Last year, Gallup conducted a study on workforce engagement and found that only 32 percent of US responders considered themselves psychologically committed and engaged in the workplace. One way that human resources departments can better engage their senior employees is through executive coaching. Not only does executive coaching improve engagement, but it also helps organizations meet their talent development goals and can play a critical role in succession planning. Instead of looking for new executives outside the company, organizations can pinpoint their own most promising employees and invest in them as the company’s future leaders. For these reasons, executive coaching has become an integral part of talent management strategies at many top-tier organizations.
Some employees may be resistant to the idea of executive coaching because they do not understand the crucial difference between coaching and counseling. Take, for example, an upper-level executive who finds fault with an employee’s sales presentation. He or she tells the employee that the presentation didn’t meet expectations and provides directions for improving it. Despite what it appears, this kind of feedback isn’t coaching, because it leaves employees feeling unmotivated. Coaching should do the opposite. Instead of pointing out what went wrong, an executive coach will encourage self-reflection.
A coach may approach a similar situation by asking how the employee thought the presentation went and what could have gone better. These types of open-ended questions trigger introspection that will help the employee think about what makes a good presentation. This line of thinking should lead to action points to follow when a similar project comes up in the future. Instead of dreading the next presentation, the employee is motivated to try something different and feels confident about doing a better job.
Because many employees don’t understand what coaching is, they may shy away from participating in a program. For that reason, HR departments need to be strategic about creating and implementing coaching programs. The following tips can help them in this pursuit:
1. Talk to company leaders.
People will not be open to coaching unless they understand what it means and how it can benefit them. Before implementing a coaching program, HR representatives should interview company leaders to get their perspectives on coaching, offer guidance when misconceptions arise, and gauge their willingness to participate. These individuals can in turn speak to their own employees to spread the message of what coaching entails and how it can be beneficial. In addition, these leaders can also help identify employees with great potential that could benefit from coaching, especially in a succession planning context.
2. Identify coaching sources.
People interested in a coaching program will want to know who is available to coach them. Several options exist, depending on the needs and capabilities of a given organization. Some companies may want to identify other internal executives, perhaps who have more experience, who can serve as a coach. In the succession planning context, people in the position in question could serve as a coach. Executive coaches, however, do not always have to be other executives. HR representatives or individuals from other departments can act as coaches. These individuals will have a unique perspective and a deep understanding of the challenges facing the company. Another option is to hire third-party coaches, which should involve a great deal of research to ensure a proper match.
3. Have open discussions about expectations.
When new coaching programs become available at a company, they can seem somewhat amorphous at first. When the responsibilities and expectations are not clear, people may lose interest. For that reason, HR departments that oversee coaching programs need to develop and maintain clear guidelines about the amount of time that should be dedicated to coaching each week and how progress will be tracked. Of course, much of this will depend on the specific goals of each employee being coached, but there should be a clear framework for how to have these conversations and record goals. Companies should also set expectations for coaches in terms of participating in training, certification, or other professional development programs.
4. Keep track of success.
Before launching the program, HR departments should have a clear idea of how to track and measure its success. Some departments may decide to set up an impact study or other survey. While it is always a great idea to produce studies about the return on investment if possible, coaching programs often provide more qualitative benefits than quantitative. Companies may choose to judge success from the fact that the program is regularly utilized, meaning that coaches and employees show up regularly and meet expectations. Simple interviews can also reveal a great deal of information about the impact the program has had. In addition, HR departments should speak to the managers of employees who are coached to learn about specific changes in job performance.