Some practitioners of executive development believe that the sole focus of coaching is to assist the individual in maximizing his or her personal potential. However, a coach should never lose sight of the fact that the executive being developed functions within an organization that has commissioned the coach’s services. On a personal level, an effective executive coach should be deeply committed to helping individuals lead better lives, but they are only successful when that benefit comes in addition to meeting specific organizational objectives and delivering significant bottom-line value.
Coaching Impacts the Entire Organization
All leadership development initiatives should be viewed within the context of its people, structure, relationships, policies, history and culture. Executive coaching does not occur in a vacuum. While the primary relationship in the coaching process is between the coach and the individual executive, this is not the only important one. Executive coaching should be systemic - other key stakeholders in the results of the coaching, such as the executive’s leader(s), peers, reports and Human Resources, should all be included in the process.
Listed below are guidelines for the Leader (Manager), the Executive being coached and Human Resources during this process:
The executive’s leader plays a central role in the coaching process. Often the coaching is initiated by the leader who has identified the need. It is often up to the leader to ultimately define success from the coaching and to reward progress made by the executive being invested in.
The leader is responsible for clearly communicating to the executive what the developmental needs or opportunities are and describing the consequences (good and bad) of success or lack thereof. He or she should also work with HR and the coach to determine whether the individual and the situation are amendable to coaching. The leader must be comfortable that the improvements are achievable and that the coaching is a worthwhile investment.
In the leader’s discussions with the executive and coach, he or she should acknowledge and address the systemic issues that exist within the organization by:
A development plan is created during the coaching with agreed upon goals, due dates, and measurement of achievements. The leader should focus on assisting the executive in achieving the stated goals by:
The leader plays a key role in making sure the executive’s developmental plan is correctly aligned with the organization’s business by:
Successful executive coaching requires constant evaluation of the progress being made. Along the way, unpredictable challenges, conflicts, and opportunities can arise. The leader can help ensure the success of the executive’s development overall by:
Executive Coaching is an active, on-going process that requires attention and monitoring. Issues the leader should watch for include:
In order for the coaching to accomplish its critical objectives, the executive being coached must be willing and able to learn from the experience and make the necessary adjustments in behavior. This requires an “active learning” approach where the executive makes considered choices about the actions they take, reflects on the results and the impact of their actions, identifies key learnings, and targets what they will do differently in the future.
Successful coaching starts with identifying areas for personal development. This involves the executive being coached asking such questions as:
Once the executive is clear about development goals, action needs to become intentional in support of that development. Questions the executive might ask are:
After action has occurred, the executive with a focus on self-development will reflect on the impact of their actions. Reflective questions might include:
Reflection lacks power if someone does not know what has been learned. Key questions to ask:
Human Resources plays a critical role in a successful executive coaching process. The HR executive oversees the organization’s overall coaching program, acts as a “gatekeeper” for the evaluation and hiring of coaches and manages and supports the individual coaching assignment.
Overseeing the Organization’s Coaching Program
At some companies, line executives take the initiative to arrange for the coaching of themselves or other members of their divisions or teams. When HR is excluded and fails to coordinate this process, the company may lose a valuable opportunity to formulate an executive coaching program or framework that is strategically aligned with the organization’s goals and overall training and development objectives.
Also, when different coaching assignments are occurring haphazardly throughout the company without HR oversight, it is likely that no consistent evaluation of the initiatives is occurring. The company thereby loses an opportunity to accumulate critical intelligence regarding lessons learned about the use of coaching at the firm and information regarding which coaches have proven effective and why - data that is invaluable in making other coaching interventions throughout the organization more efficient and successful.
In this role, HR should clearly answer the following questions:
Acting as Coaching Gatekeeper
As the need for coaches at the organization develops, executives will depend on HR to maintain a pool of coaching professionals. HR is responsible for defining the skills and abilities needed in a coach for success at the company and which coach is best suited for any given situation, type of challenge, personality, level, etc. To build this coach bench strength, HR is counted on to run a rigorous coach selection process and assist in the coach/executive matching process. HR should also serve as gatekeeper in the sense of developing the criteria for determining when coaching is needed and ensuring that a problem is not best fixed with another tool. HR must also make sure the executive is ready and has a desire to commit to the coaching process.
Managing the Coaching Assignment
During a coaching assignment, HR acts as a primary information source for the key participants - the executive, coach and leader, and needs to understand the needs of each of these parties.
HR “orientates” the coach with the organization, providing the external coach with an understanding of the business, including the structure of the firm or division, the strategic business objectives and the role of the executive in these plans. HR should also familiarize the coach with the company culture, including how influence is exercised, how decisions are made and how people succeed in the organization. HR should share with the coach all relevant data regarding the client, including his or her perceived potential and developmental goals. Observations regarding the executive’s performance, including results from previous 360° interviews and other assessments and surveys should be provided. HR should also discuss confidentiality rules pertaining to the coaching and when and how information will be shared, and with whom.
HR should also serve as an information resource to the leader and work with this leader to secure his or her “buy-in” of the coaching process. HR should also coordinate the involvement of other people at the organization required to support the initiative. HR monitors the coaching to make sure the coach and client are staying on track and that objectives are being met.
Finally, HR plays a key role wrapping up the coaching assignment and evaluating its impact. This may include examining changes in the executive’s behavior or performance, which may entail follow-up 360° feedback or other surveys, as well as measurement of operational or business improvement. By gathering this information, HR can distill lessons learned from the coaching and make suggestions for improvements to the process going forward.