If your organization is evaluating whether to add coaching to its learning and development program roster, you’re not alone. A recent survey from The Institute of Executive Development and Marshall Goldsmith Partners examined responses from more than 200 organizations across a variety of industries on their future and current coaching activities. A small number of companies are currently engaged in coaching activities for all levels of management, and more plan to spend aggressively in the future.
Roughly 61 percent of organizations surveyed have not started any sort of significant coaching activity or have engaged in a limited amount. For those that have begun coaching programs, there will be a shift from activity-based exercises to results-focused experiences. The reason for the expected growth of new coaching programs seems to be as simple as companies realizing the effectiveness and wanting to cash in on the benefits.
“As companies that have a lot of coaching activity under way get more sophisticated, they’ll start saying, ‘Let’s not just think about the input in terms of the processes. Let’s think about the output,’” said Scott Saslow, executive director, The Institute of Executive Development. “There will be more focus on what the results will be in the organization. It’s like any learning intervention or development activity. In its early days you’ve just got to start doing it. As your program grows, you start saying, ‘We know how to do it. How do we start optimizing this? And let’s start looking at results.’”
An impressive 82 percent of organizations surveyed say their main reason for implementing executive coaching programs is to improve individual performance, moving the barometer from good or effective to great. Only 28 percent said coaching programs were primarily to aid derailed executives in addressing problem areas in behavior or competency and skills gaps. Saslow said that many people claim using coaching to address negative performance issues is not the most effective use for this type of development activity.
Some 42 percent of survey respondents say that executive coaches work as an extension of the executive development team in their organizations and coordinate their work with existing developmental activities and programs. This ensures that coaches and the learning or HR organizations they work under are complementing each other’s activities and clearly distinguishing between individual, team and organizational needs.
“This overall figure is not terribly surprising, but it does point to opportunity because I think all things being equal you do want to make sure you’re integrating coaching in with other development opportunities so those going through programs and coaching activities are hearing the same messages,” Saslow explained. “If I’m coaching a VP of marketing and I am sort of narrowly focused on a few things that I have identified through potentially some assessments or interviews that I’ve done with this person, that’s good. There could be some improvement made, some benefit to the individual and ultimately the organization. However, if that coaching activity does continue for a while and there’s no sort of realization by that coach of ‘Hey, I can actually get broader perspective on this employee when I contact with the HR and training department,’ that’s not so good. They’ve probably kept performance records, and they have their own interviews, 360s and sets of data. The training and development department also has its own set of priorities for what they want to do in terms of development. They need to be in concert because the development team may be rolling out programs that are all about, ‘We need to work better together as a team, and all the VPs need to collaborate more.’ Then I as a coach am sitting here telling (the executive), ‘Look, you’ve got to improve your own individual performance.’ That can happen so there needs to be some coordination so there is the same message and the two different groups are reinforcing one another.”
Some 78 percent of respondents say that executives must be nominated and approved for coaching. This is not so much to pick out the executives with issues as it is to solve the problem many organizations have deciding whether or not to reveal who has been singled out for development. “I can tell you just from broader experience in the marketplace that yes, companies sometimes do struggle,” Saslow said. “There’s sort of the age-old question, ‘Do we make our list of high-potentials public?’ Some say, yes, absolutely. When you have high-performing executives let them know that they’re on a special list, and that they’re going to go to a special program. It acts as a nice incentive for those who maybe didn’t make the cut this year to work harder to get on it. There are those who say, no. If you disclose information you’re going to create all sorts of jealousies and problems and politicking and so forth. What we were getting at here is who actually does the coaching? Who goes through the program and how do you choose them? The vast majority are saying they need to be nominated and approved. My personal feeling on that is that’s a good thing. You want to use this in some ways as a sort of perk, a benefit. Having management aware and bought in is going to ensure that it’s OK to spend the appropriate time and attention to make the most of the development activity. That’s largely what we’re seeing in the marketplace, especially at this level because it can get very costly very quick. It is important stuff. It’s a big time commitment.”
Some 63 percent of organizations surveyed tend to use external coaches. This may be because external coaches potentially have a more objective eye to evaluate executive and organizational performance and spotlight needed areas for improvement. Organizational size also may play a role in the decision to forgo internal coaches for outsiders. “Unless you are a very large organization it probably doesn’t make sense to have a whole internal cadre of coaches,” Saslow said. “There’s a difference between coaching and mentoring, and mentoring is typically internal employees to other employees. But for coaching, it’s probably most efficiently done by outsiders. I think we’ll see a little bit more internal because it’s a relatively newer practice for a lot of companies, and as the market evolves larger companies that are spending a good deal of money in the space will say, ‘We should probably take a little bit of this process internal and that will help from a quality standpoint, that might help from a cost standpoint, etc.’”
Whether or not an organization uses external or internal coaches, or how they leverage or plan to leverage this type of activity within the learning organization, metrics or a way to measure the effectiveness of the activity is important. However, like many other learning and development activities it can be difficult to gauge what works, what doesn’t and how well. Some 46 percent of organizations don’t even try to determine the value of coaching, though they acknowledge that it is beneficial. “They have sort of an internal instinct that it is adding value,” Saslow said. “Some are using 360s (22 percent), some are using feedback (42 percent). A good chunk are using techniques and proactively seeking feedback from the manager of the participant etc.”
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