At fast-food company Yum Brands Inc., coaching is incorporated in its midlevel leadership program, Leadership Excel. Rob Lauber, vice president of Yum University, said the focus of the six-month-long program is building a pipeline of inspirational and strategic leadership qualities. Participants receive five one-hour coaching sessions where they converse one-on-one over the phone with a certified external coach.
Lauber said in this situation coaching acts more as a guidepost to hold participants accountable throughout the other components of Leadership Excel, rather than take on the full load of an individual’s development. Lauber said the tool is flexible enough to act both as an alternative to executive education in some instances and a supplement in others.
“We use coaching as a method to drive a change in behavior,” he said. “That could be an individual who’s got a particular issue that needs to be worked through without a workshop or program associated with it. Or it could be where it’s really meant to drive focus and accountability around real behavior change across the six-month time frame.”
Other companies aim to apply coaching qualities to all employees who manage others, like General Electric Co., whose Crotonville, N.Y., leadership development institute runs countless leadership programs every year. Marilyn Gorman, GE’s program manager for senior executive education, said the firm offers informal coaching to most of its managers and executives. While at Crotonville, employees also have the option to sign up for coaching on an ad-hoc basis.
“That coaching may be a one-off instance, and it’s based on whatever the individual wants to talk about in that moment of time,” said Gorman, who is also an ICF-certified executive coach.
GE also aims to build coaching as a leadership skill in all its employees so the positive attributes of the learning method permeate throughout the organization.
Other companies have even tried to apply executive coaching to an entire group at once. American Red Cross’ Sack said the nonprofit brought in a coach to work on the team dynamic for its entire C-suite. The challenge, however, with group executive coaching is not all participants are equally receptive, leaving doubt whether the exercise will ultimately be successful. “It depends on the group,” Sack said.
Most companies opt to keep coaching for select, top-level executives, or promising future ones, because most companies don’t have the resources to credential internal people as executive coaches. Also, external coaching costs limit the depth of its implementation.
“Executive coaching is an expensive avenue to pursue,” said Cheryl Pinter-Veal, director of leadership development and succession in the partner matters organization at professional services firm Deloitte, which uses coaching extensively with the top 10 percent of its partner population.
Similarly, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen reserves executive coaching for director level or above, said Renee Stevens, the food chain’s vice president of talent management. Part of the reason the company chooses to keep executive coaching as an exclusive development tool has to do with operating lean: Popeyes’ vice president level is only about 15 people.
Also, Stevens said coaching’s maximized benefit relative to its cost is only realized when it is applied properly to individuals who are most likely to embrace it. That means limiting its use to situations where other forms of coach-like learning — such as internal mentoring or peer coaching — won’t satisfy an individual’s development need.
In some cases, managers taking on coach-like qualities can circumvent the need to bring in expensive, external executive coaches altogether. “If my manager is also a coach as well as a director,” said CCL’s Riddle, “then every day I’m having encounters and conversations that are helping me apply the lessons to my everyday leadership.”
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