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The Benefits of Coaching

Human Resource Executive Online

The Benefits of Coaching

Because coaching is a confidential one-on-one experience, many organizations may be unaware of its benefits, but coaching can help employees at all levels successfully deal with their daily work challenges and facilitate the accomplishment of organizational goals.

It’s a shame that more organizations aren’t aware of the extensive benefits of having their staff work one-on-one with an executive coach. Executive coaching can help anyone accomplish more, get it done faster and do so even if they feel stuck in their current circumstances.

Until fairly recently, most coaching was conducted with C-level executives and athletes, both at the professional and amateur levels. Even though most Fortune 500 companies have been hiring coaches for their senior staff for years, and it is estimated that there are some 50,000 coaches worldwide, coaching is still not well understood, even by HR professionals.

There are two primary reasons for this.

One is that coaching is a private, confidential discussion between coach and client and little information is shared outside the coaching relationship. Confidentiality is a key facet of coaching and critical to the client’s development.

The other is that coaching is not mass-marketed and instead is typically sold via word-of-mouth referrals. Some better known coaches have raised awareness about coaching, but it still remains a mystery to most.

Marshall Goldsmith, best-selling author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is probably the best known executive coach, and Martha Beck, Oprah’s coach, shares some of her life-coaching techniques in her book, Searching for Starlight.

As for some of the process and benefits, John Whitmore, in Coaching for Performance, defines coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Coaching, according to the International Coach Federation, offers individuals the chance to “experience fresh perspectives on personal challenges and opportunities, enhanced thinking and decision-making skills, enhanced interpersonal effectiveness, and increased confidence in carrying out their chosen work and life roles.”

Those enhancements will result in “appreciable results in the areas of productivity, personal satisfaction with life and work, and the achievement of personally relevant goals,” according to ICF.

So how do the companies that provide coaching for their employees utilize executive coaches and how does the coaching process work?

The question varies, depending on the organization and its goals.

Robert W. Baird & Co., a top financial services firm, which was recognized as one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” -- as are all of the companies I spoke with -- uses external and internal coaches.

External coaches are primarily used with senior staff, and the focus is on developing leadership skills, presentation skills and personal branding, says Lori Lorenz, Baird’s director of human capital. Internal coaches focus more on team and group effectiveness.

Lorenz says Baird “take[s] very seriously who we partner with when selecting external executive coaches,” and plans to hold a coaching summit later this year to ensure external coaches clearly understand the work environment and company culture.

The MITRE Corp., a nonprofit research center, uses coaches as both an integral component of their year-long leadership-development program for mid-level leaders and for one-on- one coaching with senior leaders.

Some of the common development issues that coaches focus on for mid-level leaders include strategic thinking, leadership presence, balancing technical and managerial responsibilities, and delegating.

Feedback about common development issues with which coaches help senior leaders is kept confidential between the coach and client.

MITRE’s project manager for coaching determines who will be coached after interviewing senior leaders and ascertaining the desired coaching goals. Then two or three coaches are suggested, and the client (coachee) interviews the coaches (both internal and external) to make a selection.

One of the challenges associated with internal coaching is that they all “have full-time human resource jobs and don’t have the bandwidth to take on too many clients,” says Stacey Zlotnick, director of the MITRE Institute. “The other challenge is to make sure that the internal coach and client are not from the same part of the corporation.”

At Baker Donelson, the 123-year-old law firm uses executive coaching primarily for business development and time management.

Tea Hoffman, the firm’s chief business development officer, decides who will be coached by external coaches, using her knowledge of the lawyers and their skill levels as well as input from the department heads.

Their internal coaches utilize an application process to make the determination who gets coached, and the program is geared to helping individuals assess their strengths and weaknesses, help set goals and guide participants to integrate and sustain change. The major challenges of using internal coaches seem to be confidentiality and time.

But one of the major benefits for an organization that uses internal coaches is engaging in transition coaching -- helping managers who are being promoted to be successful in their new roles, according to Tony Latimer, a master certified coach.

I agree. At Eric Mower and Associates, I’m just starting to work with two of our marketing executives to help them successful launch a new business unit that will provide a new service for EMA’s clients. The first step in the coaching process is meeting with the executives and their manager to discuss the desired outcomes from the coaching.

While it is difficult to share specific coaching examples for reasons of confidentiality, it is fairly easy to share some of the areas covered in coaching. Here are 10 of the best insights you or your staff will likely get from good coaching.

1. Coaching is a different kind of conversation: It’s not like a chat you’d have with your boss, a trusted friend or even a seasoned mentor. Probably the closest example is the conversation someone might have with a therapist.

A coaching discussion is about you and the possibility and potential that might come from the coaching process.

Coaches build trust early on, so a client is comfortable opening up and can honestly evaluate the necessary action to move them forward toward their desired goals. One powerful example of the type of connection a coach establishes early on with the client is the bench scene from the Oscar winning movie, Good Will Hunting.

In the scene, the psychologist (Robin Williams) connects deeply with troubled Will (Matt Damon) by sharing personal details of his own life through provocative story-telling.

2. People may be lying to you: You have blind spots that you are unaware of -- everyone does. A blind spot is defined as information that is known to others about you, but not known to yourself (see chart below).

The Johari Window

Others can see our shortcomings that are not as obvious to ourselves but will rarely point them out to us.

Through various feedback methods, such as one-one-one interviews with peers or 360-degree performance assessments, coaches uncover the hidden truth. This helpful feedback can assist in identifying an individual’s coaching goals.

Goldsmith, who charges up to $200,000 per coaching engagement and only gets paid if the results are accomplished, sums this point up nicely when he says, “Almost everyone I meet is successful because of doing a lot right, and almost everyone I meet is successful in spite of some behavior that doesn’t make any sense.”

Goldsmith will only work with executives who are willing to examine their behaviors and are open to change.

3. Coaches help you see your real potential clearly: If you’re like most people, you probably secretly believe you are capable of achieving much more that you currently are.

Coaches help you examine your thinking to see where it’s fl awed and where there is an opportunity to advance in the direction of your dreams.

Sometimes, all a coach needs to do is ask the right question. In fact, coaching really is all about asking questions that perpetuate learning and exploring what’s possible for the client.

When Herb Brooks, coach of the 1980 United States hockey team, wanted the players to examine the possibility of beating the Russians, he mentioned over and over again, “Someone’s going to beat those guys.”

4. Life is just a story we tell ourselves: People look at life through a lens that artificially distorts reality.

In their excellent book entitled The Art of Possibility, Ben and Roz Zander say it beautifully: “Many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come to view. Find the right framework and extraordinary accomplishment becomes everyday experience.”

Coaches can examine your story and help you write a new one.

5. Your behavior may be insane: Insanity has been called doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Psychologists say that 90 percent of the thoughts you have today will be the same as yesterday. Life is about habits and coaches can help you examine what actions you can take tomorrow that will produce very different results than today.

When a coach asks you in the first five seconds of the conversation, “What would be the ideal outcome from this session?” you realize immediately that you are going to walk away with a plan and resulting behaviors that are different than you could come up with on your own.

6. Success in life is all about relationships: Successful people understand that, whether you work for someone or not, you’ll only be as successful as the relationships you build.

This is not new to anyone, but I think many of us don’t give enough thought to identifying the key stakeholders who may help or hinder our success. If there are key relationships that are causing your frustration, even if it’s your boss, a coach can help you look at different ways to address this challenge.

Coaches can help clients improve relationships by examining critical past conversations they’ve had using tools such as the Ladder of Inference (see chart below) or Left Hand Exercise (Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook).

Ladder of Inference

These tools can help clients identify false assumptions by making some of their thinking viable, which can then be examined. The longer we work with people, the more we tend to distort reality by seeing them only based on our beliefs (i.e., jumping rungs on the ladder).

Coaches help individuals look at situations more objectively.

7. A slight shift in your perspective may make a huge difference: Wayne Dyer, a best-selling author in the field of self-development, says, “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.”

Sometimes the way we approach a discussion, with our intention and opinions established beforehand, will dictate the potential outcome. Even in business the way you measure success can make a difference.

Jack Welch changed GE’s famous vision of being No.1 or No. 2 in each of the business units once an outsider pointed out that defining success that way would limit growth. He later challenged his business-unit leaders to never define their marketplace goals in such a way that GE’s business would ever be comprised of more than 10 percent of the total market.

8. You may have limiting beliefs holding you back: Many people place a limit on what’s possible for them based on past experience and beliefs that were developed years ago during childhood. Most of the recent self-help financial books all point out this phenomenon. In Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, T. Harv Ecker calls this the “process of manifestation.” His “results formula” states that your programming (P -- experiences and limiting beliefs), lead to your thoughts (T), which lead to your feelings (F), which lead to your actions (A), and your actions lead to your results (R).

9. You may be a crap magnet: The law of attraction, which has been talked about extensively for the last few years because of books such as The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, describes this belief. It basically says that like attracts like, and you are capable of being, doing and having anything you desire, if you focus your attention the right way on your desired outcome.

However you refer to this, it is hard to ignore the overwhelming use of this process, especially in sports, where visioning the desired outcome has been used successfully with Olympic (think gold medalist skier Lindsey Vonn at recent Winter Games) and professional athletes for decades.

The opposite is also true: If you focus on a negative outcome, many times you will get what you’re focused on. This may be the self-fulfilling prophecy that people refer to.

10. Coaches can provide insight: A coach can see things that you don’t. Here’s an example not from a coaching exchange, but between a Hollywood movie director and actor.

Dustin Hoffman described an acting challenge he had while filming “Rain Man” to James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio. Apparently, Dustin was having a very difficult time connecting to the autistic character he portrayed in the fi lm and was not happy with his performance at all.

He described how each time he and fellow actor Tom Cruise would go off script and ad lib, he found it difficult to stay in character.

At one point, feeling frustrated, he just said a long drawn out “Yeah” in response to Tom’s exchange. Dustin did not even realize it until the director pulled him behind the camera and said, “Do that.”

It was like someone turned on a switch, Dustin said. Everything fl owed once he found that one insight. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that he used that expression throughout the fi lm and won an Oscar for his performance.

HR leaders looking for ways to accomplish organizational goals faster or seeking resources for employees to deal with the inevitable work challenges that arise on a daily basis should consider adding a coaching program.

Michael Slade is a partner/human resource director and internal executive coach at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the top U.S. independent integrated marketing communications agencies with offi ces in Buff alo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany, N.Y.; Charlotte, N.C.; Atlanta; and Los Angeles. EMA is a member of thenetworkone, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and IPREX. He’s currently chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) Human Resources Committee and creator of the executive coaching website Slade has a master’s degree in Human Resource Management from Chapman University and received his executive- coaching certifi cation from the College of Executive Coaching.