Graham Hill’s June 2010 study suggests there are 6 key themes that influence coaching effectiveness. The emergent themes in his study are:
- Executive Engagement
- Preliminary Assessment and Feedback
- Coaching Process including a) Encouragement and Emotional Support b) Challenge and Reflection c) Enhancing Executive Performance
- Coach’s Contribution
- Trusting Relationship
- Support from the organization.
Articles and contributions from other luminaries in the field of Executive Coaching too suggest there is need for a structured and holistic approach for enhancing executive coaching effectiveness.
Based on various such studies, it appears that Executive Coaching needs to address issues and apply appropriate frameworks, strategies approaches at 3 stages:
Stage A] Before coaching is initiated
Stage B] During the coaching process
Stage C] Ensuring positive and specific outcomes – post coaching
Purpose of Research Paper:
The aim of this paper is to explore issues and challenges in executive coaching effectiveness and, identify specific approaches /practices adopted by well known professional coaches to enhance executive coaching effectiveness.
Stage A]: Before Coaching is Initiated:
Issue # 1. – Multiple Clients and Stakeholders: Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr. Terry Bacon and Dr. Baek Kyoo Joo mention this as one of the challenges in Executive Coaching. Frequently, it directly involves at least a triangulated set of client /stakeholder relationships. This includes the executive being coached (or “Coachee”), someone higher up the management ladder and the human resources department (together referred to as the “Client”) and the Coach. The perspectives, points of view and expectations from the coaching process of the “Coachee” and “Client” may differ. Finding congruence and alignment between differing expectations is important; else, one or other of them may feel coaching has not delivered to their expectations.
Apart from this, there are other stakeholders too who may have different expectations. For example, the “Coachee” may have a team reporting to her / him. If one of the coaching issues is “leading the team effectively”, then the team members’ views about the “Coachee’s” current & expected behavior is an important aspect to be considered.
Marshall Goldsmith presents important personal insights in his article “Coaching for Behavior Change” (in the book “Coaching for Leadership” – Jossey/Bass 2005). He shares that in a research study involving 86,000 respondents he found that the key ingredient for successful change in leadership behavior is not the coach. The key variables are the leaders being coached and their co-workers.
His recent experience suggests that engaging the key stakeholders around the coachee is even more important than spending time with the coachee. In Marshall’s words “ When key stakeholders are involved as “fellow travelers” with the coachee, it greatly expands the value gained by the corporation”.
Some Practices to deal with Issue #1:
Marshall Goldsmith Group ensures that coachee and her / his manager agree on two key variables at the beginning of the coaching. These are:
- What are the key behaviors that will make the biggest positive change in leadership effectiveness and,
- Who are the key stakeholders that can determine (six to eighteen months later) if these changes have occurred?
Issue# 2: “Coachability” of the Coachee:
The openness and willingness of the coachee to the coaching process is cited by Graham Hill as one of the most important determinants of executive coaching effectiveness (research study “Executive Coaching: Perspectives of Effectiveness from Executives and Coaches” – Queensland University of Technology, June 2010).
Dr. Terry Bacon states that in his experience, “some executives are not readily coachable”. He emphasizes – “any improvement in behavior is the coachee’s responsibility, not the coach’s. Human change is a complex process and several factors influence readiness v/s resistance to change. Hence a prerequisite in coaching is that the executive be coachable”.
Marshall Goldsmith says that one of his biggest learning is that “a motivated and hard-working coachee is more important than the brilliance of the coach. The coachee’s ongoing efforts contribute more to improved coaching results than the ideas and skills of the coach”.
Some Practices to deal with Issue # 2:
Marshall Goldsmith Group say they “Qualify the Coachee”. By this they mean that they only work with coachees they believe will greatly benefit from their coaching process – those that are willing to make a sincere effort to change and who believe that this change will help them become better leaders. They do not work with coachees who are not really motivated to change. Also, they choose to work only with those executives that are seen as potentially having an excellent future in the organization.
Dr. Joo too emphasizes that it is important to qualify the coachees through a systematic approach to assess their readiness and “suitability” to be coached. Is it something the coachee really wants? Do the coachees display:
- Proactivity and goal orientation?
- Belief in their ability to overcome the constraints of their situation and bring about the needed changes?
- An active interest in improving personal competency, career planning and openness to feedback?
Dr. Joo quotes the work of Bacon & Spear (2003) who found that investing in executives who do not display such characteristics would be a waste of time, money and effort – “no matter how much quality coaching they receive, they are unlikely to change”.
Korn / Ferry have developed a “Coachability Model” that provides a framework with seven levels (C0 to C6) of coachability as follows:
From the various studies referred to, it does appear that two types of factors are seen as somewhat important variables to be considered / looked at before initiating the coaching process.
The coach’s background and experience
William Hill’s 2010 study indicates that an appreciable number of coachees put a value on / attached credibility to the coach having had managerial experience. It seems, “the coach having been there” impacts the coach’s ability to relate to / understand the coachees’ situation quickly and contextualize events discussed during coaching. Various other studies (Stevens – 2005, Luebbe-2005, Berman & Bradt – 2006, Meneghetti – 2008) suggest that coachees prefer a coach grounded in their business reality with an in-depth “feel” for coachees’ lives in order to bring disparate ideas, knowledge and insight to bear on problems and in creating more effective / novel solutions.
Dr. Joo’s report also indicates that the coach’s academic background and coaching experience will define the coaching approach, and thus affect the coaching process and outcomes.
Right Attitudes and Right Temperament of a Coach
Quite a few studies point to factors like integrity, confidence, authenticity and high developmental status as valuable to effective executive coaching. Sherman and Freas (2004) suggest “coaching is best practiced by coaches who have acute perception, sound judgment and the ability to resolve conflicts effectively, with integrity”. William Hill found that coachees valued a coaching experience where the coach “brought their whole self to the relationship. Executives relished this personal encounter with a fully present (engaging), highly skilled coach”.
Other dimensions were eye contact, body language, way of structuring the articulation through verbal and non-verbal skills and keenness to help and support”.
(The ICF Competencies are of course well known, and I have not therefore referred to them in this research paper).
Some practices to deal with Issue # 3:
Many companies in India (Cadburys – now part of Kraft Foods, Microsoft, Tata Group, Siemens, GE) have the following practices to deal with factors related to “Coach Characteristics”.
- Coach Selection: Based on the nature of objectives for the coaching intervention, companies usually have their Senior HR professionals scout for and select a set of coaches that the organization believes meets their criteria and requirements. The coaches selected are often put on a “Coaches Panel”.
- Coachee choices: The executive(s) who are offered coaching support have the opportunity to select a coach of their choice from amongst the coaches who are on the company’s approved coach panel. Coachees have a “conversation with coach” to ascertain mutual fit. In some cases, the HR representative may have a follow-up conversation with the coach to enquire regarding the coach’s comfort with the coachee.
Stage B: During the Coaching Process:
From the various studies (Duncan Brodie, Joo, Kenneth Nowack & Bruce Heller, Graham Hill) and the articles written by well known Executive Coaches (Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr. Bacon, David Rock, Sandy Vilas & Jennifer Corbin of Corporate Coach U), the factors that determine effectiveness of the actual coaching provided can broadly be classified into two. These are a) The unfolding of the Coaching Journey and, b) The role played by the coach in enabling the coachee move forward, through the coaching journey. The table below outlines the same.
I] The Coaching Journey:
Experts believe executives behave and act the way they do either because they think that is the right / effective thing to do and / or they have over the years inculcated habits and personality traits that have become ingrained. Hence there is an element of “why should I change?” that coaches encounter in the coachee. Further, change is not easy, as adopting new behaviors requires effort, feels unnatural and may even be awkward.
Awareness is an important precondition. Only when a coachee recognizes that her / his behavior causes negative perceptions about them or that it has a significant impact on others does the realization dawn that change is needed. Also, they need to know what exactly about their attitudes, actions and behaviors causes such negative impact.
Even after the coachee becomes aware, they may lack confidence or not yet feel ready to change for a variety of reasons. There could be other concerns, barriers or plain ego that may be encountered. Again, as coaches, we can facilitate, support or encourage. Ultimately, the executive has to own the need / desire to change strongly enough to initiate and sustain new behavior. Motivation therefore is another essential ingredient.
Awareness and motivation may enhance the willingness to change. However, experts like Wanberg, Kraiger and Salas emphasize that there are three kinds of learning that are involved in an effective coaching journey – cognitive, skill-base and affective. Cognitive would include strategic, knowledge and procedural aspects that the coachee may need to acquire. Skill improvement may be required in many cases – say for areas like negotiation, public speaking or making presentations more effective. Affective learning is involved where certain attitudinal aspects need improvement. Examples are patience or tolerance related to diversity of personalities, cultures, gender, opinions of others and so forth.
One of the unique differentiators of Executive Coaching (when compared with many other development methods) is its emphasis on supporting the coachee to put learning to practice or “Actioning”. It is this focus on the effective transfer of leadership, problem solving, interpersonal and other skills that makes coaching one of the more valued talent development and learning interventions. Some specific studies indicate that it led to better outcomes for the individual (coachee) and the organization.
Best Practices – Awareness and Motivation:
It appears that awareness and motivation feed off each other. Hence, it is more effective to discuss practices of coaches related awareness and motivation together.
1. Almost all coaches seem to use 360degree or other multi-rater feedback as an important tool for building coachee awareness and acceptance (motivation) of the need for change in their behavior and actions. However, they don’t see such feedback in itself as sufficient. They appear to use it as a credible platform to commence conversations, but believe it is essential to use it as an input to drilling down and identifying specific behaviors and actions to be addressed or at least a coaching “direction” in which to proceed.
They emphasize that it is important to achieve agreement with the coachee on the specific behaviors and actions that are to be addressed. Some coaches supplement 360degree feedback with confidential one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders to understand deeper, underlying issues that are behind the feedback. Sometimes, they use psychometrics (like MBTI, EQ, Hogan etc.) and other surveys like employee engagement survey results in tandem with the 360degree feedback.
The 360degree feedback and details from the one-on-one interviews, psychometrics/ other surveys are used to provide specific and “behavioral feedback” that not only builds awareness, but helps coachee “Interpret” the report and creates “Insight” as to exactly what behaviors and actions of the coachee have a positive effect or negative effect on others. Also, “why” it is important to change and “why / how” it will help the coachee to be more effective, meet her / his own goals and achieve better outcomes.
Almost all of them agree that ultimately, it is important to identify a few key focus areas to work on as opposed a long list of many behaviors / actions to change and improve upon.
2. Define clearly what the “Shifts” in behavior and actions will look / feel like: Top end coaches emphasize the importance of making general and abstract aspects (that are part of the human experience) into concrete tangibles. Clear goals need to be agreed.
Dr. Bacon recommends that coaches use the following three-step process to help coaches set goals.
Describe the current state
- Define the ideal future state
- Specify and quantify the behavioral change.
An example is, instead of “improve team management” or be a more effective people manager, we need to support the coachee in:
- Acknowledging that s/he needs to be less formal and task oriented.
- Visualizing her/himself being better. Coaches feel that when coaches can put forth a vision of themselves as effective leaders, it inspires them and increases motivation to change. For example coachee being able to actually “see myself taking more interest in interacting informally and less hierarchically with the team members”.
- An example of the quantified behavioral change would be – “walk across to the team members’ desk more frequently instead of calling them to my cabin. Also, first ask how things are going for them instead of directly proceeding to check task progress”.