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Matt Somers

Matt Somers Coaching Skills Training Ltd

Founder & Managing Consultant

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Why hiring a coach to address toxic behaviour is unwise

Tackling problem behaviour requires a collaborative effort involving qualified HR professionals and legal experts.
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As an executive coach (amongst other things) my primary goal is to facilitate change. My ‘elevator pitch’ mumbles something about “helping individuals and organisations to reach their full potential.”

However, there are certain situations where hiring a coach to bring about change may not be the most appropriate course of action. 

One such scenario is dealing with employees who exhibit grossly inappropriate behaviour, such as sexism or racism. 

In this article, we will explore five reasons why hiring a coach for such problem employees can be unwise and may even worsen the situation.

1. Misalignment of coaching objectives

Executive coaching is most effective when both the organisation and the employee are committed to growth and development. 

However, in cases where an employee’s behaviour is unacceptable, the primary concern should be addressing these harmful actions rather than suggesting it’s time for professional growth. 

Attempting to use coaching as a remedy for deeply ingrained behavioural issues may lead to a misalignment of coaching objectives, and the core problem may remain unaddressed. 

Worse, a problem employee may think coaching has been lined up because they’re seen as having future potential. A cynical one may be rehearsing telling a tribunal judge the same thing.

Attempting to use coaching as a remedy for deeply ingrained behavioural issues may lead to a misalignment of coaching objectives, and the core problem may remain unaddressed

2. Responsibility shifting

When an organisation hires an executive coach to deal with their employee’s inappropriate behaviour, it can inadvertently signal a lack of willingness to confront the issue directly. 

This sends the wrong message to other employees, who may interpret it as being a way to avoid taking firm action against such behaviour. 

Instead of shirking responsibility by outsourcing the problem to a coach, organisations must take a proactive and direct approach in addressing inappropriate behaviour in house.

3. Inadequate expertise

While executive coaches are trained professionals with expertise in leadership development, they are not typically qualified or equipped to handle cases of things like sexism or racism in the workplace. 

Addressing these serious issues requires the involvement of qualified HR practitioners or legal professionals who possess the knowledge and experience to navigate complex interpersonal situations and any potential legal minefields.

While executive coaches are trained professionals with expertise in leadership development, they are not typically qualified or equipped to handle cases of things like sexism or racism in the workplace

4. Risk of coaching as a sticking plaster solution

In some instances, hiring an external coach for an employee behaving inappropriately may be viewed as a quick fix; a mere sticking plaster solution to a much deeper problem. 

Behavioural issues manifesting as sexism and racism for example, often demand more comprehensive interventions, such as unconscious bias training, policy overhauls, or corrective action. 

Relying solely on coaching could undermine the gravity of the situation and may lead to recurrent issues in the future.

5. Potential damage to the coach-client relationship

For executive coaching to be successful, a strong and trusting coach-client relationship is essential. 

However, when tasked with addressing inappropriate behaviour, an executive coach may find it challenging to build rapport with a client who displays discriminatory tendencies. 

This could hinder the coaching process, making it difficult to achieve meaningful progress in other areas of professional development.

When tasked with addressing inappropriate behaviour, an executive coach may find it challenging to build rapport with a client who displays discriminatory tendencies

When coaching is counterproductive

In conclusion, hiring an executive coach to deal with employees who exhibit grossly inappropriate behaviour, including sexism and racism, is unwise and potentially counterproductive. 

Addressing such issues internally is crucial for fostering a healthy work environment and upholding cultural values. 

Tackling these problems requires a collaborative effort involving qualified HR professionals and legal experts.

Let’s not be naive, your other employees probably know more about the problem person than you’d care to admit, and they’ll be very interested in watching what happens. 

How you handle these situations creates vivid experiences for your people and will influence the beliefs they come to hold about your organisation’s culture.

Let’s instead be optimistic. When toxic behaviour is handled robustly but with compassion we stand a chance that the person concerned will admit to their failings and ask for help.

And a coach might well then be an appropriate source of that help.

If you enjoyed this, read: How to banish a toxic blame culture forever

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Matt Somers

Founder & Managing Consultant

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