Executive coaching has come a long way in recent years. It used to be that coaching was a last-ditch effort to save a derailed executive. But today, coaching has evolved from a stigma to a status symbol. Coaching is mainly used for developing high-potential leaders and executives, and who would want to hide that?
But coaching is more than just a nice amenity for up-and-coming leaders. A study from Metrix Global found the ROI of coaching to be nearly eight times the initial investment. Another survey of Fortune 1000 companies found an average return on coaching of 5.7 times the investment. Finally, the Harvard Business Review reports that three portfolios of companies that spent aggressively on employee development outperformed the S&P 500 by 17-35%. With those stats, it’s no wonder that, according to a study by human capital firm Manchester, nearly 60% of companies today use coaching. And 20% plan to start using it in the next year.
So, if coaching is used more, and studies show a good return on investment, how do you select an executive coach? Here are seven considerations to help you get the best coach for your situation.
1) Determine which type of executive coach you need
Leadership coaches leverage behavioral science training and real-world business experience to enable the growth and development of senior executives and high potentials. On the other hand, business coaches are experienced leaders in specific industries and can provide insight and developmental support in specific content areas.
If you’re dealing with any of these situations, then you want a leadership coach:
- You want to develop a high-potential leader,
- You want the person to gain increased self-awareness, improve co-worker relations, and/or improve their leadership skills.
On the other hand, if the person is new to a senior position and you want to provide role- or industry-specific advice, then you might want a business coach. A former C-suite executive who has been in this role can help your newcomer navigate the challenges effectively, avoid pitfalls, and get off to a strong start.
2) Get a great listener, not an advice-giver
We all like to hear ourselves talk. In a leadership coach, you want someone who is a great listener, will empathize with the coachee, and listens more than they advise. A great coach is an expert at pulling information out of people—leading them to discover solutions. They provide advice when appropriate. But overall, they are trying to develop the coachee’s confidence and skills so that at some point down the road, the coach is no longer needed. If the coach gives advice all the time, the coachee will be dependent on the coach and will never stand up on their own.
3) Find a coach skilled in dealing with tough situations and who can provide self-awareness
Leadership coaches are often asked to provide their coachees with greater self-awareness, improved people skills, and stronger leadership skills. These can be challenging issues to tackle. It is not uncommon for coachees, at times, to not want to deal with some of these things, to clam up, become argumentative and not listen, get emotional, etc. You want a coach who can skillfully bring the coachee through these challenges and get them to be a more effective, self-aware leader.
4) Support your coachee with an integrated tool system from which the coach can draw
Typically, a coaching engagement includes an intake to size up the coachee’s strengths, opportunities for improvement, and potential. 360˚ surveys provide valuable insight into how others view the coachee. Best practice is using one that not only shows what the coachee does but how. An intake would also include psychological assessments, which can surface hidden potential that may not be apparent. Your coach should be skilled at utilizing these tools. If they are integrated into a common system that provides continuity, this can enhance and speed up development. If your coach has leadership skill training available—ideally as part of the assessment and 360˚ survey system—this can be a big plus.
5) Look for two types of goal-setting
Clear goals for the coachee’s development should be set with input from the coachee, her boss, the coach, and, if appropriate, HR. Getting the boss involved in this process helps ensure alignment between individual and company goals—a win for everyone.
At the end of each coaching session, the coach and coachee should set a clear action plan. The coach needs to hold the coachee accountable and check progress at the next meeting. You don’t want a coach who asks the coachee, “So, what issues do you want to talk about today?” and off they go on an issue of the month tangent. Current issues are important to cover. But there also needs to be developmental continuity—a consistent thread—if the coachee is going to hit developmental goals.
6) Have a way to measure the coachee’s progress
If you can’t measure progress, how do you know if the coaching is meeting objectives? Additionally, it is helpful if the coach periodically touches base with the coachee’s boss. Coachee confidentiality must be maintained, of course. The boss is important in the process, and periodic touch bases are part of an effective coaching process.
Because coaching engagements are often set at a monthly cadence, we recommend technology-enabled touchpoints in between meetings. Our tool of choice is the Coaching Companion. This survey tool provides gentle nudges to help coachees gauge progress on goals, track motivation levels, and rank barriers to behavioral change. Coaches can observe near real-time changes in self-reported coachee behavior and help coachees decipher trends.
7) Don’t engage a coach if…
If the person is not willing to be coached, don’t waste your money. Sure, a good coach is able to spin up receptivity for coaching and motivate a coachee to grow and develop—within reason. But if the coachee does not think they need to change (or want to), it’s not going to happen.
Coaching is also not the answer if you need a regular venting session, or if the issues at hand are of a clinical nature. E.g. if the individual is chronically depressed, he needs a therapist, not a coach.
Address these considerations, and you will be on the path to successful coaching. Good luck!