Executive Coaching: Challenge to Change

You might imagine my surprise when a client said recently that she thinks most coaches are charlatans. I didn’t take it personally – she has a high regard for Cambria and is pleased with our work. But the comment struck a chord with me.

I doubt that my client actually believes that most coaches are charlatans. Her opinion was uttered more in frustration and it’s connected to what I see as the soft underbelly of the executive coaching field. Frankly, it’s an issue that should be keeping coaching professionals up at night.

For some background: My client is no stranger to hiring executive coaches and coaching firms. In fact, much of her organization’s considerable spending for coaching is funded out of her budget. Her frustration comes in the difficulty of tying all that one-to-one and confidential coaching work to the organization’s larger challenges and strategic imperatives.

That’s our job, I believe. Or at least it’s where coaching needs to go in order to stay relevant and vital. And that is both a challenge and an opportunity at a time when the coaching field is increasingly commoditized. Sometimes it seems that everyone wants to be a coach or to be coached. In fact, coaching runs the very real risk of becoming a business fad – something that was once white-hot but dimmed over time by failing to meet heightened expectations.

All this has me thinking about a few critical challenges confronting the coaching field. These are my top three:

Go Beyond Development
Coaching for individual development is not enough anymore, and there’s a huge need to go beyond point solutions. Increasingly the challenge is to be more connected to larger strategic and organizational priorities – including strategy implementation, navigating change, and more. Look at it from the client’s perspective – many are asking, “Why are we spending so much money on coaching”, and “Is it tied to organizational priorities?” Coaching providers who address these key questions will thrive as their clients’ strategic partners.

Address VUCA Issues
The acronym VUCA gets a lot of attention and rightfully so. VUCA stands for the four primary factors confronting most businesses today: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In order for coaching to help organizations address VUCA challenges, coaches need to be able to coach with a higher level of business acumen, expertise, and sophistication around the challenges of leading complex, global organizations.

Build Coaching Cultures
As coaching evolves and becomes more tied to organizational strategy, the focus needs to shift from coaching executives to building coaching cultures. This is about developing coaching as an internal competency that has managers and colleagues learning/developing coaching skills and working together differently. Building a coaching culture involves using external coaches at the top of the house and developing internal coach cadres to accelerate the shift across the organization.

Here’s what happens with this shift: In cultures where coaching is a fundamental component, with more people thinking like coaches, the focus shifts more regularly to developing people’s talent and potential vs. managing around their deficiencies or gaps. This is new school vs. old school – and the former is proven to consistently move an organization forward faster, more efficiently, and more cost effectively.

Editor’s Note: Ellen will be speaking about executive coaching at the crossroads and writing in the coming months about the field’s challenges and opportunities. She will be presenting at The Conference Board’s Executive Coaching conference in March 2016, sponsored by Cambria. Learn more about the conference.

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