This article first published at The HR Agenda Magazine [March-June 2015 issue].
First, the Bad News…
In spite of all the fanfare surrounding Abenomics and the “Three Arrows” of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in bringing Japan out of the economic doldrums, truth be told, I believe the jury is still out.
Big, export-oriented companies such as Toyota, Nissan, Toshiba, NEC, and even the tourism industry, (which saw its biggest tourist numbers reaching almost 13.5 million in 2014, according to Japan Tourism Marking Co.) have been enjoying the positive effects of Abenomics. But the vast majority of Japanese industries and companies, particularly the small and medium businesses (SMEs) which comprise 99.7 percent of all registered companies in Japan as of 2013, have yet to experience the trickle-down effects of Abe’s bold economic policies.
In addition, the recent economic figures indicating Japan has finally come out of its recession in the last quarter of 2014 met a lot of cold shoulders, if not doubt or outright disbelief.
As a result, companies still continue to lay off people, freeze wage increases and new hires, or even worse, close their businesses as they struggle to survive Japan’s economic woes.
…and then the Good News.
From an ordinary person’s point of view, or more appropriately, to a typical salaryman, times like these can still offer tremendous opportunities for those who are bold enough to go outside of their comfort zones. The continuing economic challenges of Japan may be the right time to engage in self-assessment, and to take a moment’s pause to rethink personal and professional goals. HR professionals have a novel term for this process of self-rediscovery: coaching.
When an employee is laid off for instance, a talk with a career counselor or a professional coach would help a great deal in mapping out available options in terms of new career opportunities. It would also provide an honest assessment of individual strengths, character traits, behaviors and responses. Coaching also serves as an ingenious way to inculcate upon the recently displaced employee that the unfortunate predicament is not just due to the uncertainties of market forces but, among other things, personal limitations as an individual and as a professional.
The Coach and the Coaching Process
Coaching may sound like a new-age concept and it is common to find a lot of people engaged in some sort of personal coaching in areas ranging from anger management to spiritual enlightenment. There are actually many definitions of coaching but for me coaching should be seen as a process of helping a person, team or organization go from its present position to where it wants to be.
The purpose of coaching is actually very close to the word’s etymology. Before the age of automobiles, people who wanted to go from one place to another would take a carriage called a coach, tie it to a horse and travel wherever they wanted to go (think of the horse and carriage logo of the Coach brand, the famous American luxury goods maker).
A coach normally helps define the right focus which may be necessary so that an individual or an organization will be able to overcome a difficult situation or reach breakthrough performance (as coaches for top athletes do). [Recommended reading: Using Coaching as a Route to Reach Potential & Achieve Goals by Yukimo Shito, The HR Agenda Magazine, July-Sep 2014 issue].
In many large organizations, an HR professional typically assumes the role of a coach, performing everything from active listening to conducting psychometric tests to gauge strengths and weaknesses. This sort of intervention is necessary because sometimes people get blinded by their own talents to the point that they isolate themselves from the responsibility when something goes wrong.
Talking to a coach can be an exercise in both sincerity and humility. The coach asks hard questions and gives advice on actions that could have been taken or which could have been more effective than what the individual chose. Hostility may arise because people react differently to feedback. Moreover, even the most carefully chosen words can produce the most unexpected of reactions.
Coaching as Opposed to Training
Coaching is not training. While coaching is also a way to acquire learning, a coach should be seen as a facilitator rather than as an instructor, since a coach helps clients answer their own questions instead of telling them the answers. Actually, it is no different from the very learning process adults go through, for it involves self-discovery, introspection and guided self-assessments.
Coaching is not meant to be a substitute for training. Training has always been a significant component of organizational development and studies show that organizations that keep up on training have greater chances of weathering a crisis or maximizing any opportunities out there in the market. [Recommended reading: “Organizational Development & Learning,” The HR Agenda Magazine, July-Sep 2014]
Coaching in Good and in Bad Times
Like all other human resource development interventions, coaching programs entail cost. In good times, cost may not be such a big issue. The focus is more developmental, or to achieve the next breakthroughs in performance and thus support the organization’s future successes and business results. For large or progressive organizations, they even have external coaching programs, which would involve further investments in both time and resources.
However in difficult times, companies would often rather cut on expenses and, inevitably, coaching may not sound so appealing anymore. But this does not mean that people can no longer take advantage of coaching per se. Those wanting to have a third-person perspective can always ask a trusted colleague, professor, senpai, previous employer, a pastor or spiritual leader, or even a friend, to coach them. Be forewarned though that sometimes, the most costly advice is free advice.
Pragmatically speaking, those who can afford to pay a professional coach tend to benefit the most. The correct way of viewing this, in my opinion, is to look at it not as an added expenditure but as a long-term investment for both the organization and the individual.
No job is recession-proof. But it helps to keep a positive attitude and to be a little optimistic. It is always better to maintain one’s composure no matter what happens and even amidst the negative, console ourselves with the fact that this too will pass.
As employees, however, we must also take responsibility for our careers, bearing in mind that the good and bad choices we make today will have consequences in the future. We also have to be more proactive in managing our careers rather than entrusting everything to the HR department, our bosses, or our companies.
Now that lifetime employment is fast becoming a thing of the past even in Japan, we should strive instead to become lifetime employable [Recommended reading:“From Lifetime Employment to Lifetime Employability: How L&D Can Help You Make That Change,” Publisher’s Message, The HR Agenda Magazine, Jul-Sep 2014]. We can only do this if we overcome our fears to learn new things, to meet with people, and to accept the fact that change is really the only thing constant in this world.
Needless to say, having a coach by your side is an added help not only to survive but more importantly to thrive both in good and bad times.