especially with hiring more people this year, we’re bringing in a lot of baggage from other company cultures. The coaching has helped with breaking that down faster.”
Toronto human-resources consultancy Bright + Early started offering coaching early this year to companies it was working with after noticing an upswing in interest. Founder Nora Jenkins Townson says her HR consultants found they were being sought after for guidance and advice, so decided to get formal coaching training to make it official.
“Coaching is a great tool for retention,” Ms. Jenkins Townson says. “A lot of people get very attached to that benefit.”
Elisha Gray, a performance coach who works with Bright + Early as well as her own consultancy, says “employees are naturally looking for someone to talk to that isn’t their manager” when it comes to such topics as interpersonal conflict and making the transition to first-time manager. She says it can be harder to be vulnerable to your boss if a promotion is on the line, so coaching can be both a sounding board and a way to start building a desired skill set.
After working in startups for many years, Ms. Gray has seen a shift away from material benefits to those that offer personal development. “I have been part of the groupthink around free lunches, big group trips, t-shirts and that sort of thing. … Employees are saying, ‘These are cool things but there’s only so many t-shirts that I need.’”
While one-on-one sessions are “generally confidential,” coaches will occasionally share themes that can help management improve the workplace, Ms. Jenkins Townson says. “If we start to see a trend, we can advise them on what they should be building into their people programs.”
For example, if new parents are feeling overwhelmed, the company could strategize ways to better accommodate those people; if workers can’t discern their next move, career-progression pathways can be made more clear.
E-commerce platform Shopify, which now employs about 4,000 people, has been at the forefront of this trend in Canada, with an in-house coaching department available to its entire staff since 2013. The team conducted 5,000 sessions last year, says director of coaching Deb Kennedy.
She says the idea took hold after the company’s executives were coached and found it had a “tremendous benefit. … They found that coaching was a way for them to learn and grow at a faster pace than what was happening externally. They wanted to bring that in-house, bring that to all of our employees.”
Kitchener, Ont., tech firm Miovision, which implemented a trial coaching program last fall, also found it helped workers move through problems quickly. Former chief culture officer Natalie Dumond oversaw the pilot before moving on to start her own coaching business. It was was offered to about nine employees of different seniority levels throughout Miovision, which makes hardware and software aimed at tackling road congestion.
Miovision’s Jennifer Wincey, vice-president of people, operations and culture, says she is looking to extend coaching to all leaders and eventually all employees, as she finds it helps workers deal with the fast pace of change in the business.
“We’re lean; it can cause a little consternation,” she explained. “There are way more things to do than there are people to do them. When you can focus on what matters most and how you communicate, you can have those difficult conversations in a productive way as opposed to getting stressed.”
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