Does executive coaching work? How do we know? Executive coaching is prevalent in the United States but understanding it’s impact and how coaches are making an impact is woefully understudied.
Between 25 and 40 percent of Fortune 500 leaders have coaches (Pritchard, 2016). The most important outcome of executive coaching is measured by the impact of the partnership. That is, through executive coaching, is the executive realizing stronger outcomes with their team, their leader, and/or the organization. Making this even more challenging, executive coaching takes many different routes to find success: Sometimes, executive coaching involves listening intently to the needs and strengths of the leader; sometimes, it is helping that leader through challenges with their people; and sometimes, it is focused on improving process. However, these complications should not decrease the necessity for impact but increase it. This article will focus on ways to create an effective coaching engagement with measurable outcomes
The most important outcome of executive coaching is having a positive impact on the leaders, but measuring this impact is almost non-existent throughout the coaching industry as less than 10 percent of coaching engagements have effective outcome metrics for the engagement (Bacon, 2011); this is unacceptable.
Three key components lead to effective coaching, they are:
- a deep understanding of the vision of the coaching engagement by the both the leader and the leader’s leader;
- a strong knowledge of the leader’s unique strengths and how to coach to those strengths; and
- creating specific, measurable, process-oriented goals for the engagement.
First, a coach must gain a strong understanding of the goals of the engagement.
As discussed, the coaching paths vary greatly, and deciding on the correct path is extremely important. Indeed, coaches should not approach each engagement with the same playbook. In preparation for executive coaching, the coach must understand the vision of the engagement with the coachee. This may sound simple, but to discover the best outcomes, the coach, the leader, and the leader’s leader must be on the same page. To best analyze what outcomes are most important, the coach should have one-on-one meetings with the leader, the leader’s leader, and a collaborative session where all three can examine the best outcomes. Most importantly, this series of meetings must be collaborative. In other words, this should not be the leader’s leader dictating what needs to happen in the engagement, but instead, have a collaborative discussion on what is best for the leader; in fact, dictating what needs to happen, against the wishes of the leader, rarely works well.
Second, it is highly important that the coach understand the unique strengths of the leader that he or she is coaching.
To do this, it is recommended that the leader completes a talent assessment. By understanding the leader at their core, the coach can better understand the coachee engagement to capitalize on that leader’s unique strengths. Unfortunately, in many engagements, coaches fail to fully understand their leader’s individual talents, and therefore, may have trouble individualizing their coaching to their leader. Furthermore, coaches often take these same approaches with all their leaders, and this alone, can negatively impact the outcomes of the engagement. To use a sports analogy, by understanding and utilizing the strengths of the leader, it is akin to a coach working with an NFL quarterback and helping him utilize his talents to read defensive schemes, throw accurate passes, and understand their offensive game plan, rather than focusing on tackling. Many coaches embark on their partnership by seeing the leader as a football player rather than a quarterback, so they will spend as much time on coaching tackling as they do passing. Although this seems outrageous all too often, I see this as the approach that coaches take with their leaders and others take with leadership development.
Third, the coach and leader must agree on specific, measurable, process-oriented goals based on the talent assessment and their needs.
Regardless of the coaching partnership path, it is of utmost important to establish goals at the beginning of the relationship. Furthermore, these goals ought to be reviewed throughout the partnership. If these goals are based on the discussion with the coachee’s leader and the coachee based on the coachee’s unique talents, then the coach can focus on how to best help them reach the coachee’s vision. Outcomes, and therefore the impact, of the coaching has on a leader is the ultimate measurement of success of the coaching engagement. Leaders are encouraged to be diligent about helping leaders develop their goals. In fact, the leader ought to push back on the leader if those goals are not specific, measurable, and process oriented. That is, “trying harder” is not a reasonable goal; it ought to be focused on measuring behavior of altering behavior. All to often, I hear leader’s say they are “going to communicate more” with their team. What does that mean? How can they measure it?
With the three key points in place, the coach has set up the leader for success. By diligently tracking how they are doing on their goals throughout the engagement, an impactful outcome will likely follow the partnership. In conclusion, executive coaching can be complex, take many paths, and witness many outcomes. Regardless, it is important to measure the impact of the coaching. This article focused on three key takeaways to realizing a successful coaching engagement: (1) a clear understanding of the desired outcome through meetings with the leader and the leader’s leader, (2) a strong understanding of leader’s talent, and (3) formulating measurable goals based on that talent at the outset. This allows the coach to create the best path for the leader’s success and help celebrate and reap the rewards of measurable outcomes. This is the best method to understand coaching impact.
Bacon, T. R. (2011). Measuring the effectiveness of executive coaching. The Korn/Ferry Institute, 1.
Pritchard, M. (2016). Executive coaching: the FORTUNE 500’s best kept secret.
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Scott C. Whiteford, Ph.D. is the Director of Leadership Analytics at Talent Plus where his role is to partner with, listen to and find solutions for our clients, their teams and organization. With an emphasis on strengths, through selection and development, he helps our clients find success on their Talent-Based Journey.
“I focus on the strength management approach to help grow leaders and improve team and organization cultures.” – Scott Whiteford
Talents: Relationship, Ego Drive, Focus, Conceptualization and Intelligence