This re-focusing of attention at executive level can, however, bring new challenges for the individuals occupying these positions. While previous roles may have included elements of people management, they are likely to have been predominantly task-focused: executive roles, on the other hand, require them to be effective coaches and motivators, as much of the organisational success that they can influence will come through the efforts of those working for them. They may, for example, need to deal with complex staff disputes or with issues of poor conduct or performance, and these are situations in which excellence of execution doesn't always come naturally.
Executive coaching can also deliver another positive change: the instilling of an organisational culture in which a coaching and developmental approach is a valued way of working
Where an executive – especially one recently appointed to their new position – faces these challenges or lacks confidence in their ability to handle them, it is not only the executive who suffers. The organisation, and at least some of its employees, also operate under a leader who – whether it is transparently obvious to them or not – is struggling. This is, however, exactly the kind of situation in which executive coaching can deliver effective results: while leadership development programmes can cover this relationship-based aspect of the leader’s role, not only is there no guarantee that the individual executive will have been through such a programme, but such courses are inevitably ‘generic’ to some degree.
The challenge that the executive-in-post faces is by definition unique and personal, and executive coaching can focus on specific scenarios in a way that broader programmes cannot. Executive coaching can also tackle an aspect of the executive position that is too often overlooked: executives often find themselves caught between a remote boss and a local workforce with whom they cannot – for many possible reasons - share their issues and concerns.
This can in turn compound other issues; someone who feels lonely and isolated is unlikely to perform at their best, or to be fully confident to rise to the challenges that they face.
By enhancing the ability of executives to productively coach, mentor and develop those below them, executive coaching can also deliver another positive change: the instilling of an organisational culture in which a coaching and developmental approach is both an accepted and valued way of working and interacting. While executive coaching’s primary focus is on unlocking the potential of the coachee, its benefits can often be felt far more widely, unlocking the potential of others in turn. While this process of unlocking potential may well happen naturally in due course, the aim and benefit of coaching is to accelerate the process and make it sustainable.
Organisations should not underestimate the power of executive coaching to affect the bottom line
While this is the traditional view of executive coaching, this mechanism has more recently been used to accelerate the implementation of business strategy, especially around change agendas.
By aligning the coaching goals with the strategic agenda – often in a 3-way meeting between the coach, the coachee and their line manager – coaching can create focused and disciplined thinking space for the executive. In a busy 24/7 world, this approach often provides a catalyst for more effective delivery of the strategy.
Organisations looking to maximise the potential of their employees (at all levels), and of their L&D spend, should not underestimate the power of executive coaching to affect the bottom line. Equally, they should bear in mind that there are critical aspects that relate not just to the supplier (the quality of coaches being the most obvious, but also the provision of management and evaluation information and a focus on effective learning transfer) but also to the organisation itself.
The most effective coaching is strongly aligned with the business’ strategic objectives, and is strongly enhanced by the committed engagement of internal stakeholders – sponsors, budget holders, HR professionals and, key among them, the coachee’s line manager.
Organisations should not overlook the quantitative impact of executive coaching either. Manchester Group research showed significant improvements in many areas as a result: relationships with peers (77%), teamwork (67%), job satisfaction (61%), productivity (53%) and quality of output (48%).
These very real impacts should, of course, come as no surprise. Executive coaching can target an executive’s ability to impact positively on a range of aspects that are similarly proven to benefit the organisation’s bottom line – engagement, talent retention, effective delegation and empowerment being just some of them.
Chris Rogers is managing consultant, ASK Europe