How to Create a Culture of Executive Coaching

Voices keep reminding us “This too will pass!” But I cringe when I hear that. It is not time to quarantine passively until COVID-19 passes by. Rather, it is a time to assess, adapt, and act on our individual, institutional, and organizational futures.

In a recent conversation with Human Resources and Talent leaders, the term “new normal” never came up. They are aware of the pandemic but have placed it in context and pressed forward. This circle of professionals from just about every business sector discussed “Executive Coaching – How to create a Culture of Coaching.” It turns out there is little agreement on best practices or tools, but the intent was to share what works for some in search of approaches that might best serve more of these partners.

As any conversation would go, we did not give our key questions equal attention, and some answers took us into other interesting directions. But we had hoped to consider the following:

  1. How are leading organizations handling coaching requests for high potential staff and others deeper in the organization?
  2. What vendors, providers, and other platforms are used with what success?
  3. How are these professionals managing accountability through the coaching process?
  4. Has the current virtual workforce situation altered or changed plans to provide coaching and real-time development within the organization?

Coaching depth

Typically, organizations imagine coaching as the privilege of positions at the Senior Director or Vice President level This approach assumes these positions are tracks to the C-suite, the top tier successor population. However, as companies grow, multiply their locations, and/or go global, new challenges arise.

They find the many and varied cultures and regions perceive Hi-Potential talent, advancement, and coaching in different terms. They find local coaches and vendors quick to step up to the need, but the multiple approaches, methodologies, and tools undercut any attempt to employ a consistent framework for engaging coaches, vetting their capability, or setting standards for efficacy. With little consistency in coach and player, there is no established metric for change accountability.

Absent consistency, there is little flexibility. Because the “community” of coaches at work does not sit within the organization, they may not share its goals and metrics. There is also little flexibility in terms of the tools used or technology expectations. They are left to rely on the experience and approach of each respective coach’s certifications and the tools the coach preferred.

A more holistic approach is needed, a rigorous and consistent global process satisfying the true needs across the organization. One participant offered the following definitions of coaching and when it might be best used:

Executive Coaching Fosters the development of strategic leadership competencies.
Transition & Onboarding Coaching Focuses on accelerating performance and improving leaders’ success during the first 100 days of a critical transition.
Team Coaching Aligns multiple executive coaching engagements to the business strategy, building personal, team, and strategic leadership.
Specialized Topic Counseling Builds effectiveness for leaders exposed to unique challenges.

  • Communications and Executive Presence: driving organizational alignment through communications, stronger messaging, and managing a personal brand.
  • Women in Leadership: focuses on the unique challenges of women as executive leaders.*
  • Cultural Dexterity: for executives working in cross-cultural environments, including expatriate assignments.
Instill a Culture of Coaching Prepares leaders to serve as coaches and approach development with a coaching mindset.
*Further discussion would reveal a general lack of preparedness on coaching specific to women’s issues or issues affecting other under-represented groups.

This organization and sorting of ideas formed a good base for discussion at the most senior level, but it also raised questions they continue to resolve. None of the participants proposed a fully formed strategy for coaching below the C-suite level.

External help

Sizeable organizations often secure support, advice, and/or execution by outside providers. Global companies may use regional vendors, but because most coaching is reserved for the high potential pool, it may occur at headquarters.

Some employers staff internal coaching functions, yet most of them identify coaching needs and connect them with possible solutions. The solutions might involve shadowing an experienced employee or mentoring/reverse mentoring. Onboarding also presents an opportunity to partner new hire high potentials with veterans who will help them adapt to the organization’s culture. Success will likely come down to merging excellence in leadership, vision, and execution, as evidenced here.

Missed opportunities

This conversation’s professionals brought a lot to our virtual conversation. However, it missed some opportunities I find important in creating a culture of executive coaching.

Accountability Partnerships

In a world where leadership is pervasive throughout the entire enterprise, my friend and mentor Marshall Goldsmith writes, “Organizations must find ways to cascade leadership from senior management to men and women at all levels.”

Leadership coaching, after all, is not about improving or increasing knowledge. It is only tangentially related to skills development. Rather, coaching seeks to change behavior to better fit the corporate goals.

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Ambition drives many promising senior managers and junior executives. But coaching should not be about making their dreams come true. Their aspirations must align with organizational goals, and that is the purpose of coaching.

Accountability Partnerships are structured so high potentials have a contact person who reminds them daily of their role. The partner — a colleague, peer, friend, or family member — reiterates three questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday to advance the organization’s goals?
  2. What have you done today to advance those goals?
  3. What will you do tomorrow to foster the organization’s goals?

Asked often enough, these questions will drive the potential leaders’ behavior. They will turn alignment into a love of the work.

Change over time

Any coaching strategy should have the capability to effect change over time in a consistent manner — incremental benefits of three, six, nine, and 12 months, for example but significantly higher change the more often leaders follow-up with stakeholders. The coaches and coached should share these expectations from the beginning. And, leaders must agree that they will follow-up and commit to the process.

We do a baseline for leadership effectiveness change. Starting with groups, we have them feed forward and establish goals for individuals. The individuals establish their own plan and goals. Then, their respective stakeholders feed forward ratings of their areas in the second, fourth, sixth, and ninth months. This creates a bar chart we can present to top tier executives.

State of the art

The coaching efforts at work at the companies represented are anchored to development programs. With few exceptions, they do not reach far below the level seen as executive succession. Most start with 360° Feedback reviews and individual coaching on an ad hoc basis or by coaches certified in one approach or another.

Depending on the business size and configuration, they may use in house coaching or contracted providers. The participants struggle with how to push the coaching below the executive tier and with designing and executing plans to address the unique needs of women leaders and other underrepresented groups.

One way or another, this conversation advances the understanding of ways and means to reach the same goals. It creates a context in which individual participants share and learn. Everyone draws a new baseline to determine their progress or needs to improve in culture of executive coaching.

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