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Creating a deeper manager pool

Only a few years ago, coaching was a word most often associated with sport. However, it is gradually becoming another essential tool in corporate management development kits. Companies are betting that, along with specially-tailored development programs and even MBAs, this is the way to groom - and hold onto - future and present-day managers.

IT'S NO SECRET that top companies have made management education and development a top priority of HR departments over the past five years. To retain the best, major businesses have created - with the help of external firms - an arsenal of development options for top managers - both current and upcoming. Whether training comes through specially-designed group seminars or one-on-one coaching or even MBA coursework, the common feature is now individuality. Although training is becoming more individualized, "it doesn't mean it's only one-on-one," says Iva Pondělíková, who helped found CNP Consulting 12 years ago. "You also have to know how to meet the needs of the group."
Her firm recently began a development center for Czech Airlines (ČSA) called Leadership Academy. "This two-year program was created mainly for the education of managers," says ČSA spokesperson Jitka Novotná, adding it uses a variety of study models: from classic seminars to solving case studies or applying theory to practice. CNP designed the program to help boost ČSA's development tools, which were admittingly weak in the past. Currently there are about 10 participants from upper-management who attend five yearly modules, lasting two days each. The program is combined with coaching, helping to put what is learned into practice. "In this part of the course, managers expand their knowledge of the principles of working with people or they learn how to handle job performance crises," Novotná adds.

Iva Pondělíková
ČSA's work is just one example of the emphasis major firms are putting on development and, in effect, on employee retention as well. In Pondělíková's time on the market, the biggest change has been companies starting to "understand development has real meaning and is a time investment." Others agree and management training firms now offer a wide portfolio of courses and are quick to tune this to local demand. One such example is an Anticipatory and Adaptive Management course offered by Dynargie, which company partner Joel H. Cooper says is designed for emerging markets. The basic concept behind the training is to not only enable managers to anticipate risks involved with any endeavour, but also help them to make a plan that can be more easily adapted to any of these risks - anticipated or not. "You can't anticipate everything," says Cooper, who has worked in management training and consulting for 16 years, including nearly the last six in Prague. He adds, "You shouldn't start an action unless you have an adaptive plan."

 

Walking the talk
Project planning and management courses have been one of the most requested services from firms, say management consultants. Barbora Chlaňová, an HR Business Partner at Unilever, points to these skills as being one of the most important today. "Project management furthers the ability to work cross-functionally," she says. Unilever, which uses several external firms for training, relies on Expertis Praha for project planning. "Programs are often a combination of training and consulting," says Lenka Papadakisová, director of Expertis. "Usually there is in-depth analysis of the level of project management in the particular firm and then mainly implementation training."
Over the past year, Expertis has cooperated with about 20 clients in this area and has seen several hundred participants in its courses. Like in other training groups, though, a focus remains on the individual and helping them apply the teachings to work. "It's quite productive to use coaching [in project management]," Papadakisová advises.

Lenka Papadakisová
In management training, coaching is slowly, but surely, becoming a common feature. This shows a marked difference to the situation just three years ago. Pondělíková, who is also a member of the Česká asociace koučů (ČAKO), remembers a conference on coaching held then. "We found out that the market didn't understand what coaching was," she says. This may still be a problem today. According to Radvan Bahbouh of Qed & Quod, another firm offering corporate development services, Because of increased demand for coaching in the past few years, "many reacted by offering coaching services without using people educated enough in this area." For this reason, the appeal of coaching hasn't reached everyone. "It's growing, but not very fast," says Eva Jedličková, a coach with Contour Consulting. She adds that while the use of the word is now more common, which is a good sign, "it's still seen mainly as an 'exclusive' service."
Not surprisingly, coaching is most prevalent in multinational companies, where it continues to grow in use most rapidly. Unfortunately for some coaching providers, this means more competition - especially from an unlikely source: clients. "I think field assistancy is the method that's growing more," says Martina Čapounová, the training department manager at Česká spořitelna. "It's coaching on the job with everyday feedback." Field assistancy is basically using another manager to act as a coach, and its use is quite popular with other companies. "Internal coaches, especially anager/coaches, have various advantages in comparison with external ones," says ČSOB spokesperson Pavel Hejzlar, pointing to a deeper understanding of work aims, processes and problems; or a better knowledge of the coachee's personality and authority as a few examples.

A different perspective
Still, ČS and ČSOB don't shun external coaches, and Hejzlar willingly admits there are disadvantages to having only an internal coach. For instance, he says, discussions around employee problems "are not so free and open" as with an external coach. Dynargie's Cooper also acknowledges this, stressing the most important part of coaching is building trust, as well as removing the coachee from the work atmosphere to make things clearer. "I prefer to meet in a neutral place," he says, adding an external coach from outside the system can help give a new perspective on issues.

Radvan Bahbouh
Coaching, however, can be very hands on. "We have several reasons for [using coaching]," Hejzlar says, naming leadership practice as the first. "The second reason is an effort to help employees implement new working procedures and products" that can be problematic. Based on early results, Hejzlar thinks coaching is a continuing trend. At ČS, Capounová agrees that coaching shows fast and effective improvement in management, however she also points out the drain it can be on resources: both time and money.
Indeed, depending on the coachee's demands and stature, coaching can reach upward of CZK 15,000 for an hour session. However, in most cases, costs run between CZK 3,000 and CZK 5,000 an hour, with sessions typically lasting 90 minutes to two hours. While it can be expensive, providers agree that the value is there. To prove it, some, like Contour's Jedličková, even offer a trial session. "Sometimes managers think someone who isn't an expert in their field can help," she explains. Cooper also recommends firms have a system in place to support coaching in order to truly take full advantage of the service.
As far as who's benefitting from coaching, Cooper sees two types of clients most often. The first are higher-level managers who want to grow or change. For instance, they may have "found an external perception that doesn't match their self-perception," according to Cooper. "They're not happy about something and don't have an understanding of it," he adds. The second type are young top performers in their late 20s or early 30s who are provided with coaching by the firm. "[The company] wants to hold on to these employees [and] uses coaching as a motivating tool," Cooper says. And if companies are betting right, these top performers could be moving quite smoothly into top management roles in years to come.

MBAs - never out of style

The MBA - the classic manager's tool - has come a long way here since first appearing on the market in 1990.

About 10 years ago, there were only 100-200 MBA students studying here; today, well over a thousand students study either full- or part-time for a Masters of Business Administration. While a good number of these students are foreigners coming to the Czech Republic for cheaper costs, the vast majority of students are Czech managers.
At Brno International Business School (BIBS), which reported 249 MBA students during its 2003/2004 school year, making it the largest provider in the country, there has been an increasing interest from applicants. According to Miloslav Keřkovský, director of MBA studies, about half the students at BIBS are funded by their company, with the rest paying there own way. (A two-and-a-half year program runs about CZK 250,000). He says the student body varies from managers at both large and small manufacturing firms and service providers, as well as hospital, banking or insurance managers and lawyers or consultants. "The spectrum of participants in our MBA program is very wide," Keřko-vský says.
At ČSOB "an MBA is a part of our management training," says spokesman Pavel Hejzlar, with the bank picking up school fees and providing free study time. As expected, though, the chance to study for an MBA is very selective. "The majority of our MBA applicants are participants or graduates of our training and development programs for high-potential employees," Hejzlar notes, adding that MBA graduates sit in most high-level management positions. "An MBA program gives them a lot of valuable knowledge and skills, as well as self-confidence," he says.
Despite the wide array of student backgrounds, most MBA providers (who are all teamed with foreign universities, as Czech schools cannot provide MBA titles because the degree isn't recognized in the Czech University Law) offer a general MBA course, although several schools have started offering specialized degrees in everything from IT or logistics to agriculture, law or healthcare. That doesn't mean the focus of an MBA hasn't shifted over the years. "The coursework has changed from more or less theoretical studies to more practical applications," explains marketing director Tatiana Boráková, from the Czech Management Institute Praha (ESMA), which has ties to the Spain-based Escuela Superior de Marketing y Administración Barcelona. Boráková adds that studies now concentrate primarily on putting "theoretical knowledge into practice."


A trustworthy contact


Joel H. Cooper

As coaching is a one-on-one relationship, there are a number of trust factors involved.

Especially today when handfuls of firms provide some "coaching" services, firms must be very careful in picking a coach. "Firms really do background work [when choosing a coach]," says Dynargie partner Joel H. Cooper. "It's a reflection on the HR department if a coach isn't successful," he adds.
Most coaching relationships develop from old contacts or references. "At the beginning, trust is more dependent on references," notes Radvan Bahbouh, a director with Qed & Quod. Dynargie's Cooper, whose client list is 95% made up of past coachees or referrals, adds, "If firms are skeptical, you'll never get a face-to-face meeting." Similarly, not all references may be positive, a side effect of poor services from dozens of untrained firms and coaches. "Only in cases where poor-quality services were provided in the past can we detect skepticism," Bahbouh says.
Still, a highly-qualified coach doesn't necessarily equate success. "Even if you are a skillful coach, it doesn't work if you don't match your client," claims Eva Jedličková, a coach with Contour Consulting. Bahbouh seconds this, saying "the most convincing CV and list of achievements won't substitute for personal contact." Once a personal contact is made, ground rules are important to establish - especially in cases where a firm provides a coach for an employee, making the coach responsible to both parties. From there, coaches must help coachees gain an accurate self-awareness by finding out their values, what motivates them, and what their goals are. "To develop trust, I'm being a facilitator," Cooper explains. All the while, coaches must behave openly, sincerely, and, above all, consistently.
It's a lot of work to do in only six months to a year - the time when most coaches agree it is necessary to sever the association. "It's unethical to establish a long-term relationship," Jedličková says, adding that a coach's job is to "enable clients to solve things on their own."


Organized coaching

A good sign of a growing service is when an organization appears to promote it. In coaching's case, it's gotten two: the Czech Asso-ciation of Coaches (ČAKO), started three years ago, and a Prague chapter of the International Coach Federation (ICF), active since March 2005.

Contour Consulting's Eva Jedličková, who isn't a member of either group, welcomes the new organizations' effort, saying there needs to be "more promotion of what coaching is." ČAKO found this early on at one of its first conferences, where many didn't understand coaching. "We found [at that time] we were working too fast for the market," says Iva Pondělíková, from CNP Consulting and part of ČAKO's leadership. Pondělíková, who calls coaching more of an attitude than a tool, has seen a growing interest in the service since that time.
For Radvan Bahbouh, of Qed & Quod and another leader in ČAKO, the group has put some order in the market, after the number of firms offering the service - sometimes unprofessionally - expanded. "ČAKO is trying to promote the [coaching] method," he says, "as well as introduce to potential users the way it should be provided." He says conferences and seminars are valuable to this, "but the most important are references." Indeed, one initiative of ČAKO is building a database of coaches.
References are also the strength behind the Prague chapter of the ICF. While not exactly an organization in the traditional sense, free-lance coach and chapter leader Monika Bartoníčková describes the ICF - with some 8,500 members, including nearly a dozen locally, in 34 countries - more as a network. For USD 100 membership dues, members have access to training and education materials, as well as international networking and references. "[In the Czech Republic] there's a lack of literature and experience," she says. "Sometimes the only good source is abroad."
Arguably, Bartoníčková's job as chapter leader could be regarded as more of a "contact person", since the Prague chapter receives no funding from the ICF. Still, she hopes to bring more things - like literature or ICF-approved educational courses (which the ICF doesn't run, but only certifies) - to help speed up progress on the Czech market. "The ICF is a great opportunity for updated information or meeting colleagues from abroad," she says. "For a new business like coaching, this is very important."

© The Prague Tribune, 2005
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