From Gaps to Growth: A Journey to Close Skills Gaps Through Coaching

July 21, 2023 | Reskill Your Workforce | 6 min read

PSE brought high-quality, personalized coaching to more employees without spending a fortune.

Workforce transformation is a top priority for businesses today, but it's also one of their toughest challenges.

With as many as 70% of organizations grappling with skills gaps, competition for talent is fierce. Add the fact that recruitment is a time-consuming and expensive process, plus skyrocketing turnover rates, and the conclusion is clear: Companies can't simply rely on hiring to cultivate the skills they need.

Luckily, businesses do have a better option. By investing in skill-building opportunities for existing employees, companies can transform their workforces and boost retention. And more specifically, by investing in power skills, such as communication, empathy, and strategic thinking, companies can empower their employees to lead successfully in the modern workforce.

Coaching, in particular, has proven to be a powerful way to sharpen the leadership skills of employees at all levels. According to data from Skillsoft Coaching, employees who receive professional leadership coaching achieve 90% of the goals they work on with their coaches, become 20% more proficient in targeted behaviors, and gain 14% greater readiness for career advancement after just six months of coaching.

Yet coaching can be costly, so it's often reserved for the upper echelons of an organization — even though a truly successful workforce transformation requires every employee to think and act like a leader.

Is there a way to bring coaching to more employees without breaking the bank?

Puget Sound Energy (PSE), a utility company based in Washington state, recently wrestled with this question. And the answer, they discovered, is "yes."

Here's how they did it.

'We Wanted to Put Coaching at the Front End of People's Careers'

For years, PSE offered employees a cohort-based, in-person coaching program. People benefited from it, but the drawbacks became evident over time.

Because the program relied on in-person meetings, only employees who lived and worked near the meetings could take part. These geographical constraints created barriers to access for many workers.

"We are the largest energy provider in the state of Washington, and because we were working with a local company doing in-person coaching, it was really only available to people in that particular area," says Gay Niven, Organizational Development Consultant at PSE. "If you work in the Eastern side of the state — and we have a lot of people there — it didn't work well for you at all."

The enduring popularity of remote work in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic only heightened the issue. With more people craving flexibility in where and when they work, it became harder to gather distributed employees in a centralized location for training on a set schedule.

At the same time, PSE needed strong attendance at each session, or it didn't make financial sense to offer coaching.

"When you do it in person, you have to do cohorts, or it doesn't pay," says Ranodda DeChambeau, organizational development consultant at PSE. "It doesn't pay to bring an instructor in to do something unless you've got a good group of people gathered to participate."

PSE also wanted to change the focus of its coaching program. Traditionally, PSE provided coaching to underperforming individuals to help them improve. Despite these interventions, many of those people would leave the company anyway. PSE decided it would make more sense to use coaching to build new skills and prepare employees for the future.

"We were focused on leaders who were having trouble, and we were trying to save them," DeChambeau says. "We wanted to flip it. We wanted to put coaching at the front end of people's careers to help them be productive.”

More proactive coaching became even more imperative as PSE's business model began to change. The company started shifting away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. This new strategy required new leadership skills. A program that could only support a small number of leaders wasn’t going to help PSE reach its lofty clean energy goals.

"We're having to change really quickly," Niven says. "I'm looking at the coaching program not only to build retention and engagement but also to accelerate the skill development of leaders that are here."

Subscribe to the Skillsoft Blog

We will email when we make a new post in your interest area.

Select which topics to subscribe to:

A More Equitable, Personalized Approach to Coaching

Motivated by these challenges, PSE set out to find alternative coaching programs. The search eventually led to Skillsoft Coaching, a fully customizable, executive-quality digital coaching platform.

Because Skillsoft Coaching is delivered virtually, PSE was able to knock down the geographical barriers that kept so many people from coaching in the past.

"In-person coaching was a roadblock," DeChambeau says. "People couldn't participate, or if they could, it was quite a hassle. We removed a lot of those roadblocks."

Skillsoft Coaching can be delivered one-on-one or in small groups, giving PSE more flexibility in how it allocates coaching resources. In other words, PSE no longer needs to run cohorts of a certain size to make the investment worthwhile.

"Our participation has increased," DeChambeau says. "We can provide coaching to more people because of the cost-effectiveness of virtual coaching."

PSE has also used this flexibility to make coaching more personalized. Participants can connect with more kinds of coaches in smaller settings, allowing them to tackle individual issues like specific problems they may be having in their roles, teams, or careers. As PSE's business model evolves, many employees appreciate having someone they can trust to help them navigate the changes.

"We've been able to offer coaching more widely, and we also have a much wider range of coaches available now," DeChambeau says. "It has allowed us to move into more customized leadership options rather than doing everything in cohorts."

PSE's training and development coordinators use Skillsoft Coaching's reporting features to track participant engagement, satisfaction, and performance. This offers increased visibility into how well the program works and how it can be tweaked to optimize its impact.

"One thing we like about Skillsoft is that we can actually get some insight into what happens for those people that participate," DeChambeau says. "We want to know: Are they finding this beneficial? Do they feel like they're better leaders afterward?"

Going forward, PSE is considering how it can use Skillsoft Coaching to help inform succession planning decisions.

"Right now, we have a decentralized succession planning process," Niven explains. "I'm hoping virtual coaching can go into succession planning, so we can consult with leaders, look at development plants, and find the people who can really benefit the most from coaching."

Coaching Isn't Just for the C-Suite Anymore

Workforce transformation isn't just about equipping employees with new skills. It's also about helping them grow into leaders who can use those new skills to drive the company forward. With the right platform and development strategy, coaching can be an effective way to turn every employee into the leaders their businesses need.

As PSE's experience proves, coaching doesn't have to be the sole province of the C-suite. Bringing coaching to more people leads to significant gains for both employees and their organizations.

About Skillsoft Coaching

A fully customizable, executive-quality coaching platform for building effective leaders at every level through one-on-one and group coaching engagements.