Four critical steps to make executive coaching effective

Hawkins (2012) identifies six pitfalls from their experience that limit the effective integration of coaching:

  • Not building a wide enough sponsorship group
  • Coaching remaining an HR initiative
  • Failure to retain key staff who would be advocates for coaching
  • A belief that a high volume of coaching is sufficient to embed it in the organisation
  • Insufficient focus on the quality of coaching
  • Failure to evaluate effectiveness and return on investment

Megginson and Clutterbuck (2006) have created a series of questions to measure the extent to which an organisation is “moving to integrate coaching into its deep processes of performance and renewal”, in six categories:

  • Coaching linked to business drivers
  • Being a coachee is encouraged and supported
  • Coach training is provided
  • Coaching is recognised and rewarded
  • A systemic perspective is taken
  • The move to coaching is managed

In examining these criteria, four critical factors emerge as key components for the effective integration of coaching at an executive or senior level.

1. Explicit organisational support

The organisation should ensure that coaching is supported by the “most senior leaders” (Hawkins, 2012) and specifically encourage and support being a coachee (Megginson and Clutterbuck, 2006). This support should extend beyond the passive approval of allowing coaching to take place and consist of active support activity focused on the continuation of learning (Jarvis, Lane and Fillery-Travis, 2006).

2. Alignment with organisational culture

The systemic perspective assessed by Megginson and Clutterbuck’s (2006) questions infers the need for coaching to exist in an organisation that trusts in its leaders and empowers decision making. Additionally coaching is a largely self-directed activity (Grant, 2002) requiring leaders to have a degree of autonomy to determine what is best for them. Boynsen, Arya and Page (2021) state that “Coaching is a very powerful tool to use as an organisation working toward creating a culture that supports and focuses on respect and empowerment”, suggesting these elements need to be part of the existing or aspirational organisational culture.

3. Effective management

At a senior management level, external coaches are preferred (McDermott et al, 2007), therefore it is important that the organisation has an effective mechanism for selecting and managing external partners and ensuring quality. Valerio and Lee (2005) recommend HR professionals support coaching selection on a number of factors including the coach’s references, education, certification and experience and by implementing an ongoing process to ensure “the coaching engagement is proceeding as planned”.

4. Evaluation and advocacy

“Coaching can be costly, and corporate leaders want to know that they are getting value for money” (Dagley, 2006) and yet there is not even a “universally accepted criteria for what constitutes a successful outcome in executive coaching” (MacKie, 2007). In order to maintain organisational support it is therefore important that organisations build their own data to support the implementation of coaching and encourage advocacy. Ely et al (2010) recommend the use of a summative evaluation framework incorporating:

  • The coachee’s reactions to, and perceptions of coaching
  • What the coachee has learned
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Influences on organisational objectives

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