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Coaching Foundations: Getting Started with Executive Coaches (Part 1)

Note: This is the first of a three-part blog series exploring how to get started with executive coaching and set it up for success in your organization. My other blogs on this topic will focus on selecting the right coaches and how to be a good client.

Executive coaching is often an important and dependable component of an organization’s leadership development strategy, providing senior leaders with reliable support in their growth, advancement, and role transitions.

As part of the critical prework necessary to clarify the motivations and goals for a coaching engagement or program, it’s vital that HR leaders take time to clarify their goals by asking what needs to be accomplished that isn’t happening now that coaching can help to advance, and how would coaching fit into the organization from a cultural perspective? The answers will help uncover how to make coaching most effective.

Let’s explore the necessary first steps for getting started with executive coaching.

Coaching Analysis

The HR leader should pursue an initial consultation to detail the thinking behind and the requirements for coaching – in a sense, focusing on the organization first vs. the coaching itself. This analysis starts with some reflective questions:

What is the organization’s history with coaching?
What coaching culture, if any, exists now?
What is the reputation or “brand” of coaching in the organization? Is it viewed as a positive step toward development, succession, and leadership development?
Is the organization’s objective to have an overarching coaching strategy or to focus only on one-off coaching engagements as needed?

Addressing those questions and others helps to clarify the motives and goals for coaching within the organization. This careful analysis can also uncover a more elaborate need for coaching support that extends beyond a single leader’s development into a strategic executive coaching effort.

Additionally, the outcomes of this initial inventory can determine how to frame coaching messaging within the organization: is it an investment in development or designed to address performance issues? When inserted as a last resort to “fix” a problematic leader, coaching faces an uphill battle that’s difficult to win. There should be an internal communication strategy to promote coaching as a reward, not as discipline.

Context Setting for an Individual Coaching Engagement

After the initial analysis has kickstarted the executive coaching conversation, it’s time to dive in and focus on any immediate coaching needs. Some questions to explore for a new coaching engagement include:

What are the leader’s development areas of focus?
Have they been coached before? Are they amenable to coaching?
What would success look like at the close of the coaching engagement?
To what degree will the manager and HR partner be involved?

For every coaching engagement, the leader’s manager and the HR partner should be involved in the coaching process to have familiarity with the leader’s development goals and to support their growth. The questions above are a great way to understand the organizational shifts or changes that have brought about the need for the coaching engagement. Depending on whether she or he has been coached previously—either at the current organization, or elsewhere—there might be an opportunity to discuss their previous coaching experiences, what they found most helpful, and what they believe an ideal coaching engagement looks like going forward.

Key Takeaways

The steps in this initial process can set coaching at the right level and avoid barriers or other issues that might surface once coaching is underway. For example, a leader who is not amenable to coaching may be resistant and unengaged in the coaching process, which would be an ineffective use of resources.

These are just some of the details and thoughts to consider at the start that will help to determine whether your organization can leverage executive coaching effectively. And if executive coaching is viewed as an ideal development path for an organization’s leaders, it’s time to start looking at potential coaches. That process – and the nuances around getting the fit right between leader and coach – will be the focus of the second blog post in this series.

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

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