Success Factors in Coaching, Part 2

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August 6, 2013

There are phases that are common to all individualized coaching programs, and the lack of any of these phases significantly decreases the likelihood for success in executive coaching.

Feedback, Insight, and Goal Setting – This phase is the first major piece of work between the coach and the coachee where important pieces of data are organized and discerned in order to arrive at the key issues facing the executive. In this session, frequently a half day or more, the data from behavioral and personality assessments, feedback from individuals, the review of the coachee’s background information and challenges are all analyzed and synthesized to provide a picture of the reality facing the coachee. Recall the earlier definition of what a coach does: She exposes reality and provides focus or structure for the coachee to work on his/her developmental challenges. This segment of the coaching process is where the coach and coachee come to understanding of what the reality looks like, what people are saying about the coachee’s leadership and behaviors, and what the coachee ultimately decides to address. Here the coach helps the coachee sort through the potentially large number of goals to focus on several SMART goals, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. In this segment key issues such as boundaries for the coaching relationship, how success will be monitored, and how accountabilities will be determined. The outcome is a draft of the initial coaching plan.

Key Stakeholder(s) Alignment – This conversation occurs between the coachee and their supervisor and is focused on sharing information gleaned in the Assessment, Insight, and Goal Setting phases of the coaching engagement. The coach is not always a part of this conversation but it is key to align the boss’s expectations with the employee’s. Since, in some cases, a coachee’s challenges may be related to inadequate performance, the key stakeholder alignment conversation is crucial to dealing with the boss’s intent for behavior change or skill development. Candor and clarity are always key here. In cases where coaching is for development of a high potential employee, supervisor support is extremely valuable because it can engage the supervisor in the creation of the development plan, particularly as it relates to the delegation of challenging assignments and career-enhancing opportunities. It also helps facilitate buy-in with the supervisor on both an organizational and quasi-personal level. The greater we humans are engaged in affinity relationships, mentoring, or filial relationships with one another, the more closely we associate and value the relationship with that individual and the more we want to see that individual succeed.

Where significant performance issues exist, such as in the case of a senior executive for whom coaching is mandated prior to a potential job or career derailment, the coach may participate in the stakeholder alignment conversation and may even have a private conversation with the coachee’s boss/sponsor. As a sponsor of the coaching, the boss (or board chair) has a right to know about the coaching process, goals, and performance during the period of ongoing coaching (working the plan) but does not have a right to the confidences built between the coach and coachee. It is imperative that the coachee has supreme confidence in the professional relationship with their coach. Only in cases where the coachee’s progress seems to be stalling, or there appears a lack of interest or initiative in working the coaching plan, or if other impediments exist to thwart the adoption of new behaviors or skills should the coach contact the sponsor and discuss the issues and the value of continuing coaching at that time.

Coaching and Implementation  – Actual ongoing coaching during the engagement normally consists of a series of phone conversations between coach and coachee. In some cases these are face to face, depending on proximity, and normally there should be face to face check-ins after six months of ongoing work. There may be value in live coaching, sometimes called situational coaching, where the coach is present during the executives’ day and engages in coaching in the moment when valuable teaching opportunities arise. Normally the coaching conversations center on progress in the developmental issues identified in the coaching plan, impediments to the plan, discussing and celebrating successes during the process, and in thought partnership on how the coachee is developing as a professional and adapting to the challenges they are facing.
Coach credibility is an ever-present issue that comes from experience and is evaluated constantly by the coachee in every conversation. Business acumen is important and sometimes deep experience in a particular industry is valuable, but skilled coaches are fundamentally adult learning and process experts. They weave their questions and examples into the fabric of the coaching conversations based on past work with other executives. Credibility also means the courage to challenge the executive and persevere through tough issues and stay focused on both learning (and learning to learn) and executing the coachee’s goals.