Executive Coaching Success: Pressing the Right Keys
Companies and employees are relying less on skills-based training and trainers for career development and more on formal or informal coaching relationships. But the growth of executive coaching has generated some tough questions about its effectiveness and applicability and the ethics around the approach. Who can best benefit from a coach? When should a coach be used or avoided? What should a company look for in a coach? What should the coach-client relationship look like? Properly designed and implemented coaching can have a significant positive impact on an organization' s leadership capability. However, as with any developmental tool, there are keys to assuring a return on the time and money invested.
Five Keys to Effective Coaching
1. Coaching is focused on the right players:The best opportunity to achieve payback on a coaching investment lies with high-potential or high-professional employees, managers and executives. Helping these "game changers" at critical junctures in their careers usually has a quick and sustained payoff. Coaching challenges - whether tweaking an employee who's already a top performer or assuring that a high-potential employee achieves his or her potential - are different based on the employee's career level, but the objectives are similar.
2. Coaching is applied in the right situations:Coaching is not a panacea for all development needs. There are a limited number of opportunities where experience has shown that coaching can make the biggest difference. They tend to be areas where specific improvement goals and clear benefits can be identified and are not broad finishing-school kinds of challenges.
a) Transitions:Starting a new position with a company, moving to a new role or taking on new responsibilities are critical junctures in a career. Providing a coach to design and facilitate a transaction process can have substantial benefits. These are stressful times, when previous weaknesses become highlighted or overused strengths come to bear. An effective coach can help ensure a smooth transition for the employee and his or her new stakeholders, create confidence by building quick wins and create effective feedback so learning gets locked in.
b)Preventing derailment:Even high-potential employees fail, most often due to overuse or overdependence on one strength. Coaching can help prevent derailment by helping employees identify potential failure modes and by developing specific preventive and contingent action plans.
c)Address a specific problem:This is the more typical coaching situation. We've all seen it - an otherwise promising employee lacks a specific skill or exhibits behaviors that impact his or her relationships with others. These can be derailers, but they are more often opportunities to coach good performers with a blind spot into well-rounded, great performers.
There are specific situations where coaching should not be used.
a) Unethical or illegal behavior is the issue, and the coach is really meant to be a detective or a buffer between the employee and others.
b) When the target employee is not a high potential or a seasoned pro. Instead, there's a long-term performance problem that should be immediately confronted by the employee's manager.
c) When HR has decided the employee needs a coach, without the buy-in of the employee and the employee's manager.
d) When the coach is expected to create a case to terminate the employee.
e) When the employee has psychological problems that should be addressed by a medical professional, or at least a coach with clinical experience. A good coach should be able to quickly identify warning signs and make a referral. Coaching is not therapy and should not be an intervention to go after deep psychological issues.
3. The right coach is used:
Not every consultant or HR professional is cut out to be a coach. An effective coach doesn't need to be a board certified psychologist, but the skill set is unique. Here's a short list of critical coaching competencies.
a) Business acumen:Coaches need to be good businesspeople first. They must be able to understand the market challenges and business priorities their clients face. They need to be able to understand and use executive language.
b) Expert facilitation:Effective coaches are often top-notch facilitators. They understand group processes and process consulting and can guide individuals and teams through effective questioning, analysis, planning and decision-making processes. They can read individual and group dynamics quickly and respond appropriately.
c)Credibility:The best coaches have had business or other experience that can allow them to maintain a perspective. They build credibility quickly by showing that they have "been there, done that." Credibility does not come from a bag of tricks. Beware of a coach with a one-size-fits- all technique or instrument he or she applies in any situation.
d)Interpersonal savvy:Being able to relate to all kinds of people, build rapport and relationships easily, listen, use tact and diplomacy, and diffuse high-tension situations are all hallmarks of an effective coach.
4.Coaching is integrated:Coaching should not be designed and implemented outside of the company's strategy, culture and existing business processes.
The business case for coaching should develop from the company's strategy. The need is best identified from a review of talent, driven by the strategic needs of the business. Coaching should not be a one-off tool. It should be applied where it can best improve a strategic capability of the organization. For example, if business growth depends on developing new products for new markets, look for coaching opportunities with high-potential leaders and their backups in mission-critical new product development, business development or marketing roles.
5.The proper coaching relationship is established:
The coach's client is the employee being coached and not their manager or a human resources executive who may be paying the coach's tab. This is not the typical consultant-client relationship with the economic buyer, so it needs to be managed differently. Once the coaching relationship is established, all feedback and communication should go to the coached employee. Any communication with the manager should come from the client after discussion and agreement with the coach. To do otherwise would breech this special agreement and would jeopardize the coach-client relationship.
The one exception to this would be a case where the coach uncovers unethical or illegal behavior on the part of the employee. The coach is obligated in these situations to terminate the relationship and inform the manager.