Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Dr. Raija Salomaa (Finland)
In the globalized economy, leaders who are able to cope with the multiplicity of tasks and challenges presented by international business environments are valued assets for their organizations. The need for internationally competent managers is escalating (Caliguiri & Tarique, 2012) and it has been argued that organisations must provide a range of development activities, including career-related support practices, in order to be able to develop global leaders. Further, it has been suggested that rather than withdrawing from active career management, organisations should instead become involved in a different way, by practising supportive and developmental career management activities such as coaching (Segers & Inceoglu 2012). My own study (Salomaa, 2017; Salomaa & Mäkelä, 2017) suggests that we, as coaches, can support the success of organisations and individuals in the demanding global environment by enhancing career capital development of our clients through coaching. In this article, I explain the concept of career capital, give a brief overview of my research findings on how coaching enhances career capital, and discuss how a career capital framework can be practically utilised in coaching assignments.
Career capital (Inkson & Arthur, 2001) is a concept covering a broad set of competencies that employees need in order to be successful in their employment paths (Suutari, Brewster & Tornikoski, 2013). The framework consists of three interconnected elements: ‘knowing-how’ (e.g., technical skills), ‘knowing-whom’ (e.g., social networks), and ‘knowing-why’ (e.g., motivation). While the rapid change in the global business environment has accelerated the use of coaching, coaching research in the international context lags behind practice, and coaching has been addressed infrequently in the career development literature in general (Ciutiene, Neverauskas & Meilene, 2010). There was no previous research on whether and how coaching enhances the development of career capital, either in the domestic or the international context. It was clear that more empirical research was needed about the use of coaching as a potential tool for the career capital development of expatriates, employees who work abroad. Therefore, as part of my article-based PhD thesis,
I chose to conduct a narrative study, with the aim of exploring expatriates’ narratives of how coaching supported the development of each element of their career capital. This research is important because it is the first academic study to focus on the development of expatriates’ career capital capabilities through coaching.
The findings of my study indicated that coaching processes were generally seen as helpful in development interventions to enhance career capital in the challenging international context of the expatriate. Further, in some of the narratives analysed, it was evident that career capital development also occurred in areas that were not originally prioritised or even expected when coaching was started. Many of the coached expatriates found that their ‘knowing-how’ career capital had been enhanced through, for example, the development of cross-cultural and leadership skills. They also highlighted development, boosted by coaching, with regard to identity construction, enhanced awareness of the self, and motivation levels – indicators of ‘knowing-why’ career capital development. In addition, the study findings reinforced the view that ‘knowing-whom’ career capital development during the international assignment is not always self-evident (Dickmann & Harris, 2005) and that unless coaches actively pose ‘knowing-whom’ questions, interventions such as coaching may offer only limited value in the development of this area of this element of career capital.
The study also indicated that an increased awareness and understanding of the career capital concept among coaches would be beneficial, and that the career capital framework could serve as a practical tool in efficient coaching processes (Salomaa, 2017; Salomaa & Mäkelä, 2017).
Since my doctorate, I have successfully utilised the career capital framework for the benefit of my international coachees, for example at the European Commission. I have also taught the model to several coaches and executives, who have found that the tool is easy to learn and provides a systematic coaching approach when coaching any kind of client in transition situations. We will now take a closer look at the career capital framework and how it can be used in coaching.
The concept of career capital is closely linked to the idea of contemporary careers and the essential capabilities that need to be developed in order to build and maintain these careers. Contemporary career patterns are described as flexible, non-linear and self-driven. Individuals tend to take more control of their own careers, and thus, their career capital. They gain portable capabilities, construct social networks, and independently manage and enhance their careers. They also identify their own drives and motivations, and apply these in their work. Simply put, career capital can be seen as an asset that can be actively developed by the individual.
As mentioned earlier, career capital consists of the following interconnected sub-dimensions:
First, ‘knowing-how’, which represents a specific form of career capital and is an integrative term that combines explicit knowledge, implicit experiences, soft skills and technical expertise. A coach could explore this dimension by asking questions such as ‘What new skills do you need in order to be successful in your dream job?’, ‘What capabilities are not useful anymore?’.
Second, the ‘knowing-why’ career capital dimension consists of the motivation, confidence, and self-assurance to pursue a certain career path. Questions such as ‘What are your core values?’, ‘What brings you joy in your work context?’, ‘What motivates you most?’ and ‘What would you like to accomplish?’ are examples of questions that can be used here. As coaches, we understand the power of building on strengths, and so it would be useful to ask about these as well.
Third, ‘knowing-whom’ involves a person’s work relationship and includes occupational and internal company connections that can support an individual’s career. It also includes broader contacts with family, friends, fellow-alumni, and professional and social acquaintances (Inkson & Arthur, 2001). Based on my experience, coachees are often unaware of this important ‘knowing-whom’ dimension or tend to think that it is not acceptable to build relationships for one’s own benefit. Explaining that building a relationship can be a win-win-endeavour of potential benefit to both parties can be helpful in this situation. Questions such as ‘Who could support you in your career?’, ‘What kind of useful contacts do you already have?’, ‘How can you share your knowledge?’, ‘How can you build your social network?’, and ‘How are you using social media?’ can be helpful in building the ‘knowing-whom’ capabilities of your client. As an example, through coaching, one senior manager had the idea of volunteering to work in the corporate sustainability department of his employing company, even though it was not part of his job description. He learned a great deal and was able to use his new business knowledge for the benefit of his colleagues. Furthermore, he volunteered to work with start-ups and was truly inspired by the realisation that he could help them. At the same time, he gained important contacts and fresh ideas that were useful to his company.
The three dimensions of the career capital framework can be explored in one or several coaching sessions. As usual, the session should be started by defining the desired outcomes for the session and by examining the current situation of the client. After this initial discussion, ask the client whether they would like to explore the career capital framework. I recommend explaining the framework by drawing it on a flip chart. This makes it easier to start discussing each capability area with the client. I often begin with the ‘knowing-why’ dimension associated with values, motivations and so on, because after this phase the client is more aware of their deep motivations, which builds a strong base from which to explore the two other dimensions.
I recommend that the framework be used creatively – it is helpful to use it in conjunction with a timeline, where the coach and coachee can agree on practical actions leading to the desired outcomes and assign specific deadlines. In my experience, an exploration of the career capital framework can be very useful when starting an individual coaching assignment, along with diagnostic tools such as 360- degree feedback assessment, MBTI etc., or it can be used simply as a practical tool for career discussions within organisations, particularly for individuals in transition phases. In conclusion, the career capital framework offers a practical and important coaching tool in the development of today’s global leaders.
About Dr. Raija Salomaa
Raija has deep experience of coaching across a variety of industries and countries. She has worked as an Executive Coach since 2005 and combines her coaching experience with over 20 years of professional experience in executive positions within international travel trade industry. She holds a PCC of ICF and has been accredited by the European School of Administration to coach managers of the European Institutions. Raija works as an executive coach, coaching skills trainer, mentor and supervisor for coaches. Raija guest lectures on coaching and leadership in several institutions of higher education. She has completed a PhD on coaching and is a published author.
Link to the public defense of Raija Salomaa at the University of Vaasa in May 2017
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