A recent survey of 100 senior executives released by Right Managements Consultants, a Philadelphia-based career transition and organizational consulting firm, found that coaching strategies have had a measurable impact on ROI. Senior executives report better relationships with their direct reports, supervisors and peers, improved teamwork and greater job satisfaction.
Most of the executives who participated in the study were employed at Fortune 1000 companies. Half held positions of vice president or higher, one-third earned $200,000 or more per year, and 57 percent of the participants were between the age of 40 and 49.
Joy McGovern, senior vice president, coach and managing consultant, Right Management Consultants, explains the executive-coaching strategy as a fairly straightforward process that typically happens over a six- to nine-month period of time. A coach meets with an individual to help him either enhance behaviors that he needs for future positions, or work on behaviors that are interfering with his effectiveness in his current position.
“Essentially, it’s teaching the coachees different success strategies, different ways of approaching things than they have approached them in the past,” said McGovern. “Most of us tend to get kind of caught in a loop. Those things that have worked for us before, we continue to do, and we don’t try different strategies. When we do try different strategies, they often don’t work for us because we’re not practiced at it. What coaching does is help you get practiced at that kind of thing.”
There are four phases to the executive-coaching process. Phase one sets expectations or a general goal based on preliminary information from the employee being coached, her boss and the HR department. Phase two moves the employee through an assessment phase where data is collected. This could include interviews with significant people that the individual deals with, surveys and a work-life history to look for themes that have permeated the employee’s career. Phase three sets more specific goals and the employee and the coach meet every two weeks for about an hour for six to nine months. In the sessions, the employee will talk about what strategies he has tried, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, and the coach will help him fine-tune the way he approaches things. Phase four is the follow-up stage, where initial interviewees are resurveyed to make sure that areas pinpointed for the coach’s attention have been addressed.
McGovern said that observation is also a valuable part of the assessment phase. “I have a high-level woman executive that I’m coaching at one of the motor companies. I observed her in one of her skip-level meetings, and I’ll do that again in a month or so,” she said. “In this particular case, the executive was dominating the meeting. In a skip-level meeting, usually what you’re trying to do is dialogue with people at several levels below you in the organization. You want them to have 60 to 70 percent of the airtime, and (here) the reverse was true. She probably didn’t have a clue what she was doing. She was also leading the agenda, where again, it’s one of those opportunities to talk to people at lower levels in the organization. If they can’t come up with topics, then you want to have some topics ready. You also want to give them the opportunity to get whatever’s on their mind off their mind.”
Right Management Consultants has offered coaching for executives since the mid-1980s. As a result of the study, Right Management now asks executives up-front not only what changes they expect as a result of the coaching, but also what impact that coaching will have on the organization and what kind of quantitative ROI they expect to receive. “We automatically ask that question in the first session, when you’re setting expectations, so people are really focused,” said McGovern. “This isn’t just something that’s nice to do; this isn’t just a touchy-feely thing. This is something that we expect to have results that impact the organization.”
Organizational impact comes in the form of improvements in productivity, cost containment, better relationships with the boss, team or peers, less conflict management and in some cases retention of the executive. Retention means more than a “We may have to let you go” scenario. The executive in line for coaching might say, “This organization isn’t working for me, and I’m going to start looking around unless things get better.” McGovern explained, “When you coach somebody, you’re coaching someone who’s embedded in a particular context. Often their boss, peers or other people in the organization are part of the issue.”
To address this area, McGovern engages in some informal or ad hoc coaching. “You really have to take a systems approach. It’s not just an individual on an island by themself. (The ad hoc coaching is) more casually done. In some cases it turns into a formal assignment. You might say to the individual’s boss for example, I really think that you might benefit from some coaching too because this is a particularly difficult situation. You’re tactful in how you approach it,” she explained.
Chemistry between the coach and the employee is also critical, said McGovern. “If there’s not good chemistry between the two of them, if they don’t get along well, if they don’t trust each other, the coaching is not going to work as well,” McGovern said. “We’ve started taking great pains to be really careful that a match is made well. Sometimes we’ll do that just by talking to the HR people. Sometimes we’ll do it because we know the organization and we know our coaches, so we can assign somebody that way. Sometimes we’ll have the coachee interview one or more coaches so that they get some say in the situation. Usually if it’s a coaching project with multiple coaching cases at a particular company, the project manager will call after the second or third meeting with the coach just to make sure that things are going OK, because we don’t want an OK match, we want an optimal match.”
Right Management is currently collecting coaching data and inputting results from every coaching case into its coaching-management system. McGovern said the results are consistent with information found in the initial survey: Coaching is effective and has a measurable impact on ROI.
For more information, see http://www.right.com.