“Meh.” Ever felt that way about anything? Nothing is wrong, but you notice a general indifference or lack of enthusiasm. Confession: This is how I felt about my own training and development journey, especially after the pandemic, which gave us all an unlimited opportunity to experience death by Zoom meetings and webinar trainings.
By no means am I discrediting training. There is a time and place for it that we simply cannot and should not attempt to work around. It is an effective means to deliver information to ensure calibrated understanding of a topic which clearly benefits attendees and their respective companies. Our food safety industry has built entire businesses around training and education, which have been a saving grace to help our sector comply with regulations and ensure effective knowledge transfer of vital information.
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Rather, I am a firm believer in continuous professional development, as evidenced by 10 years of post-graduate education, two advanced degrees, many certifications, and attendance in countless training and education sessions. Because I am curious by nature, I committed myself to exploring the reason behind my “meh” feeling about training and discovered a powerful addition to the classic training and education model: coaching.
In this article, I will explain what coaching is, how it differs from training, some key benefits and evidence of its effectiveness for the gamut of food industry professionals—from product developers, R&D and food engineers to food scientists and food safety professionals.
What is Coaching and How does it Differ from Training?
Training and coaching are often used interchangeably. However, there are key differences between the two.
Training is designed to increase knowledge and skills, and is used for topics such as new employee training, refresher GMP training, and new regulatory requirements.[i] It focuses on organizational goals and is typically delivered to groups. When using a “push/pull” analogy, training is a “push” approach of providing information from an instructor to participants. The goal of training is knowledge transfer.
Coaching is designed to increase self-awareness about choices, values, attitudes, behaviors, and personal/professional development needs.[ii] It focuses on the individual, is almost always delivered 1:1, and is unique to each individual based on their self-identified development goals and objectives. It is the “pull” approach—extracting information from the individual to help them identify, understand and own their desired outcomes, whether professional or personal. The goal of coaching is behavioral change.[iii]
How does this distinction apply to and benefit food safety? Key benefits are addressed below. However, let me pose a question as food for thought: our industry is keenly focused on developing mature, strong food safety cultures. Rightly so. We have developed maturity models, audit standards and training modules to enhance food safety culture inside our companies. Yet many of us haven’t seen the changes we desire. Why?
Consider the definition of food safety culture (of which there are admittedly several, but let’s use the GFSI definition here); that is, the “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mind- set and behavior toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization.”[iv] The definition itself speaks to values, attitude and behavior—just like the definition of coaching. Starting to see the promise of coaching?
What are the Benefits of Coaching?
Professional coaching can have a profound impact on individuals in their professional lives. Yet the benefits do not end in the workplace. Because we bring our whole selves to work—and to coaching sessions—our personal lives benefit as well. Since coaching is designed to be transformational rather than transactional, the benefits are often immediate yet continue to add value over the course of a career and a lifetime.
Key benefits of coaching include:
Personal Responsibility: Coaching asks you, the person being coached, to do the work. You identify your desired goals (e.g., promotion, obtaining a new job in another company), areas for development and ultimate desired outcomes. Coaching helps you grasp how your own actions or inactions either support or sabotage your overall professional goals and the goals your company may have for you. This approach results in individuals taking greater responsibility and accountability for their own actions, commitments and desired outcomes.
Collaboration: Coaching provides tools to help individuals work more easily and productively with coworkers and/or superiors. Coaching provides a unique forum where different learning styles and approaches to decision-making and conflict resolution are explored. This results in more effective and open collaboration.
Communication: Effective communication is critical to professional success. It aids us in expressing our ideas, building trusting relationships and advocating for ourselves, our teams, and our companies. Coaching helps us identify and break through our own barriers, whether they be social anxiety, lack of confidence, or inability to offer candid feedback to our direct reports (e.g., due to fear that we will hurt their feelings, so we don’t say anything), and learn to communicate more effectively, which benefits the individual and the company.
Cascade effect: Growth that occurs through coaching causes a positive ripple effect to our direct reports, peers and others around us. When a manager receives professional coaching, it cascades to their team members who then also benefit from the mentoring, leadership development, and coaching culture the manager brings back into the organization. This is amplified because part of coaching often is to teach us how to be an effective coach to others.
Does Coaching Work?
The benefits of coaching are many; 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. What’s more, 86% of companies report that they recouped or exceeded their investment on coaching.[v]
I personally can attest to the power of professional coaching. I am a recipient and obtained myriad valuable insights, so much so that I invested in a Master Certified Professional Coaching Certification (M.C.P.C.) from an institution accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The more I explore the coaching model, the more I see a powerful mechanism to not only transform myself and those I lead but also a tool that can take our industry to another level.
[v] International Coaching Federation 2009 survey.