In this paper, the writer examines what coaching is and how it aids execution. Coaching is defined as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. This process involves questioning, guiding the client to come up with solutions, and walking the journey with them to realize their desired objectives.
Execution is a system of getting things done through questioning, analysis, and follow-through. Execution moves things from intention to results. Yet, execution is a major problem in practice, both for individuals and for organizations. Inasmuch as there are innumerable resources available on strategy, leadership, goal setting and other related aspects of growth, weak execution remains the one hurdle in realization of results. The underlying causes include lack of clarity, lack of commitment, and lack of accountability. These are then entrenched by the demands of the present thereby keeping one’s focus away from what is important – acting on defined strategy. Coaching, by its very definition, offers the necessary pillars to aid execution. The key factors hindering effective execution are lack of clarity on objectives, lack of commitment to goals, and lack of accountability.
Coaching facilitates clarity, enhances commitment, and provides a framework for accountability. As such, coaching addresses the core of non-execution. It is therefore apparent that of all management and development disciplines, coaching seems well placed to bridge the gap between knowing and doing and thereby positively sealing the fate of non-execution.
This paper sets out to establish the relation between coaching and execution. Going by statistics revealed in the 2012 ICF Coaching Study (International Coach Federation, 2012), coaching is a growing industry with approximately 47,500 coaches globally in 2011 generating almost two billion US Dollars in revenue. Whereas this growth has been phenomenal over the last decade or so, room for growth is still significant. This growth is made possible by the promise that coaching seems to offer which can be captured in one word: growth.
For coaching to continue on this growth trend, it must deliver growth for the client. Yet, given that coaching is client-driven, this growth can only be realized by the client. The role of the coach is to catalyze this growth by helping the client execute on actions agreed upon as a result of the coaching dialogue. This paper sets out to examine how coaching aids execution in the life of a client with a view to helping increase the effectiveness of coaching and thereby realizing growth for the client.
WHAT IS COACHING?
To understand how coaching relates to execution, it is important to first gain an understanding of what coaching is. The International Coach Federation (ICF), the leading umbrella body for professional coaches globally, defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential (ICF website). This definition places the client at the heart of the coaching process, with the coach coming alongside to provoke a shift in perspective and encourage appropriate action for the client to achieve desired goals.
Coaching is also defined as
a collaborative, solution-focused, results-oriented and systematic process in which a coach facilitates the enhancement of performance, life experience, self-directed learning and growth of individuals and organizations (Grant, 1999).
By this definition, coaching is about growth in performance, in life, and in mind. It is a well-defined collaborative effort between coach and client geared towards helping the client to create results in identified areas of his or her life.
Another definition by Eric Parsloe (1999) defines coaching as
a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve.
This definition focuses on the end goal of coaching as performance enhancement, but it highlights the means by which the coach achieves this goal: facilitating learning and development.
From the above definitions it becomes apparent that coaching is a process in which the coach, as a process facilitator, creates the environment for the client to learn and apply the learning in his or her life in a way that creates growth.
The process involves discourses between the coach and the client in which they meet as equals rather than as superior and subordinate or teacher and student. The implication is that coaching employs adult learning methods to the highest degree possible. In this regard, coaching is not directive, it is provocative. By use of questions and invitations to consider alternate thoughts and perspectives, the coach provokes the client to think differently and thereby unlock the inherent creativity in the client. This creativity is applied to the client’s situation in form of an action to bring about growth. This action is what is termed ‘execution’.
The implication is that the coach has no direct control on whether the client chooses to act on the new knowledge or not. If no action is taken, the status quo remains, and no matter how many sessions the coach has with the client, there will be no growth. This then begs the question: how does a coach enhance the possibility that the client will act on the new knowledge in order to bring about the desired growth?
THE CHALLENGE OF EXECUTION
The dictionary definition of execution includes doing or performing something in a planned way. Its synonyms include implementation, performance, accomplishing, finishing, effecting, and carrying out something. Two ideas that stand out in this definition are planning and follow through. Bossidy and Charan (2002) add process to the definition of execution as a system of getting things done through questioning, analysis, and follow-through. It is a discipline of meshing strategy with reality, aligning people with goals, and achieving the results promised.
Execution therefore, is the process of following through on a pre-defined course of action till attainment of desired results. This process involves questioning, analysis, and alignment. These process elements are the very elements inherent in a coaching process where the coach uses questioning to encourage the client to analyze his or her current situation and thinking, and to realign his or her intent and actions with new knowledge gained in the process.
Why is execution an issue?
In this writer’s experience, working with a wide variety of individuals and organizations, there is good understanding of issues, strategies to address them, and even the required resources. However, knowing what to do and doing it are two very different things. In several training sessions, for example, the writer carried out training needs analysis, developed training material, and delivered the same with clear points of action discussed and agreed upon by the parties involved. In subsequent training needs assessments, however, the writer found that the same issues were being raised.
The implication being that, although the participants knew what needed to be done, they did not do it. The managers involved were frustrated by this lack of results, yet they represent the experience amongst many managers and individuals who feel they have not achieved as much as they ought to have achieved. Pfeffer and Sutton (2000) call this the ‘Knowing-Doing Problem’. Their research showed the same challenges for many managers. They give an example of the apparel manufacturing industry in the United States which had knowledge in the public domain that modular or team-based production had superior performance compared to the bundle method. Yet, nearly a decade after this information became public knowledge, 80% of manufacturers were still using the bundle method.