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9 Steps to Create an Executive Coaching Program

Human Resources Guide: 9 Steps to Create an Executive Coaching Program

Leaders have been particularly stressed in the last year and half. They are dealing with burnout, pushback and upheaval. More than ever, organizations see the value in providing leaders with the one-on-one support they need to perform at their best under crushing conditions, and are planning to expand executive coaching beyond the highest ranks. As a result, the Executive Coaching industry is expected to grow 6.7 %, an increase from $15 billion to $20 billion, in only three years, according to the International Coaching Federation. By all accounts, executive coaching is poised for a Golden Age, but a key element is missing from the equation.

Most organizations lack formal executive coaching programs. For example, in rare organizations committed to coaching, certain scenarios will automatically trigger engagements with a coach, such as all new hires at a certain level or transitions to new roles within the company. This consistency creates a coaching and leadership development culture. Instead, most HR departments hire coaches here and there, in ad hoc fashion. Often, there isn’t a global vision for executive coaching’s role in the larger corporate strategic plan.

“It’s mostly a mish-mash,” said one HR executive.

To widen executive coaching’s reach beyond the C-Suite, HR needs to prove coaching’s inherent business value. Organizations should take this new wave of investment as an opportunity to cultivate a coaching culture with an executive coaching program that systemizes and maximizes the process. Following are the 9 key elements of a formal program that will ensure the process is consistent from executive to executive and coach to coach and measured from the beginning and beyond to accurately gauge success.

1.   Build the business case for executive coaching to gain senior level support: 91% of CEOs want to improve the soft skills of their leaders

Everyone is fighting for scarce resources. HR needs to build an unshakeable business case to pique the CEO’s interest in investing in cultivating a coaching culture. Fortunately for human resources, executive coaching is perfectly positioned to tie into larger strategic corporate initiatives.

Recruiting and retaining top talent is mission critical for CEOs, especially as the talent wars heat up. According to data by talent firm, DDI, 67% of Generation X leaders said they would like more external coaching and 57% want external development.

At the same time, most CEOs are concerned they lack talent to compete. According to a PwC survey of CEOs, 91% of CEOs say, in addition to digital skills, they want to improve the soft skills of their leaders. Executive coaching to the rescue.

“My CEO is focused on people and culture,” said one HR executive with a global science and manufacturing organization. “His passion for development and building a world class culture is infectious. The dialogues have continued through the leadership team and how we develop functional expertise and skill sets.”

Moreover, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a burning issue for many organizations. Expanding access to executive coaching can help organizations reach their DEI and governance goals in accordance with Environmental, Social and Governance ambitions.

2.     Set objectives to be obtained from coaching: HR’s role as orchestrator of executive coaching

Answer this important question: what do we want to accomplish with coaching as an organization? How does coaching animate the organization’s current strategic priorities?

For example, do you want to develop more resilient leaders, recruit and retain more talent or sharpen particular skills such as compassion to ready leaders for a new era of corporate citizenship?

As it stands now, HR oftentimes plays a central role in hiring a coach, but then expects the leader’s manager to hold the leader accountable for making progress, which may or may not happen. Sometimes the manager of the leader isn’t much involved.

HR should work with the executive coach, the leader, and the leader’s manager to establish goals for each engagement, including setting specific shifts in behavior expected at the close of coaching. Also, include a plan for measurement post engagement.

In some of the most productive client engagements I’ve had as a coach, HR has played a pivotal role in providing key information that keeps the client on track without violating privacy agreements.

3.   Agree on the level of management that is coaching-eligible

Coaching has a reputation of being reserved for the highest performers in the corner offices, but organizations are looking to change that. More and more organizations want to expand access to coaching to more leaders. Providing coaching to mid-level management and higher would have a profound impact on organizations. Bad managers drive good employees out the door. Providing coaching at the middle management level will reverberate across the entire organization.

4.   Empower HR with control of funding for coaching

Some individual executives have coaching line-items, while others have a development budget and others merely get an administration/overhead allocation. In other cases, the budget for coaching resides in HR, which is where it should live. A company’s capacity to institute a formal executive coaching program that cultivates a coaching-culture hinges on HR’s authority to manage workflows and measure outcomes.

“I work proactively with our CFO and Finance Team to budget annually for these types of programs,” said one HR executive with an agricultural organization.

5.  Determine whether or not to outsource coaching

Should you keep coaching in-house or outsource it? Internal coaches understand the culture and know the issues intimately, so they have an edge. However, leaders often feel more comfortable confiding to someone outside of the company. Executive coaching is a deeply personal experience, and it can be difficult for leaders to really open up if they know they will encounter the coach on a daily basis. The ideal balance is pairing an internal HR executive with an external coach. HR can help to inform the coach without crossing privacy boundaries, which helps to guarantee goals are met by providing the leader with a buffer.

6.   Develop a coaching sourcing approach

Will you create a network of individual coaches or contract with a provider or take a hybrid approach? There’s no perfect answer. It depends on what type of coaches you are looking for based on your goals for coaching. Do you anticipate that coaches with a organizational development focus or business background are more suited to your mission? Maybe coaches with HR experience are a better fit. Regardless of your sourcing pool, organizations should establish service level agreements with coaches that align with the organization’s larger talent strategy.  What key performance indicators must the coach meet? How often and for how long will coaches be available for leaders? Seek coaches with a formal process and make deliverables consistent from coach to coach.

7.   Outline a coaching framework

Executive coaches who see results work within a framework that aligns client and stakeholder objectives to ensure consistency and establish trust between the client and coach. Outcome-oriented coaches use inside-out assessments such as Hogan Lead Series, Myers-Briggs and Emotional IQ, and 360 outside-in assessments that inform client action plans. Keeping confidentiality top of mind, superior coaches provide the client and stakeholders with progress reports over the course of the engagement and converse bi-weekly with the client to sharpen objectives, identify solutions and adjust the plan as needed. Coaches hold coalition meetings with the leader and the leader’s manager.  And, the best coaches remain available after the course of the engagement.

8.   Develop a formula for analyzing coaching outcomes

Some firms rely on net-zero questioning to measure outcomes, asking leaders at the end of coaching engagement if they would recommend their coach, but that measurement tool doesn’t assess whether or not the leader’s behavior will positively or negatively impact the bottom line.

Regardless of the reason for coaching, leaders who experienced coaching should participate in mini 360 assessments, 6 – 9 or 12 months out, post engagement. Post-engagement pulse checks that measure shifts in attitudes and actions in the leader are needed to determine if the desired goals were attained.

9.   Revaluate and adjust aspects of program as needed

As with any strategic initiative designed to secure a return on investment, formal executive coaching programs need to be continuously reevaluated and readjusted based on what is working and what isn’t.

Talent is a top-of-mind issue for CEOs as the labor market tightens. HR is likely to have a sympathetic ear when pitching an expansion of coaching.  CEOs want to develop emotional intelligence in their leaders and coaching can help leaders increase productivity, sharpen communication skills, develop resiliency and improve relationships. HR is poised to empower more and more leaders with coaching’s many advantages.

Don’t let your leaders level-out. Help them level up.

Email Frank Faeth today at Frank@FaethCoaching.com to start meeting the CEO’s calls to increase the effectiveness of leaders.

About Frank Faeth

Fran Faeth

Frank attributes his success as an executive coach to his experience as a business executive. During Frank’s coaching career, he has coached over 250 people, encompassing approximately 6,000 hours and across more than 100 organizations. But, of most importance is not the numbers themselves, but what he has learned along the way. That is, there are many fine organizations who invest in people, who believe and support strong leaders, and who value the role of the individual to make great things happen.

For over 30 years, he worked at the most prestigious companies in the world, including JPMorgan Chase, Marsh, Inc. and Mastercard. He learned first-hand that thriving businesses are built on strong relationships and clear communications and that executives with high levels of emotional intelligence soar to the upper echelons. He can relate instantly to the challenges that executives face and he can act swiftly to provide a supportive and productive environment for them to explore new behaviors that result in career breakthroughs.