Hey! Where Is My Executive Coach?!

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Executive coachesSo you have an executive coach, great!  If you don’t have a coach, then what do you do to get one? And, if you never have the chance to work with one, read on.

It seems that executive coaching in Corporate America is all the rage these days.   Practically everyone I know has become a coach and everybody, who believes they’re anybody, is asking for an executive coach.  It’s quite amusing given the fact that I remember a time when an HR professional could get shot for suggesting to a manager that he or she could benefit from working with an executive coach.  (Okay, that’s a gross exaggeration.  The worst that would happen is that you’d be shunned at the company Christmas party, but it still hurt!)  Receiving coaching was perceived as a sign you were about to be fired.  However, today it has become an indication that you’re “top talent.”  Sure you could be given a huge year-end bonus or gazillions of restricted stock, but few other things in corporate life say “we really value you” as much as being assigned an executive coach.

Many employees are no longer content to wait to receive executive coaching.  Nor do they feel that they have to be a senior executive to get a coach.  With all the successful work organizations have done to develop their staff members, there are individuals who have come to believe they’re entitled to an executive coach.   After all, if my less-talented-than-I-am-colleague-who-can-barely-do-a-halfway-decent-job-sitting-next-to-me just got a coach, doesn’t that mean I deserve an executive coach too?  Hold your horses.

Executive coaching has been found to be an incredibly effective tool in developing leaders to assume greater responsibility and execute the business strategy of their organizations.  The decision to utilize the services of an executive coach often rests with senior business leaders who rely on the counsel of their HR, Leadership, Organization Effectiveness, and Talent Management business partners.  To obtain the benefits of executive coaching in order to make yourself more effective, you have to understand why and how coaching is used in the development process.

1. What kind of employee development or organizational need tends to warrant the services of an executive coach?

According to Britta Wilson, former senior vice present of human resources with Paramount Pictures, “It is my experience that the catalysts for executive coaching are most often the 3P’s: performance, people, and potential.”  “Essentially, when one or several of these issues or opportunities exist, organizations and individuals seek the services of an executive coach.  In the case in which an executive is not consistently achieving a level of sustained performance, coaching may be a viable solution that the organization considers. Further, if an executive’s people skills would benefit from refinement, effective coaching has provided great improvement & enhanced awareness.  Finally, when an organization recognizes the potential of an executive and wants to insure that they are strategically focused in developing  that executive, an executive coach may be a proactive retention and succession planning resource,” she said.

Executive coaching has the potential to have a powerful impact on a leader and ultimately those who are influenced by that leader.  Due to the significant investment of time and financial resources, organizations usually look to offer coaching to people who make a significant contribution to the success of the business in the present, or have the potential to do so in the future.  If you lead a business unit, large team, function (e.g., technology, sales, marketing, finance, human resources, operations), or have unique/specialized subject matter expertise then it’s more likely you may be eligible for executive coaching at some point in your career.

2. What is the business case I can make to justify the investment in executive coaching?

Organizations don’t dole out executive coaches like candy at Halloween.  Coaching costs real money.  A 2012 Bloomberg article found that executive coaching fees range from $250 to $475 an hour.  The Korn Ferry Institute did research that showed a six month executive coaching engagement for a senior leader can cost an organization anywhere between $15,000 and $75,000.  Since executive coaching is one of the most expensive forms of employee development, there has to be a real business case of this type of investment.

Kim Lemon, president of The Lemon Group, an executive coaching firm, said “Executive coaching is a collaborative 1-on-1 guided development process.  Unlike traditional training, the individual has customized support to integrate their tailored learning into day to day actionable practices that align with business objectives.   A strong argument for executive coaching is that the investment in coaching yields a multitude of results.  Research shows that the recipients develop more effective leadership skills, derive peak performance from their teams, and collaborate better with other leaders.  One can make a case that the ROI will come from tangible savings in operational costs and/or increased revenue.  Certainly there can be intangible benefits that include higher levels of employee engagement and improved productivity within the department.”

A good place to start the dialog is by approaching your manager.  Be prepared to talk about your strengths and developmental needs.  Perhaps you need support in managing people today who were your peers yesterday.  Or you’ve been asked to lead a global or regional initiative and you need coaching to help you build and solidify relationships across silos in the organization.  Show you’ve done your homework by investigating what executive coaching can do and what it can’t.

Let’s be clear.  Your manager may not buy into your argument the first time.  So be prepared to listen and understand his/her rationale for denying your request.  Use the feedback to go back and refine your pitch for a later time.

3. If I am assigned a coach, what should I do in order to get the most out of the relationship?

“Have clear goals for the work and relationship and know specifically what you want to achieve through coaching.  Think in terms of verbs  – create, achieve, effect, address, change, gain, limit, learn how to, decide on, etc.,” according to Shem Cohen, chief executive officer of Change Events, Inc., a boutique organization development consulting firm.  Cohen also said “Have an idea of how you learn best (reading/reflection, through engagement and dialogue, etc.).  Remain open to feedback and avoid defensiveness in order to best support self-discovery.   Also, you have to have the courage and ability to communicate when something isn’t working in the relationship or process.  The coaching client is (should be) in the driver’s seat at all times and maintain responsibility for their own learning and development.”

Remember, coaching is a dynamic partnership that works best when both parties in the relationship can speak openly and honestly about issues, challenges, and successes.   And to be really effective, you as the client have to want to learn, change, and grow.  If you’re just looking at coaching as a nice perk, then it’s likely to be an ineffective use of your time and your organization’s money.

Executive coaching also tends to be limited in duration.  The most common assignments last about six to 12 months (sometimes longer but this is becoming increasingly rare).  The goal is for you to acquire tools, resources, and knowledge to act effectively on your own, not to continually use the coach as a crutch.

4. What are some effective development options other than executive coaching at my disposal?

It’s not the end of the world, or a career killer, if you never get to work with an executive coach.  There are a plethora of alternatives to grow as a leader in your organization.  Take advantage of the internal training programs provided by your organization and any external programs they recommend.  Identify mentors who are able to offer career advance and connect you to other respected individuals you can learn from.  Develop your network by joining an industry or professional association.  Linking up with colleagues who have similar interests and experience offers opportunities to share information and obtain free expert advice.

And if that isn’t enough, you have the ability to take online courses, volunteer for important projects/initiatives/special teams, seek stretch assignments, join an employee affinity/resource group, or take advantage of tuition assistance programs if they’re available.  Most professional development still occurs on the job, so talk to your manager about taking on new responsibilities (for example, get involved in the implementation of new software program) in the department.  This will allow you to stay abreast of new trends, upgrade your skills, or acquire new areas of expertise.  It won’t necessarily guarantee you a salary increase or promotion, but you’ll have developed valuable knowledge and expertise you didn’t have before.

If you still believe you simply have to have an executive coach, then consider finding one on your own.  Talk to your HR manager or speak to someone in the Learning & Development team.  They may be able to point you to executive coaches who work privately with individuals.  Of course you’ll have to pay for it yourself, but many coaches charge reasonable fees that range from $100 to $300 an hour to work with someone.   Investing in your own development often leads to returns even more important than compensation.

When your organization believes it makes sense for you, executive coaching can be an extremely effective development tool.  But even if it doesn’t feel you need one, good coaching may come from other sources as long as you remain receptive to receiving feedback.  Perhaps even from your own manager.
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Bouvier Williams is a personal brand coach and consultant.  He is the President of Your Personal Brand Solution LLC and writes an online blog called The Personal Brand Professor.