Seeking directionOn 4 Jun 2002 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Faced with ever-challenging demands, today’s leaders are increasinglyturning to an occupational prop in the guise of an executive coach. AlisonThomas reports Long gone are the days when the boss cracked his whip and everyone jumped toattention. Status alone no longer commands respect and today’s leaders have toprove their worth. They must lead by example, motivate and inspire, maintaintheir distance yet stay in touch. They need vision and entrepreneurialqualities to anticipate change and keep ahead of the game. It is a tall order, and to help their top people rise to the challenge, moreand more companies are turning to executive coaching. When the Hay Grouprecently conducted a survey of 170 HR professionals from around the globe, morethan half the respondents reported their organisation had introduced coachingin the past 18 months and 88 per cent were planning to broaden its scope.Moreover, 70 per cent believe coaching is more effective than training coursesas a means of changing behaviour and improving the performance of seniorexecutives and high flyers. Myles Downey, director of studies at School of Coaching, agrees with thisview: “The more senior you get, the more unique and personal-specific yourdevelopment issues become,” he says. “Attend-ing a generic programmedoes not really answer that need. You require something tailored andfocused.” He draws a distinction between development and performance and warns againstcoaching that does not relate to performance goals. “It is important tostrike a balance between the inner [your beliefs, aspirations, desires] and theouter [behaviour, results, how you impact in the workplace],” he says. The role of a coach is not to instruct, but to help executives work outtheir own solutions. Life at the top can be lonely and there is often no one toturn to for advice or support. Coaching provides a safe environment, a place toexplore ideas and discuss decisions with a trusted, highly skilled, independentfacilitator. It is not just a cosy tàte-à-tàte, however, and a thorough coach starts byexamining all the factors, external and internal, that may be affectingperformance. This might take the form of a 360-degree feedback or a survey ofthe organisation’s climate. Mary Long, chief executive of InspirationalDevelopment Coaching, goes one step further and witnesses her clients inaction. “Their perception of their impact may be very different fromreality,” she explains, citing the example of a sales director who wasvery proud of his ‘open door’ policy, but failed to notice that no one hadcrossed the threshold. Opinions differ as to how long a coaching programme should last, but thereis general consensus that it should stop if it is creating dependency. Whateverthe specific performance goals, the aim is to foster self-reliance and expandpeople’s capacity to stretch and grow. It is particularly valuable at times of upheaval, such as transition to anew role. Tony Dunk, principal of development business at CDA, points to thecase of managers who, having gained promotion through their operationalbrilliance, feel insecure in their new environment. “Operations are prescriptive and now they have to take a visionaryapproach – an entrepreneurial position. That is where coaching can be useful.It helps them to put their objectives in perspective and think things through –what they already have in their makeup, their skills set, their behaviour andattitude. Techniques tend to get compartmentalised and they often miss thepotential adaptation of something they already have as a resource.” If the stakes are high for the individual, they are even higher for theorganisation, which invests vast sums of money growing or recruiting seniorstaff. “If the support of a coach keeps someone on board for just a coupleof years longer, the savings are massive,” says Mary Long. “For theindividual, it is the fulfilment that counts. Leaders are remarkable people andwhat they want most of all is to make an impact.” According to research from Penna Executive Development Coaching, theyhaven’t got much time in which to do it. The honeymoon period has come down tothree months – and some executives are expected to make their mark even sooner.If they do hit the ground running, the company reaps handsome rewards.According to another piece of research from the Hay Group, between 50 to 70 percent of an organisation’s climate, and hence its effectiveness, can be tracedto the leadership or management style. “Most people have within them a capacity to lead, and will lead intheir unique fashion,” says Downey. “There are two more importantquestions. First, is their predisposition appropriate to the situation? Forexample, a retail environment might require someone charismatic andinspirational, while leadership in a legal practice might have a moreintellectual edge. Second, do they have the will to be a leader? I have seenpeople from relatively uninspiring positions and backgrounds come to therealisation that they have a certain innate power and that there is a way inwhich they can express it. That is very exciting to see.” The impact executive coaching can have on the bottom line was highlighted bya study conducted by MetrixGlobal for an executive coaching programme designedby The Pyramid Resource Group. Its findings, based on 43 participants,concluded that coaching produced a 529 per cent return on investment, rising to788 per cent when financial benefits from retention were taken into account.These are impressive figures, yet some people remain unconvinced, as the HayGroup’s HR survey illustrates. Of those respondents who had encountered resistance, 85 per cent attributedthis to the values of senior managers. While this may reflect a lingeringmisconception that coaching is only for people in trouble, the Hay Group holdsHR professionals responsible too. Only 24 per cent saw a role for coaching when building for growth, whilejust 13 per cent spotted its potential for easing mergers, acquisitions orrestructuring. Moreover, only 46 per cent had personal experience of coaching, which mayexplain why they have failed to convert sceptical managers. As the Hay Groupreport concludes: “If HR is to play a strategic role, HR professionalsneed to become more closely involved in developing those who determinestrategy.” Does your manager need help? 10 tell tale signs…. – You cannot get a date in their diary for months – They cannot remember the last time they met a customer – They do not understand half the jargon in the management report – All their goals are short term – They overmanage their subordinates – They have stopped speaking out at board meetings – They feel liable to be challenged by anyone about anything at any time – They feel overwhelmed with information – You can always predict how they will react – They can’t delegate and have no successor identified Source: Inspirational Development Coaching Case study – UnileverCoaching encourages staff to lead with heads and hearts “I am allowing my emotions to surface more. This makes me morevulnerable, less polished. I am better at taking criticism and acting on it. “It has allowed the real person to shine.” These comments comefrom two Unilever employees who have discovered the joys of coaching. It began in February 2000 when the Anglo-Dutch consumer products companylaunched its Path to Growth initiative, with the aim of raising top line growthfrom 1-2 per cent to 6 per cent. “One of the key elements was to create anenterprise culture,” explains Fergus Balfour, senior vice-president ofleadership development. “That requires not only leaders with the right attributes, but a teamwho behave in such a way as to create a climate in which growth canoccur.” The coaching programme was introduced as part of a broader strategy and thestarting point was an analysis of prevailing behaviours followed by thedevelopment of a leadership growth model consisting of 11 key competencies. External coaches worked one-to-one with around 70 senior managers toestablish sustained leadership development. Outside agents were also used atmiddle management level, together with some internal coaches – the firstmembers of a growing coaching cadre. In some businesses coaching was extendedto junior managers in the form of a two-and-a-half-day intensive programme.”The idea was to help them understand what coaching in leadershipmeans,” says Balfour. “By starting young we hope they will take to itmore readily and adopt it as their natural style.” The ultimate goal of this three-pronged attack is to develop a coachingculture that will extend throughout the organisation. One of the majorchallenges has been to achieve global consistency on quality and methodology,not an easy task. Another has been to persuade managers that their diaries mustbe cleared to make time for coaching others. “I would include myself inthat,” he says. “You have to be there when people need you, but it ishard.” The issue of giving up time has three significant implications. First, itencourages managers to delegate and give others more responsibility. Second, leaders find their people want to share issues or require guidance. This does not imply that they are avoiding making decisions, but they wantthem enriched by the leader’s knowledge and experience. Third, leaders must besupportive. Those who are coached will get into trouble if they are encouraged to takerisks and no one helps them to learn from their mistakes. The culture Unilever is trying to shift is the traditional male-dominated,analytical model. “The most important message we are trying to get acrossis that it is fine to be vulnerable and to put your emotions on thetable,” says Balfour. “Unless you lead with both your head and your heart, you do not inspirepeople. These are key leadership issues and the coaching process is helping usto address them.” Early indications suggest that the strategy is beginning to bite, albeit ona modest scale. It is still early days, however, and Balfour is optimistic thatthey are on the right track. “We are very encouraged to see what can beachieved and know we must go further, faster and harder,” he says.”To do that we need an internal coaching programme.” Related posts:No related photos.