Should companies invest in executive coaching? If a recent survey on executive coaching by AMA Enterprise, a division of the American Management Association, is any indication, the answer is no. Dig a little deeper, however, and coaching might just be worth reconsidering.
According to the AMA’s recent survey of senior managers and executives at 230 organizations nationwide, only 26 percent of respondents believe executive coaching at their organizations to be effective. And only 35 percent say coaching delivers a measurable impact more often than other business tools (e.g., on-the-job training, workshops, formal courses, etc.).
Yet these findings do not necessarily tell the whole story, according to Sandi Edwards, Senior Vice President for AMA Enterprise. She believes the results indicate not necessarily the need for better coaching within organizations, but the need for a better definition of effective coaching. “If you aren’t transparent in your organization about what you’re doing and what’s expected of it, people really can’t give a fair and honest opinion of effectiveness,” Edwards says.
For these reasons, Edwards maintains that organizations shouldn’t give up on coaching as a development tool just yet. In fact, coaching offers benefits that other types of training and development techniques simply don’t. “Training is great, but it doesn’t focus just on you, whereas with coaching, you’re doing it one-on-one. It’s very specific and targeted toward the individual.”
Edwards says that executive coaching is also more “action oriented,” in that people get assignments and exercises to try out in real life leadership situations. More importantly, they’re held accountable to these assignments, because they have coaches checking in on them and offering continuous reinforcement throughout the engagement.
Four Ways to Increase Coaching’s Effectiveness:
While the survey focused specifically with executive coaching – that is, coaching for leaders at or on the cusp of the executive level, the takeaways Edwards mentioned from the survey apply to coaching at almost any level of any organization. If you’re considering coaching in your own organization, consider the following tips to get the most out of it.
Be transparent: As mentioned earlier, it is crucial the organizations clarify – from the onset – what they want to get out of coaching on both the individual and organization levels. “If it isn’t really clear and laid out what’s expected as an end result of the coaching, even there is a decent end result, some people will still think it’s ineffective.”
Rally the troops: “To me, the lesson learned of all attempts to develop people inside organizations and the rating of whether it works or not, is the need of a publicity campaign,” Edwards says. “There needs to be clear communication of why coaching is happening inside your organization and when coaching assignments take place.” The fact that survey respondents cited lack of sponsor/manager support and involvement as one of the top obstacles to effective coaching indicates the importance of having buy-in at all levels of the organization.
Practice reinforcement: Once you’ve clarified your goals, create an action plan to review regularly. At AMA Enterprise, for example, a coach might assign the person being coached different techniques to try to resolve various conflicts. Later, the coach will check in to discuss the results of those techniques, and from there can make a recommendation for next steps. “That’s the value of coaching – the constant reinforcement,” says Edwards. “You have to try things a bunch of times before you can get comfortable with them. That’s not what you can get in training.”
Enlist third-party support: At least when it comes specifically to executive-level positions, Sandi believes external coaches are crucial to effectiveness. “In order to get that different perspective, have the ability to really talk about your organization freely and get insights that might not be resident inside your organization, it would be very important to have an external coach for that.”
Does your company use employee coaching?