Different Facets of Executive Coaching
By Liz Thach and Tom Heinselman, edited by Tony Klingmeyer MCC
Executive coaching is on the rise. Here are the types of coaching approaches and how to conduct them.
Twenty years ago, the only time an organization would hire an executive coach was to remediate or ‘fix’ an under-performing executive. Now, it’s common to provide an executive coach to high performing managers where coaches meet privately with them several times a month to discuss and address their personal learning and development challenges. So, should it be part of your leadership development strategy?
Before we answer that question, here are several facets of executive coaching:
– Feedback coaching
– In-depth development coaching
– Content coaching.
Each is implemented differently; and though the processes vary based on a specific company’s needs, all types of coaching can help leaders who need to enhance their skills or improve in a specific area.
This type of coaching, which is typically part of a six-month engagement, involves giving feedback to a leader and helping him or her create a development plan to address specific needs. It’s generally accompanied by a 360-assessment, with which the coach helps the leader analyze the data to identify strengths and areas needing development. Based on a client’s findings, he or she will craft a ‘development’ plan and the coach assists the client in practicing and executing on this plan. Usually, there are monthly conversations between the coach and the leader, which can take place face-to-face or on the phone.
In-depth development coaching.
Lasting six to twelve months, this type of coaching involves a close, intimate relationship between the executive and the coach. The data collection and analysis phase are in-depth, usually involving the coach conducting face-to-face interviews with all of the executive’s staff, peers, manager, and, in some cases, customers, suppliers, and family members. Multiple assessment instruments, such as DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and Firo-B are often used to supplement the interviews. Sometimes the coach will observe, or “shadow,” the executive at work in meetings, making presentations, and so forth. The observation can be part of the data-collection phase, continued development, and feedback support as the executive implements his or her development plan.
Once the data has been collected, the coach meets with the executive to analyze the results. That’s usually an intensive feedback session lasting up to two to three sessions. Then, the executive and the coach create a draft development plan, which the executive usually shares with his or her manager to obtain input. The next phase is implementing the development plan, with the coach still closely involved. At minimum, the coach meets with the executive at least once a month for two to four hours to assess progress, discuss roadblocks, and offer support. In some cases, the coach will continue to observe the executive in various interactions and provide on-the-spot feedback. The coach usually continues to work with the executive until the development plan has been completely implemented and the executive has improved or enhanced the targeted competencies (which is often validated by an end-term interview of key stakeholders and, at a minimum, the client’s performance manager).
The time this stage takes depends on the issues involved. This type of coaching involves providing leaders with knowledge and skills in a specific content area. An example might be a leader who needs to know more about global marketing, finance, or operations in a specific industry. Another example might be a leader who needs to improve presentation skills or learn how to prepare to meet with stock analysts. Content coaches are experts in a specific discipline, and they’re brought in to meet with an executive in a series of sessions to ensure that the executive develops the necessary knowledge and skills in that area. The coaching can include having the executive read books or articles and debrief with the coach, conducting role plays, and being videotaped. The timeframe depends on the executive’s skill level and gaps that need to be addressed. The first coaching session is often an assessment of the executive’s skill and knowledge level. Then, a learning plan is documented with a timeline and activities to achieve the desired outcome. Some organizations prefer to send executives to external seminars to obtain the needed skills or knowledge. But with chaotic management schedules or an accelerated timeframe, one-on-one executive coaching can make more sense–especially if you can obtain a coach who is considered to be a world-class expert in the specific content.
Real Life Executive Coaching
An international Fortune 100 electronics firm implemented an in-depth developmental coaching process for its top 60 executives. Each executive was assigned a private coach to work with over a period of one year. The process began with a battery of psychological assessments and a 360-interview process, in which the coach personally interviewed the executives’ staff, peers, and managers. The executives were assessed on how well they demonstrate company values. After compiling the data, the coach spent one to two days reviewing results with executives and drafting development plans, which they shared with their managers to get additional input. The coach continued to meet with each executive for two hours each month to assess progress, assist with issues and roadblocks, and celebrate successes. The emphasis was on helping the executives demonstrate the leadership values and philosophy of the company. In some instances, the coach shadowed an executive, depending on the development issues. At six and 12 months, the executives were reassessed on the values. If progress was not seen, an executive could be reassigned (this was communicated to the executives at the beginning of the process). This type of coaching is used to help executives develop the skills, knowledge, or attitudes to support the leadership values and philosophy of their company and to shift corporate culture.
Possible Coaching Scenarios
Company A –timeframe one month
1. Leader completes 360 instrument.
2.1st coaching session: 360 data-analysis and development-planning sessions (one to four hours)
3.2nd coaching session (one month later): Follow-up discussion to assess progress and roadblocks and to give encouragement (one to two hours)
Company B–timeframe three months
1. Leader completes 360 instrument.
2.1st coaching session: 360 data-analysis and development-planning sessions (one to four hours)
3. Telephone coaching sessions every two to four weeks to assess progress and roadblocks and to give encouragement (30 to 60 minutes)
4.Three-month mini assessment on development areas to assess whether progress was made; use ROI measure.
5.Final coaching session: Debrief mini assessment, update development plan, offer encouragement.
Company C–timeframe six months
1. Leader completes 360 assessment
2. First coaching session: 360 data-analysis and development-planning sessions (one to four hours)
3. Coaching sessions occur twice monthly for five months to assess progress and roadblocks and to give encouragement (one hour)
4. Six-month mini assessment on development areas to assess whether progress was made; use ROI measure.
5. Final coaching session: Debrief mini assessment; update development plan, offer encouragement.
Real Life Executive Coaching
A hospital in the U.S. Midwest implemented a content coaching process for doctors to help them develop skills and knowledge about hospital finances. Each doctor completed an assessment to determine his or her current level of financial knowledge and then was assigned a private coach who was an expert in hospital finance. The coach worked with each doctor individually and customized the coaching sessions to meet the doctors’ specific development needs in the finance area. Some coaching sessions were longer than others; some used different learning approaches, based on a doctor’s learning style. At the end of six months, each doctor was reassessed on his or her finance skills and knowledge.
Benefits and pitfalls
Executive coaching has many advantages, but it’s not without risks. Talk with anyone who has implemented a coaching process, and they’ll have at least one bad story to tell–generally about matching an executive with the wrong coach.
The benefits we’ve seen in our experience and in talking with others who have implemented executive coaching include positive behavior change and enhanced skills and knowledge.
Most leaders appreciate executive coaching because:
· they receive direct one-on-one assistance from someone they respect;
· they don’t have to leave their offices;
· it fits their timeframes and schedules;
· they can, when dedicated and committed to being coached, see and measure immediate results.
The ROI with executive coaching is often very high–especially if you calculate the value of a high-level executive’s salary and the return-on-improvement in skill level, decision making and overall contribution.
It has been reported that stress levels and burnout decrease with executive coaching, because executives have an objective third party they can talk to confidentially about work-life balance issues, thus increasing their support network. Employee satisfaction often goes up as leaders recognize the investment their company is making in them to provide personal development coaching.
Executive coaching is a good strategy for fast-paced or start-up companies that don’t have more traditional leadership development programs in place.
When initiating executive coaching in a system, be mindful of these pitfalls:
· Not integrating executive coaching with the rest of your leadership development strategy;
· Not getting the full buy-in of executives to participate in coaching
· Not being clear on the context for coaching and the type of coach needed
· Not checking a coach’s references (e.g. use your personal network and word-of- mouth, and personally interview each coach)
· Selecting and matching the wrong coach with a leader.
Beware of coaches who:
· have no industry experience (for example, a psychological background only)
· insist on using a ‘one-size fits all’ coaching model
· have done only outplacement work (they might “coach” your executives to leave)
· take credit for past coaching results–such as, “I fixed this guy”
· use a strictly counseling approach (coaching is not counseling). Coaches need to provide specific and practical suggestions for skill enhancement.
Making a good match
Executive coaching should be integrated into the rest of your leadership development strategy. Depending on what has already implemented, executive coaching can be one more option for specific situations, such as content and in-depth development coaching. Or it can be the heart of your strategy. For example, if you have a 360-leadership assessment, you may decide to use that combined with feedback coaching as your core process. Then, all development plans coming out of the coaching sessions determine the other types of development activities you offer, such as classroom training, self-study, job rotation, community learning, and so forth. It’s important that you’re clear about where executive coaching fits into your overall development strategy before you begin recruiting coaches.
Attend any meeting of executive development professionals and you’ll hear the same lament, “Where do we find good executive coaches?” The best answer is to use your personal network of associates. Word of mouth can identify the finest coaches. Just make sure you ask what type of coaching (feedback, in-depth development, or content) took place and what the coach’s philosophy, style, and results were. Then, determine whether that coach would work well in your corporate culture. In addition, there are several organizations for finding executive coaches, with new ones springing up every day (see the sidebar, Executive Coaching Suppliers).
Obviously, you need to identify your own selection criteria, but we’ve listed a few that we think are important.
· Must be associated and credentialed through the ICF
· Must have experience coaching executives and using and debriefing multiple 360 instruments.
· Must understand the corporate environment (ideally, have worked in the same industry).
· Must know development (can suggest practical, effective actions for improvement).
· Must be tough and confrontational in a supportive way.
· Must respect and support confidentiality.
Coaches can report to HR on retention and similar issues, but most discussions between coach and executive should be confidential (which is different from evaluative coaching).
When you interview a potential coach, ask him or her to describe past experience in coaching executives. The best coaches exhibit a combination of empathy and toughness, are practical, are interested in helping people do better, and are sure of who they are as people. They also believe there’s a lot of work out there for executive coaching and aren’t competitive with other coaches.
Once you’re clear on the strategy and process, document both so you can explain them to the coaches and the leaders. When starting, we suggest you pilot with a few executives, then follow up to check progress. If there’s a lack of chemistry between a leader and a coach, be willing to switch coaches immediately. Then, give the coach feedback so you can continue your partnership with him or her.
In addition, set the ground rules for the contract. If an executive has a positive experience with a coach, the executive will likely invite the coach back to do other work, such as teambuilding or process improvement. It’s important that you clarify that contracting situation with the coach up front. A good rule is to ask the coach to clear through you any additional requests for business. Then, create a new contract.
The Executive Coach’s Perspective
From an executive coach’s perspective, there are several elements that he or she needs to be mindful of to be most effective. All of these elements might not be present in every situation, but each can raise the probability that the coaching will yield the desired outcome.
Accountability. This helps the executive maintain a consistent focus, and it sets expectations for desired outcomes. If there’s an identified development process outlined for the organization, the leaders should be held accountable for following through on that process. HR professionals can support the coach’s efforts, but the primary responsibility is on the immediate manager. Most people begin a development effort with good intentions, but it takes a lot of self-discipline to stay with it, and self-discipline is generally not enough. The manager must inspect the process and support it in a constructive way on a continuing basis.
Integration with other L&D systems. This weaves development into the cultural fabric of organization life. The development process should be integrated into and supported by other HR systems such as learning, career planning, succession planning, and performance planning. The pieces build momentum for each other, and duplicate effort is avoided. For example, if the development plan becomes a part of the performance plan, then it’s more likely that the manager will be involved actively in the process.
Top management modeling. This is one of the best ways people learn. Key leaders in any organization define or redefine the culture. If you want to build a culture that defines development as a continuous process, then have the key leaders model the behavior. If they only preach development, then don’t expect much to happen in the general population of leaders. If top leaders “walk the talk,” others will follow and accountability happens more naturally. Leaders can say, “I work continuously at getting better, and I expect you to do the same.”
Confidentiality. The coach-client privilege is a critical element of the process. The coach must be viewed by the client-leader as a trusted confidante. A manager should never ask a coach to break that confidential relationship. If asked, a coach should refuse. There are times when a coach knows information that, if divulged, would work for the overall good, including the client-leader. But to break confidentiality would undermine the entire coaching process and would almost never justify the gain.
In addition to these important elements, it always helps to update the coach on your particular business strategy, any changes in direction, or other important organizational happenings that may affect the coaching process. For example, if downsizing is going on or if the company is implementing a new global marketing plan, it’s useful for the coach to know that in advance so that he or she can be aware of the impact on the leaders being coached.
Finally, most coaches report that the longer-term coaching relationships six to eight (verses a one and done feedback session) achieves the best results. They’re there for an extended time to support the leader and to ensure that, through diligent practice, he or she develops the desired competencies. Many executive coaches say that such long-term relationships are also personally rewarding because they witness firsthand the positive changes.