Selecting the right coach is the most important step to ensure a successful coaching relationship. Start by identifying the motivations for seeking a coach. If it is to address skill deficiencies, then selecting a coach who is a subject matter expert in the needed area, if appropriate. If the coaching is for assistance on a wide variety of topics, then select a coach who has held a similar position.
The most significant consideration, however, is if the coach and client connect on a deeper level—a level where they can trust and openly communicate with each other. If this connection is not there, the client should leave immediately and find a more compatible coach. Consequently, a coach should always be willing to spend some initial time with a client to assess compatibility.
Do some homework on the coach. Talk with his or her previous clients and gauge their experience. The point is to not passively accept the first coach who comes around. Make sure the coach is familiar with your business and has the experience to justify what he or she brings to the table. You have every right to be picky about who you choose as an executive coach. Executives typically want someone with strong business experience and the ability to effectively listen, deliver honest feedback, provide an encouraging atmosphere, and suggest smart action items.
Multiple methods exist to guide the coaching process. They nearly all share some sort of assessment, action, and follow up phase. What each phase is called matters little as long as the coach identifies the root issue, jointly develops a plan of action, and measures and evaluates progress. The following is a more detailed summary of the coaching process:
Define the Purpose:
This phase involves the client and the coach deciding the focus of the coaching engagement. They discuss existing concerns, clarify expectations of each other, ensure client commitment and organizational support, establish desired results, sign a coaching contract, and tentatively schedule the other phases. This intake session can last anywhere from 2 hours to a full-day.
This phase includes conducting face-to-face interviews with key stakeholders. 360° assessments, and other instruments are often used to supplement the interviews, identifying strengths and areas for improvement. Typically, the coach will also observe, or “shadow,” the executive at work in meetings, making presentations, and every day activities. Once the data has been collected, the coach meets with the executive to analyze the results. This usually involves an intensive feedback session lasting a half day to two days.
This phase begins with revisiting the focus of the coaching engagement and the creation of an Action Plan. The Action Plan is jointly created by the client and coach and is usually shared with the client’s boss to obtain feedback. Each client’s Action Plan is different, but at a minimum, the coach meets with the executive at least twice a month for one to four hours to assess progress, discuss roadblocks, and offer support. In some cases, the coach will continue to observe the executive in various interactions and provide on-the-spot feedback. Telephone follow-ups can also be scheduled. The coaching can include reading assigned books or articles and debrief with the coach, conducting role-plays, or situational leadership training. The coach usually continues to work with the executive until the Action Plan has been completely implemented and the executive has addresses the targeted competencies.
This phase will help ensure long-term retention of skills. Usually, the coach will spend some time with the client several months after the last coaching session to discuss and evaluate progress and provide needed support. At that time, the coach may also interview colleagues such as the client’s boss, direct reports and peers, observe the client in action, and set additional improvement goals and objectives.
The entire executive coaching process usually takes 3-12 months.
4 Critical Ground Rules
Throughout the process, four rules must be followed. The violation of any of these rules will significantly decrease the success of the coaching engagement.
Maintain Coaching Fit:
The most important element in a successful coaching relationship is the fit between client and coach. A compatible client and coach will have the necessary trust to enable genuine growth to occur.
Engage a Motivated Client:
The client has to want to improve. The finest coaching will not help if an executive is averse to personal development.
Retain Organizational Support:
Both the coach and the client cannot forget they are working within a larger organizational structure. The client’s boss should always be kept apprised of the client’s progress, and upper management’s approval should periodically be reconfirmed. Also, the coaching process may reveal deeper organizational problems that need to be addressed on a broader level. Little progress can be made, either on a personal or organizational level, when the powers that be do not support the coach or the client’s association with the coach.
Set and Track Goals:
Feedback alone does not cause behavior change, it is the specific goals that people set in response to feedback. Coaching is nothing without specific, realistic, and timely goals. Each goal must have measurable objectives. These goals and objectives can be short or long-term. The point is without measurable benchmarks, coaching is just a paid listening ear instead of a strategic intervention for executive development.
Keep in mind Robert Fulmer and Marshall Goldsmith’s stellar quote from their book, The Leadership Investment, “Best practice organizations grow leaders as opposed to buying them.” What will be your unique commitment? Will it be to actively develop leadership throughout the organization, especially at the executive level? Or, will it be to allow executive leadership to continue the game of hit or miss—leaving it up to fate? Your organization need not take chances and inevitably lack effective leadership. Executive coaching pays for itself many times over and it consistently produces superior results. What is your choice?