Opinion

When is an executive coach right for your organization?

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Genevieve Roberts


As a manager, improving employee performance can be challenging.  If only you could replicate yourself, you could accomplish more work.  If part of your role is to develop employees, and you have been considering whether an executive coach is right for your organization, this article should help you decide.

Executive coaching has emerged in recent years as a powerful and popular method to develop leadership skills.  Recent surveys of Fortune 500 companies show leadership coaching consistently delivers value in several situations.  When managers discuss an employee’s performance, it is usually because the performance is either very good or very poor.  Ironically, these are also the two most common situations where coaches are used. 

An organization will rely on the skills of an executive coach when they need to get a high performer up to speed quickly.  The coach helps identify specific competencies that the organization feels are important for the role and assesses the high performer’s skill level against those competencies.  Coaching can be very effective when used in this manner.  Specifically, it:

1. allows the individual to gain an understanding of the skills needing focus or further improvement for strategic success
2. reinforces the individual’s belief that the company values him and is willing to invest time and resources in his development

In the second scenario, a coach can be utilized for an employee who is not performing well, and the company wants to give the person a final chance to improve her performance.  In this case, coaching will work only when the employee:

1. is motivated to make a change in behavior
2. feels positive about the company’s willingness to take the time to invest in the development of her skills
There may be other equally important reasons to engage a coach.  According to Doug Silsbee, author of “The Mindful Coach:” “Life’s challenges provide great opportunities to learn and grow. Engaging in a coaching partnership allows you to make the most of these opportunities, finding greater freedom and real choices in challenging times.”  He suggests that managers consider the use of coaching during periods of transition, development, change and renewal including:
• A promotion or challenging new assignment
• Planning or implementing career change
• Building new capacities and approaches
• Business growth and changes
• Personal transitions related to relationships, geographic moves and loss
• The need for renewal or better life balance
• Developing your authentic leadership style
• Personal resilience during stress and change

Regardless of which scenario you find your employee in, a good executive coach should:

• Help the employee choose the right skill-building activities through the use of accurate assessment tools
• Hold the employee accountable to learning skills to improve the competencies
• Routinely schedule review meetings
• Encourage the employee if setbacks are encountered
• Recognize and celebrate accomplishments
• Provide helpful advice
• Be honest and direct with the employee

Your responsibility as a manager is to help determine when the situation calls for an executive coach and whether that coach should be external or internal.  You should consult your Human Resources department first to understand what resources are already available.

An internal coach from the company is tasked with creating a mentoring relationship with the employee.  HR can help make this match (software is available to accomplish this easily). HR can also help find an external coach who is properly matched the employee.

Determining whether to use an internal or external resource depends on several criteria including:
• Internal coach availability
• The skill set possessed by the internal coach
• Length of time available to improve individual’s skill level
• Funding

Once you have assessed the individual’s motivation to change and your company’s development resources, then you can determine whether an internal or external coach is best for your employee. After you have established the coaching arrangement, you and your HR manager should monitor the relationship.  However, you should remember that the employee’s success is not solely determined by picking the perfect coach, but rather by the employee taking responsibility for her own development and change in behavior.

Genevieve Roberts is managing principal at Richmond-based Titan Group LLC


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