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Why executive coaching is your competitive edge!

Executive development is important.

It is a critical aspect of all organizations and often one that is most overlooked.People come to coaching for several reasons: They could be “stuck” and can’t think of what else to do in order to move the organization forward; there may not be anyone at their level that they can have confidential conversations with, or they believe if they were to change or improve something within themselves, the greater organization would benefit. Maybe they are ready to do something different but are not sure what that “something” is. Perhaps they are looking for change, a different perspective, or have important goals to reach. Executive coaching focuses on helping individuals go from where they are, to where they want themselves and their company to be.

Whatever the reason, distinct from other forms of training, coaching focuses on a specific way of “learning” for the executive. It is believed that “the more an individual is involved in identifying problems, in working out and applying solutions for them and in reviewing results, the more complete and the more long-lasting the learning is. This form of self-improvement tends to bring about learning with a deeper understanding than learning that is taught.” Given the right circumstances, one-on-one interaction with an objective third party, who is not tied to the organization or other executive or company influences, can provide a focus that other forms of organizational support cannot. Coaching develops the leader in “real time” within the context of their current job while allowing them to maintain their day-to-day responsibilities.

“Unlike therapy, which goes into depth about various issues usually dealing with the past and consulting which generally results in giving the client answers, coaching is more action-oriented and focuses primarily on the present and future.” Coaching focuses on what the client wants and utilizes a process through the one-on-one coaching sessions to enable the client to self-discover, learn and determine their own “answers”. It is the client who determines the goals and commits to their goal, while allowing the coach to help hold them accountable.

Why should you hire an Executive Coach?

In today’s demanding business environment (cost pressures leading to flatter organizations, executive managers with more direct reports, “speed to market” as a competitive advantage with time pressure, etc.) executives have limited opportunity to devote time and energy to their own development as leaders. “Most executives struggle to fulfil the responsibilities of their positions and are too busy and too stressed to step back and learn from their experiences or to implement changes to satisfy best management practices.

execcochngsmThe reasons for choosing coaching go beyond the need to correct or resolve problem behaviours or poor performance issues. Executive coaching is also chosen to develop executive-level skills, developmental and growth needs which impact the entire organization.

In a study, respondents identified a variety of reasons for hiring executive coaches. The reasons cited below include both problem solving and developmental emphases. They could also be described as change-oriented, with an emphasis on supplementing and refocusing the participant’s skills, or growth-oriented, with an emphasis on accelerating the learning curve for high-potential or recently promoted executives. The percentage of respondents citing that particular reason is shown in brackets:

  • To develop the leadership skills of high-potential individuals (86%).
  • To improve the odds that newly promoted managers would be successful (64%).
  • To develop management and leadership skills among their technical people (59%).
  • To correct behavioural problems at the management level (70%).
  • To help leaders resolve interpersonal conflicts among employees (59%).

The Process

Each coaching engagement begins with a “discovery” session of some sort. This is the time where the potential client and coach have a conversation to determine and discuss several items which may include:

  • What the client is looking for in the coaching relationship
  • What the coaching relationship is and isn’t
  • The style of the coach and how that resonates with the client
  • Rules of engagement and protocol
  • The coach’s credentials relative to the client’s needs
  • Timing and logistics of the coaching
  • How success for coaching will be measured
  • Agreement to move forward

What makes a difference to coaching outcomes?

Everyone involved in the coaching process wants to know which factors will improve the likelihood of achieving positive outcomes. There are several attributes that make a difference in coaching outcomes, some of which are listed below.

Organizations must be in favour of and agree to provide resources to support the executive coaching, and recognize that it requires a long-term investment in order for the coaching and change to succeed. “Executives need follow-on coaching and reinforcement in order to sustain changes in behaviour. In addition, professionals’ development should be kept separate from performance because the high level of trust and openness required for development would be compromised if these two essential processes are mixed.”

The coaching-style preference is also a factor for coaching success. The coach and the executive are agreeing to enter into a “relationship” therefore style preferences and compatibility can impact the outcomes. It is important that the coach and the client agree on how the client prefers to receive help, what they want to focus or work on, and when they want to receive it.

Coachability, in my opinion, is the number-one success factor to consider. The reason is that no matter how experienced or effective the coach might be, no change of the executive (coachee) will occur if the executive does not want to change, recognize the need to change, or does not take responsibility for the change needed. The executive needs to be open to feedback, willing to use the feedback to commit to change, and be willing to be held accountable to the commitment.

Competence of the coach is the fourth important factor that is often mentioned to determine success in the coaching arrangement. At a minimum coaches should be creditable, educated and certified. They should have a coaching process that includes helping the client set an action plan in order to change behaviour as well as a process to measure change. The International Coaches Federation estimates that over 10,000 people call themselves coaches, yet not all are effective. The coach should have a philosophy of coaching for sustainable change; in other words, the coaching commitment should be “transformational” and not “transactional”.

Coaching is great in theory

Coaching, however, appears to be difficult to do well — or do consistently. Although the large majority of managers like to coach, employees say they would like to receive more coaching. Employees often have to ask for the coaching they do get and, most disappointing, they don’t always benefit from the coaching they receive. Our research indicates that less than 25% of employees who receive regular coaching realize a significant impact on their performance or satisfaction.

What gets in the way of coaching?

Lack of confidence is an obstacle, according to the senior manager of employee relations we spoke to. “Managers get stuck in the rut of thinking that employees prefer to be left alone, and since many don’t feel comfortable with the conversation anyway, they have coaching conversations only if the employee initiates them or only at performance review time.”

Overemphasis on systems to assess and manage the talent in lieu of coaching conversations is another common concern. Talent management tools that identify and catalogue skill sets help ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time to meet business needs. Yet our research indicates that the ‘talent’ doesn’t necessarily want to be ‘managed’ or moved like chess pieces without regard to their career aspirations or personal needs.

What makes a difference in coaching?

Leaders in HR and the line agree that organizations need to put teeth into their employee development processes. Executives who evaluate the performance of their direct reports not just on results but also on how well they develop their people, build an expectation for management excellence. Too many managers are tasked with and rewarded for so much individual-contributor work that it is not realistic to expect they will prioritize coaching to the top of their to-do lists.

Most organizations believe that once someone reaches executive or senior status in the organization, they should inherently be able to act under pressure, inspire and implement ideas, keep their skills sharp and current, and have all the answers. In actuality, they can eventually get there on their own but the engagement of a qualified executive coach will exponentially increase not only the time it takes for the executive to get there but also the ability for the executive and the company to sustain the change. Coaching can be your competitive edge!

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