According to a recent Harvard Business Review article,
annual spending on executive coaching among U.S. organizations has
exceeded $1 billion annually. Yet at the same time, specific
information about coaching's effectiveness is scarce and
unreliable. It has yet to be demonstrated conclusively what
qualifies an executive coach or what makes one approach to
executive coaching better than another. Frequently, organizations
fail to establish contracts or methods to define expected results
from coaching engagements.
One of the greatest advantages of hiring an external coach is the
confidentiality of a third party and the opportunity to speak one's
mind. Almost all coaching relationships are created and maintained
with the caveat that the relationship is confidential. Without
specific knowledge of the content of the coaching sessions, how can
managers ensure that the coaching relationship their employee is
engaged in will ultimately produce results? What kind of
information can and should managers expect? How can managers
effectively monitor the coaching process while respecting the
confidentiality of the relationship?
Establishing the Need
The first step is for the manager and their employee to agree on
the specific behavioral change or changes that will be targeted.
360-degree feedback tools, Myers Briggs tests, or a similar
feedback instrument often identifies these. The targeted behavioral
change must then be attached to a specific business-related
outcome. For example, "Jim will learn effective delegation skills
that will result in a 20-percent increase in productivity by the
end of the third quarter."
Once a need has been identified and the expected outcome has been
established, managers do not need to necessarily know the content
of the sessions. Success can be identified by a quantifiable,
business-related measure, a much safer area for open dialogue.
Discussions between the manager and coach or manager and employee
can be focused on business related outcomes, not on behavioral
Finding the Right Coach
Business knowledge, personality, experience, and previous success
are all important ingredients in a coach. However, finding the
right coach for the identified need needs a greater level of
analysis. Managers should be comfortable interviewing and asking
potential coaches specific questions about previous successes.
Experienced, qualified coaches should be able to answer specific
questions and be willing to establish the new relationship with
these very same criteria. Coaching without properly identified
criteria for results often will result in a relationship without
the manager's involvement. It leaves the coach and employee with
little content to safely discuss with the manager.
Establishing the Relationship
The coach, employee, and manager should meet at the outset to
determine the relationship boundaries. Length, timing,
responsibility for results, and confidentiality are just some of
the parameters that, once set, will help communicate results during
the process. In addition, a method for communication should be
determined. Some of the options could include in-person meetings
with the manager or monthly written reports providing insight on
how the sessions are progressing toward the goal.
Once objectives have been set, periodic milestones should be
determined. Managers can be informed when and how the milestones
have been reached, allowing the manager to recognize progress.
Predetermined meetings help avoid the challenge of having the
manager try to understand progress and at the same time maintain
Ending the Relationship
One of the most important determinations in any coaching
relationship is, "How will we know when we are done?" This can be a
specific predetermined time or a method of identifying that
objectives have been reached. Many organizations allow coaching
relationships to drag on far beyond the period of productivity.
Either the objectives already have been accomplished or, if not,
there is no reason to continue the relationship. Ending the
relationship at a predetermined time will alleviate any hard
feelings that either the coach or employee may have if the
relationship ends abruptly. Once the date or objective has been
reached, the coach, manager, and employee can re-evaluate the
employee's objectives and decide if there is further need for the
Taking these considerations into account before beginning any
formal coaching relationship will allow for clear lines of
communication and an ongoing sense of progress. Confidentiality
will be maintained, while information is shared openly and
consistently. Organizations will be able to monitor their
investment and ensure the significant returns they expect.