Jan 192009

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

Coaching has become one of the leading leadership-development support strategies in the corporate world. Coaches are regularly deployed to help rising-stars develop more quickly and surely. Other coaches focus on team development and improved project management approaches. Still others – and I am one of these – work with CEOs, Boards of Directors to improve both strategic and tactical planning and implementation. One of the most common issues that I help address is an attempt to get maximum ROI out of the dollars being invested in a coaching program.

Coaching can easily fall into what I call the ‘gift’ category. Many executives find it a wonderful “perk” to have a coach – they consider it as recognition of their value to the company. This attitude – while seeming logical – is one of the most corrosive when it comes to getting value out of a coaching program. The real issue is not how valuable a person is to the company – it is how valuable they can become to the company with coaching support. Coaching is an investment in the future – the future of the person and of the company. Organizations provide their executives and key management staff with coaches in order to improve their value. Good coaching provides customized support for the individual. However, the organization needs to make sure that such investments are generating a substantial return on investment. Here are a few ways that you can approach that issue:

1. Develop Metrics for Selecting and Monitoring Coaches: Coaching is a ‘feel good’ process. Many coaches are selected based on word of mouth or the initial chemistry between the coach and client. Coaching should generate measurable results and those results must be measured. It is important that the organization develop a standard process selecting and monitoring the contributions of coaches and that these criteria be based upon specific criteria or competencies. With this in mind, it is very important to assign a senior person in the organization to manage and monitor the coaching program. This person should deal with all requests for and the selection of coaches. They can also ensure that coaching is being used where it is the most effective and that the coaches selected are appropriate for the assignment. Finally, they will be responsible for insuring that the return on dollars invested in coaching is as high as possible.

2. Develop and Enforce ‘Results Expectations’: One major mistake that many organizations make is to fail to get very specific when agreeing to the terms, conditions and metrics that will guide a coach’s work. It is vital to spell out the exact expectations for each coach and coaching engagement. These metrics should be very detailed – such as number of meetings, length of meeting and reporting. Here is an example of what I mean: I have encountered situations where coaches were brought in to assist in the development of the key staff member, yet the development was never connected to the business strategy or goals. When I asked, “How is this coaching contributing to the company’s attaining its goals?” I got a blank stare. The good rule is that any investment should tie into the goals and objectives of the company – and coaching is no exception to that rule.

3. Involve People in the Process: I have worked with companies that developed and deployed a coaching program without providing for any feedback m or even involvement from the individuals being coached – other than, of course, their being coached. This ‘one size fits all’ approach seldom generates much of a return. A coaching engagement is a relationship between the coaching client and the coach. Making a good match is key to successful engagement. Another mistake that some organizations make is to narrowly focus on the coach/client relationship. It is important to involve the context of the coaching engagement – for instance coaching client’s direct manager – in the coaching process. This may involve regular meetings to discuss progress with the coach and/or three way meetings between the coach, client and direct manager. It is also important to contextualize the coaching engagement within the broader organization. I have found it very helpful to bring coached clients together for mutual support sessions and to highlight their progress to the broader organization.

4. Link Business & Development Goals to the Coaching Engagement: Often times coaches are brought in to assist in the development of the key staff member, yet the development that is requested is not connected to the businesses’ strategy or goals. I always prompt CEOs to ask, “How will the coaching, or the skill development or project support assist the company in attaining its goals?” Remember that if the coaching objectives are not identified prior to the engagement and tied directly to the overall goals and strategy of the company, it is unlikely that the expenditures will generate the desired ROI. It is only by developing and implementing such a goal setting and coordinating process that an organization will be able to answer questions such as, “How do we know if the engagement is successful? How do we know if the expenditures were worth while?” Some of the outcomes of coaching may be difficult to measure but going through the exercise will greatly increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the coaching engagement.

Coaching is widely recognized as one of the most important strategies that an organization can deploy in its attempt to grow and beat out its competition. However, for coaching to be truly productive, it needs to be approached like any other corporate investment.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II



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