"In every field of human endeavour in which performance is key, coaching is integral to helping shift an individual's mindset, approaches, and behaviour to ensure more effective action and greater business success.”
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Report. 24. Dec 2002,
E. Saxinger (NASA Work/Life Program Manager)
Many Indian corporate leaders and senior executives are aware that in these times of rapid change what is required from them has less to do with their skills in the techno-commercial strategic areas and more to do with their skills in encouraging creativity, innovation and team-building. Often corporate leaders know what needs to be done to adapt to changing business environments and this is not their main challenge. Their main challenge is to get their teams, and themselves, to do what needs to be done. This involves working on their own mindsets as well as the mindsets of their teams through leadership and motivation. Yet few have received guidance on how to improve their skills in this area.
Like other skills these too can be developed through learning. However this learning cannot be acquired from short-term training programmes or from attending lectures, or even from reading books. Studies have revealed that any benefit from this type of training does not last. It lacks follow-up, direct application and continued guidance. The learning that is required needs to be focused on specific needs, followed up over a period of time and based on actual experiences. It is a learning which perpetuates itself on feedback. It needs to be on the job and experiential. This is where corporate coaching comes into the picture.
The Public Personnel Management Association Journal (Winter 97, Vol. 26 Issue 4,) quotes a study which showed that training alone increased productivity by about 22% while training plus coaching increased productivity by 88%.
Executive coaching as a specialised discipline has been flourishing in the United States for over twenty years. “For years, CEOs of some of the most successful and largest companies have relied on executive coaches. Henry McKinnell, CEO of Pfizer, Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, and David Pottruck, CEO of Charles Schwab & Co., are a few who rely on a trusted adviser." (The Business Journal, Nov. 2002.) Coaching is gaining popularity in the UK and other mature market economies where corporations face the full blast of international competition. Research studies in these countries show spectacular improvements in performance after executive coaching.
In India corporate leaders had been slow in taking to coaching, probably because it was (mistakenly) viewed as an admission that the management is lacking in some attributes. However it is now being appreciated that in fact coaching provides an opportunity to strengthen developmental attributes and hence performance. It is noted, for instance, that all top sports people use coaches to improve their performance, though they already perform very well. In fact where talent already exists the benefits from coaching are multiplied. With this realisation dawning in the corporate world here the use of coaching is catching on in India as well. Management training institutions and consultancy firms are now offering executive coaching. They have the expertise in different functional and behavioural areas; also through national and international networks they access the most relevant talent for the coaching exercise.
Corporate coaching, as opposed to executive coaching, is undertaken within the context of the mission and goals of the corporation, though it works through individuals. It involves one-to-one coaching of executives over an extended period. By working within an organisation and with individuals (or teams) corporate coaching creates the synergy required for improving performance; through leveraging strengths and strengthening weaknesses.
The coaching is done by trained and experienced experts who have intimate knowledge of business and appropriate skills in communication and understanding. The coach is a trusted, impartial and confidential friend as well as a sounding board. High personal and professional ethical standards are expected from the coach. The coach understands the business world and the needs of the corporation as well as the psychological, sociological, political and cultural needs of the individuals comprising the corporation. The coach asks pointed questions, challenges opinions and gives honest feedback on sensitive issues, which executives may be unwilling to discuss with colleagues.
A recent publication by McKinsey & Company consultants, published by the Harvard Business School, based upon five years of in-depth research and analysis, including case studies from 27 leading companies and surveys from 3,000 executives, concludes that “the vehicle for propelling a talented person to greater heights and greater performance, in much less time, is coaching – which enables people to stretch and grow in ways that hold them to the company.”
Coaching is most effective if it starts at senior levels in the corporate hierarchy because it then acts where it can generate change in mind-sets and influence behaviour throughout the corporation – leaders do often serve as role models for subordinates. The coaching is directed toward improving performance and effectiveness through introducing new mindsets and bringing about behavioural change.
The methods adopted for coaching are customised and tailor-made to suit the specific requirements of the client. So there is no generic method which will work in all cases. However there is an approach which would apply to most cases. This approach involves the following steps:
Discussions with the Chief Executive Officer about goals and strategies. The coach is expected to raise issues and give frank feedback which would help the CEO crystalise ideas about realistic goals and better strategic decisions.
Discussions with the CEO together with the HRD chief and key executives to check on the acceptance of the goals and strategies as well as identify areas where performance needs to be improved. These discussions will throw up ideas about what needs to be done at various points in the organisation for cultivating the appropriate behavioural culture – an analysis of coaching needs and coaching opportunities
Further discussions with the CEO, and perhaps the HRD chief, about alternative plans of action for the corporate coaching exercise. These discussions should result in securing the CEO’s approval as well as the support of HRD regarding what needs to be done.
The coach presents an action plan and a quotation indicating costs and the timetable.
One-to-one meetings with key executives to identify ways of improving performance and overcoming obstacles. These meetings are the heart of the coaching exercise and would continue over a period. They would be interspersed with meetings with the CEO and the HRD chief to ensure that the coaching is on track and to enable mid-course corrections.
Creating a monitoring mechanism to periodically check that progress is being made in relation to functional as well as behavioural performance.
Creating an evaluation template which can be used at the end of the project to check if the whole exercise was worthwhile and what lessons could be learnt for improving future efforts.
Coaches have tools for their work in both functional and behavioural applications. In the functional areas these deal with the mindsets required to promote profitability, quality, sales, productivity, etc and in the behavioural areas they deal with the mindsets required to promote innovation, creativity, leadership, working relationships, team spirit and organisational commitment. These tools assist in providing knowledge, building skills and, to some extent, in changing attitudes.
To determine the current inventory of relevant knowledge, skills and aptitudes certain profiling methods are used. For example, some of these profiling methods check how executives would act, or react, in various circumstances, how they perceive their own and other’s attributes, which types get on better with other types, the different styles adopted in risk-taking and decision-making, as well as effectiveness in delivering and using feedback. These profiles, together with information from the company’s executive performance evaluation reviews, provide the platform from which development is expected. This platform would later be used for monitoring and evaluating the contribution of the coaching exercise to improving performance.
The one-to-one discussions may, or may not, be structured. A number of proven and validated models are used in these discussions. A popular model often used by coaches is the GROW model involving Goal setting, Reality checking, Options analysis and Willingness to take action. Other models are available for various circumstances.
An interesting outcome of a successful corporate coaching exercise is that the coach eventually becomes superfluous. A successful coaching programme should turn managers into coaches so that the whole organisation gets a learning orientation. The corporation’s HRD department takes on the role of encouraging the transition to make bosses take to coaching. And the external coach succeeds by becoming redundant.
The cost of a corporate coaching programme varies with what is required to be done. The cost is generally indicated after the initial three rounds of discussions mentioned above. It will generally be found that the expense is recouped in a fairly short period. The expenditure on a corporate coaching exercise will result in a better return on investment then many of the other developmental programmes of the corporation.
According to an article in Asia News, Alastair Robertson, partner of Accenture – the worldwide leadership development consultancy firm – says “employers are shocked at how high their ROI numbers are for coaching”. He recalls a large employer in the hospitality industry saved between $30 million and $60 million by coaching its top 200 executives.
Apart from the benefits of coaching to the corporation as a whole, individual executives derive substantial benefit. The coaching process enables executives to reorient their perspectives and become more aware of their own potential as well as the potential of others and encourages them to realise this potential. It creates an understanding of hidden motivations and needs as well as of conscious and unconscious barriers to achievement. It enables executives to handle the giving and receiving of feedback. It enables them to manage conflict, reduce personal stress and improve time management. They then focus energies on things that are significant. All this leads to a more meaningful, successful and happier working life.
More intensive use of coaching is bound to improve the performance of Indian corporates and their competitiveness in global markets; high-flying Indian and multinational corporates are already showing the way.