Executive coaching becomes strategic in the preparation that precedes the actual coaching process. Before the process begins, the coach meets with the client’s executive leadership to define the strategic context.
Changing the way one thinks and acts is tough even when you have support from others. But when key leaders above or beside are indifferent, skeptical or hostile to changes you’re trying to make, things get exponentially more difficult. Coaching works best when key people in the executive’s world stand solidly behind them. They need to provide tailwinds, not headwinds. Coaching relationships in a vacuum of support fall apart before any goals are achieved.
When conditions are right, executive coaching can be one of the best people investments a firm will ever make. Continue reading or you can go here for a process map of the Executive Career Coaching Process.
To find out if the investment makes sense start by addressing a number of critical questions:
- What are the key business challenges facing the organization?
- What business goals are you trying to achieve?
- What core values best define a common framework for how business results are
- What leadership skills, knowledge, and abilities have been critical for success in your organization in the past? What is required in the future?
- How does your organization determine whether you have the leadership bench strength to compete effectively in the future?
- What is your organization’s strategy for developing future leaders? How do you evaluate the success of your approach?
- Does your organization have proven methods to attract, develop, and retain required talent?
Once the strategic context has been mapped out, the actual executive coaching process can begin. From the point of view of the executives being coached, this is the personal component of the coaching process, where their own particular strengths and development needs are benchmarked against the leadership attributes needed to achieve the strategic goals of the business.
The coaching process can be broken down into five steps. The exact determination of the dividing lines between the individual steps is less important than the approach that is taken to address the issues that arise during the process as a whole.
It takes skill to create a trusting environment in which open dialogue can occur and underlying issues can be brought to light. A great deal of honest communication and feedback will set the parameters of the coaching process.
A contracting meeting for the purposes of defining expectations should take place before the individual coaching begins. Those attending should typically include a senior level human resources representative, the executive coach, and the executive receiving the coaching. The objectives of the contracting dialogue include:
- Identification of success factors for a specific executive or team’s current and potential role
- Agreement regarding confidentiality boundaries
- Identification of specific results expected
- Confirmation that the chemistry is right
- Clarity regarding roles and responsibilities
- Agreement regarding milestones and timelines
- Agreement regarding financial terms
Addressing these issues will help to define the organizational and individual expectations and support the business objectives.
The second step in the executive coaching process is the assessment of each individual executive. There are many types of assessments available (e.g., 360 feedback). My experience has been that face-to-face interviews are one of the best approaches to understanding the challenges facing the executive being coached. Another excellent approach is “shadowing” the executive (i.e., spending a day or two with the executive in her/his daily life on the job). The main advantage of these approaches is that they enable the coach to probe, see things first hand, and thus provide both quantitative and qualitative feedback that is real-time, powerful, and linked to business events.
The ultimate value of the assessment process is that the results clearly illustrate areas of strength as well as those requiring attention. This paints a clear picture for the executive and thus focuses and informs the coaching process.
Feedback and Action Planning
The first order of business in an effective feedback session is to revisit the agreed-upon objectives and to review the ground rules. Properly preparing executives for feedback is key to ensuring their willingness to listen, accept, open up, and move into action planning. Sessions should occur outside the normal office environment to ensure a more relaxed experience, free of interruptions or ready escape routes.
The coach must facilitate the feedback flow process, help the executive understand the data, and moderate any negative reactions to it.
During the feedback dialogue session, the coach will continue to refer to the business requirements, leader attributes, and expected business results, and compare them to current performance. The aim is to work within a framework that directs feedback toward the key objectives of the business.
The feedback session typically follows these stages:
- Reaffirm ground rules and establish rapport
- Review coaching objectives and business context
- Describe how to interpret results
- Give the executive opportunity to review results
- Discuss surprises or frustrations
- Highlight strengths
- Identify development needs
- Agree on areas of improvement
- Begin development-planning process
The action plan must focus on behaviors that contribute to specific business outcomes. A typical action plan includes:
- Strengths, and why they are important in the executive’s current role
- Development areas
- Action steps required, or interventions needed in areas requiring improvement or further development
- The type of coaching style that will best suite the development process
- Suggestions for active learning or experiential development suggestions
- Ways in which direct reports, boss, peers, and others can help
- A process for following up with key stakeholder
- Key milestones
Once the action plan is complete, key stakeholders will be invited to endorse it. These stakeholders typically comprise the same group of people involved in the initial assessment interviews. By sharing the action plan with those who were initially interviewed, the executive can be assured that the planned improvements are consistent with expectation.
The other benefit of close-loop validation is that it involves those most likely to be influenced by the change in the executive’s behavior. As a result, this process fosters their commitment to help the executive develop.
Once the key stakeholders agree with the action plan, the coach guides and reinforces the development strategies, which can include techniques such as action learning, role play, case study, simulation, video feedback, shadowing, and journaling. Special developmental courses and action learning are often recommended to support the coaching process.
This step is usually supported by a series of monthly meetings involving the coach, executive, and key stakeholders. These dialogues help to ensure the milestones are being met and the ground rules are being followed, and the coaching process continues to be focused on the organization’s business needs.
Reviewing and Sustaining Success
Approximately six months after the feedback session, an abridged version of the initial assessment is conducted to determine the impact of the process on the individual and the organization. The results of the assessment give credit for progress and address areas in which changes are still required, or bring attention to necessary midcourse corrections. The results of the abridged assessment are shared with key stakeholders to further the development of the executive and ensure alignment.
Our research shows that follow-up is a critical factor in the success of the entire coaching process. Additionally, to ensure overall quality, assessment of the coach is essential.