New Research: the Impact of Executive Coaching

January 6th, 2009 by David Utts

Harvard Business Reviewhas just published a very strong research paper on executive coaching (1)

It starts by emphasizing that the use of executive coaching is no longer focused on “fixing” poor performers. Based on the findings 48% of executive coaching engagements are focused on further developing high performers and/or helping them as they make big transitions into new roles.  Only 12% of executive coaching initiatives are focused on dealing with “derailing” behaviors.

Yet, because of the young age of the profession – the article still suggests “Buyer Beware” and goes on to highlight the top measures buyers are using to qualify they have found a masterful coach. They are as follows:

Experience in coaching in a similar setting

Clear methodology

Quality of the Client List

Ability to measure ROI

Certification in a proven coaching method was fifth on the list (29%) followed by experience working in similar roles (27%), experience as a psychological therapist (13%), and background in executive search (2%).

The article also points to the distinctions between consulting, coaching and therapy.  Ultimately coaching:

Focuses on the future

Fosters individual performance in a business context

Helps executives discover and embrace their own path

Yet, the research indicated that the lines between coaching, consulting and therapy can get blurred. A few red flags the article mentions include the potential of the executive becoming dependent on the coach. This can lead to “scope creep” when the coach allows things to move forward without a clear contract. Also, organizations must be aware that most coaching does touch on the personal side of an individual. Therefore coaches must have some understanding of psychological issues – so they can at least refer clients to therapy if it is deemed helpful or even critical to the well being of their clients.

An earlier Harv ard Management Update cited three keys to maximizing the return on investment in coaching that we strongly agree with and follow (2). These keys are:

Identify Specific Coaching Goals
This needs to always be among the first steps in the process. What is the purpose of the coaching and what are the high value outcomes you are seeking from engaging in the process?

Follow a Disciplined Coach Selection Process
It is still a new field so make sure you are vigilant in how you chose a coach. Find an executive coach who has experience and who is flexible in their approach. Figure out before hand how you will determine the coaching engagement will be successful and then hold your coach accountable to helping you achieve your desired outcomes.

Adopt a Learning Mindset
This can be tough for successful people. After all they have achieved a lot based on the habits they have deployed to date. Yet, to gain the most from coaching you need to open yourself up to new possibilities, step into a learning mode and be willing to take risks that will empower your success even more. It really does not matter how clear the purpose and goals are or how good the coach is – without the willingness to learn you will not get much from the process.

At a time when we are considering how to maximize our investment in resources – both articles point to the value of the investment in executive coaching. While organizations must be careful with expenditures as well as who they hire to coach their executives – they don’t want to cut their nose off despite their face and cut important development for the very talent that will lead them out of the current economic turmoil. In fact, the demand for executive coaching might actually increase during this time due to rising ambiguity and the need for stronger leadership.

(1.) Coutu, D., & Kauffman, C. What Can Coaches Do for You?. Harvard Business Review, January 2009

(2.) Johnson, L. Getting More from Executive Coaching. Harvard Management Update. January 2007

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