My executive coaching engagements generally focus on improving performance and extending capabilities. Whether the client is the individual or an organization, the metrics tend to be the same – challenges that appear daunting need to be overcome, capabilities that are lacking need to be gained, abilities in short supply need to be abundant. The issue is results – important, valuable and persistent results.
If the client is a company that is bringing me in to work with a number of their key executives and rising stars, the CEO asks early in the discussions “what are the things that we should take into consideration when setting up our coaching program?” I always take this question as a positive indication that the company is serious about establishing a productive executive coaching program. Here are the seven issues that I generally focus on during my response:
1. Qualifications of the Executive Coach: There is an old saying that ‘if you haven’t been in a war, you can’t really tell others what it is like. The first screen is the qualifications and credibility of the coach, as well as education, professional background, experience and expertise. If they have not had a lot of experience doing the things that their client is currently trying to do, the results will be less than acceptable. I always tell potential clients that they should avoid coaches who base their services on some sort of theory or ideology. Coaching is about bringing experience and refined judgment to the service of a client. Preaching is not a productive part of the process.
Companies that wish to retain the services of an Executive Coach need to establish stringent quality criteria for the selection process. In building the quality criteria list the individual or boards that actually purchases the coaching services needs to ensure that they have a shared understanding of what credibility means in the eyes of the users of the coaching services they procure i.e. the executives within the company.
2. Involvement of the Executive Coach: A key indicator of potential success of any coaching engagement is the ability of the Executive Coach to develop an atmosphere of trust within the coaching sessions. Coaches need to have a genuine interest in both the client and their stories. It is vital that the company dies not attempt to interfere with the development of this relationship. Many CEOs that I have worked with have a hard time keeping their distance. They generally want to take me out for drinks and ‘discuss’ the progress of each executive that I am coaching. The first time I shut the conversation down they tend to get irritated. However, after I explain why such discussions are damaging and reduce the value received for the investment the company is making, they relent and we turn the conversation to the company or the CEO’s challenges.
Trust and confidentiality are fundamental to building a good coaching relationship. This begins with the initial interview with the Executive Coach prior to beginning any coaching assignments. As with any interview this is an opportunity for both sides to learn about each other and decide whether a working relationship can indeed be developed. The company may have decided on an Executive Coach – but the client – the individual executive – needs to feel comfortable with the coach as well.
3. Setting and Communicating Goals: The third step to successful personal executive coaching is to map out and agree upon a coaching program. This should involve clarity in terms of roles, methods and actions during the course of coaching. Companies ensure the success of their coaching programs by establishing sound coaching guidelines and providing a clear understanding to the executives to be coached about exactly what the coaching can help them accomplish.
4. The Coaching Environment: One of the most important success factors of any coaching program is the willingness of the executive to invest in the coaching, as well as their motivation and readiness to reveal their emotions to the Executive Coach. Companies need to be aware of this tor and never force their executives and employees to participate in coaching against their will. Coaching is best used as a tool for the development of high potentials rather than as a last resort for under performing employees.
5. Executive Participation: Coached Executives need to develop a self-reflective approach and to accept personal responsibility for their progress during the coaching program. It is important for company to emphasize that much of the success of the coaching program will greatly depend upon how much the executive is willing to contribute and accept responsibility for their own development. It is also important for companies to hire executive coaches who are well trained and experienced in non-directive techniques rather than using a familiar trainer or consultant who is doing a little coaching as an add-on to their existing portfolio of services.
6. Coaching Techniques: It is very important that the executive coach has a variety of coaching techniques and can therefore guarantee that they will be able to apply the necessary techniques to the executive and their specific situation. I use a wide range of approaches and assessment tools in my coaching engagements. Leadership coaching is different from executive coaching – and both are different from organizational and team coaching. The same is true of the assessment tools that I use. Leadership assessment is different from management assessment – can both differ from organizational assessment. Some engagements are strictly one-on-one while others involve groups of varying sizes. Some approaches involve a lot of ‘home work’ while others are mostly focused on meetings and phone conferences. The point is that coaching is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking.
7. Monitoring Coaching Results: I admit that I am big on metrics – both for my clients and for myself. Anything worth doing is worth measuring – and the entire purpose of any coaching program is to advance the client’s capabilities, knowledge, skills and contribution to the company in a way that makes the investment in the coaching cost effective. The coach and the company should agree on metrics at the very beginning of any engagement and regular reports on progress should focus on how well the client is advancing towards those goals. These conversations occur without violating the trust and confidentiality between the coach and client because the goals of the coaching are agreed on prior to the start of the engagement. Beware of a coach who will resist solid and time-specific metrics.
Companies experience a better return on investment when they establish an organized executive coaching program. One-off engagements with individual coaches can be productive, but a more holistic approach will be able to take organizational goals into consideration. Executive coaching is widely recognized as one of the most cost effective, high-return investments that a company can make. A systematic approach to establishing a coaching program will significantly increase the returns.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II