What is Executive Coaching?
Executive Coaching is the one-to-one development of an organizational leader.
Leaders are under constant pressure to deliver positive results. An executive coach helps such leaders to be at their personal best in going after these results.
In being at their personal best, the leaders are able to
- soak in the pressure.
- think strategically.
- recognize their operational context.
- identify their real challenges.
- work out their priorities.
- leverage their available time.
- make the right decisions.
- rally their team together.
- live with integrity.
Inspire more leaders The leader’s personal best does all it can to make the organization succeed.All leaders succeed through the actions of others. They do not make the organization succeed because of their individual work. Their actions set into motion a virtuous cycle of performance that involves the entire organization. Individuals, teams, all functions come together and succeed. Executive Coaching ultimately works towards this alignment.
How does executive coaching work?
To begin with, the coach and the executive leader check for mutual acceptance and chemistry. Then comes the coaching contract.
The coaching contract in executive coaching begins the coaching engagement. The contract is usually three-way between the coach, the executive leader, and the coaching sponsor. Coaching success depends on strict confidentiality. At the same time, it is the sponsor who is paying the money. The coaching contract negotiates this dilemma to ensure that this aspect does not derail the coaching engagement.
The coach and the leader identify areas of leadership growth. They create a coaching agenda that includes specific topics, establishes a coaching framework, captures action-points, and lays out review and follow-up mechanisms. All this to clarify what they are working on, how they will go about it, and how they will review progress.
The coaching engagement can last anytime from one session to a period of six to twelve months, or even beyond that. The coach and the leader usually meet once a month or earlier if required. Every session starts with a review and ends with a revised action-plan.
Executive Coaching is structured, disciplined and highly focussed. All these aspects contribute to its success.
Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching
Stakeholder Centered Coaching ( SCC) is a coaching program where you can measure change, track results, and pay based on results achieved.
SCC is based on Marshall Goldsmith’s experience in helping executives make positive and measurable changes in leadership behaviour.
Marshall’s fundamental insight was this: Coaching is not about the coach, nor is it mostly about the leader, surprising though it may seem. Coaching for leadership growth is about how a leader works with people around. At the end of the day, a leader is effective through the actions of others.
Stakeholder Centered Coaching in brief.
At the beginning of the coaching engagement, the coach and the leader work based on the following two principles:
- Define 1-2 leadership growth areas that will produce significant positive change in leadership effectiveness for the leader as well as meaningful business impact for the organization.
- Select 5-7 key stakeholders (people the leader’s behaviour impacts) who can determine during a year-long process to what extent such changes have occurred.
Involving stakeholders creates real-time on-the-job coaching for the leader and his team. The coaching fees are subject to the leader achieving positive change in the chosen leadership growth areas, as determined by the key stakeholders.
As the coach, I help the leader prioritize leadership growth areas, identify key stakeholders, strategize & act upon the action-plan to make change stick.
a) Real-Time, On-the-job coaching
b) Engages the ‘system’ around the leader
c) Practical, Powerful, Sustainable
d) Leader becomes coach
e) Leadership change = Team effectiveness
f) No Results, No Pay
Want a Coaching Culture in Organizations?Stop using the word ‘coaching’!
Want to create a coaching culture in your organization? Stop preaching the gospel of coaching. Don’t paint the town red with it! Kavi Arasu & his learning & development team came to this epiphany at Asian Paints, India’s largest & Asia’s third largest paints company; a few years down the road.
For coaching evangelists the world over, this specific experience is something to think about.
In an event organized by the budding ICF (International Coaching Federation)-Mumbai chapter on 10th April 2015, Kavi spoke with disarming candour about how coaching came to be at Asian Paints. The narrative covers the initial launch phase, takes in the reflection phase, shares the central insight & describes the current reality.
INITIAL LAUNCH PHASE – Here comes Coaching
The journey began in 2006. Kavi’s personal inspiration was John Buchanan’s contribution as the coach of the Australian cricket team. Back then, Kavi said, he was smitten by coaching & the ability of coaches to ‘do’ things! In Asian paints, he & his team got going fully intent on making things happen.
They aimed for a pool of 15-20 internal coaches drawn from the executive ranks. This coaching was not linked to achieving their own goals or those of their unit. Instead, the coaching offer was a way for the executives to give something back to their own company. Besides, those wanting to be coached had the choice to pick up any coach. As internal coaching goes, the coach & the coachee had to be from different parts of the company. In terms of numbers, Asian Paints got 15 coaches & around 150 people signed up for coaching in this initial phase.
Coaching asks questions off everyone involved. This initial phase churned out many at a fast rate! Since a coachee could choose anybody, a few coaches had a lighter workload. They were left wondering why. The coaches in demand were doing this in addition to their day job. They grappled with how to fit everything in. The company leadership asked where are we going with this. Kavi & his team were thinking of how to keep the ball rolling.
After a few months, things were steady without being rocking. The Asian Paints team came up with a predictable response – internal branding, which Kavi distilled down to two brilliant action-steps; make a video & create a T-shirt! They surely did a lot more; but Kavi was alluding to the standard response mechanisms that we all employ in the name of creating a ‘new’ organizational culture! At that point of time, they believed they were doing the right things.
After the initial launch in 2006 & the branding make-over, Kavi & team decided to step back & reflect. Coaches were clocking in 60 hours & coachees acknowledged being a part of the coaching action. But these efforts were not translating into concrete results. What exactly was happening?
REFLECTION PHASE – What is happening
The team soon realized that branding was part of the problem! They had called it a coaching program & people perceived coaching to mean so many different things! For some, it was a solution for poor performers. Who would want to accept being one? For others, there was no difference between this coaching & IIT coaching classes! In effect, coaching meant different things to different people. And this meaning matters the most because perception shapes reality.
When people experienced coaching, their existing perceptions & the specific organizational context created all sorts of unintended consequences. When a manager became a coach, refused to give answers & persisted with questions; the subordinate felt like he was being denied help. Managers are perceived as being there because they know better. They are there to solve problems, to give solutions. The subordinate asked, ‘Why the hell is this bugger not doing his job? Am I being made a fool?’ When the subordinate is still expected to deliver results, this change in the work-interactions is unsettling.
Another example. If a sales coach coached a manufacturing unit employee in resolving a plant problem, such a positive story had to be held back for fear of how the plant unit will respond to somebody ‘external’ solving their problem! Sure we want to show that coaching works. But if people perceive less the success of coaching in the story & read it more as an apparent failure of somebody closer home, what are we getting into? If the story creates a disconnect, what is the point of spreading it?
Such fundamental disconnects created a crisis of confidence. How far do we go in pulling this one off? People’s faith & trust in what is expected out of them was being put to the test.
THE CENTRAL INSIGHT – What is our purpose
It is then that the team at Asian paints realized that principles of coaching as articulated by coaching bodies may not work as intended in a specific organizational setting. Primarily because the existing perceptions of the workforce override everything else. The existing perceptions flow from the specific context of an organization. To understand this context is to grasp where the organization has been & to relate to where people are coming from. A different organizing principle was needed. Kavi termed this organizing principle as the principle of ‘outcomes for people’.
THE CURRENT REALITY – Where are we now
This organizing principle of ‘outcomes for people’ changed the entire organizational discourse on coaching. The question is not if coaching is good. The question is good for what. Now, the team got a handle on coaching as an instrumental means for effective organizational performance!
Towards this end, Kavi & team identified three objectives. First, utilize external coaches for senior management. Second, build competence & credibility of the internal coaches. Third, embed the coaching philosophy into mainstream processes.
The third objective was crucial because it goes to the heart of the challenge of building a culture. Indeed, it is the centre-piece of Asian paint’s coaching plan. Kavi said it well, ‘Culture is built when it is woven into our work & wedded to the context.” So, how does one do that? How does one weave the coaching strand into the fabric of workflow? Which processes become the needle for the same?
Kavi & his team shared examples of two processes – one, individual, the other a group process. For individuals, Asian paints has what they call ‘developmental conversations’. These conversations are moulded on the principles of coaching. The structure is flexible enough to provide directive guidance wherever required. Managers flit in & out of the coaching role as they have to make decisions & allocate resources in their role as managers in the very same conversation.
At the group level, Asian Paints does process facilitation for group goal setting, be it for a plant manufacturing unit or corporate heads. It could also be termed group coaching by some. Most interestingly, Kavi shared they never speak about coaching when they are into these processes. In fact, the team emphasized that they are not hung up on the semantics of what is it that they are doing, be it coaching, mentoring, or facilitation. It is the ‘outcomes for people’ that matter! Asian paints has been applying itself on that count for the last two and a half years. Kavi said, there is a long way to go & there are challenges galore. And they intend to consolidate on this experience by staying the course.
Has Asian paints completely given up calling coaching by its name within its organizational context? No they haven’t. They call it coaching when external coaches are used for senior management & they call it coaching when internal coaches are coaching people wanting to be coached. These are the first two objectives of course, & they continue on a parallel track.
In response to questions about monitoring the return on investment, Kavi said they do multiple things to enable performance. People judge the efficacy for themselves. Asian Paints is learning to trust the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ to figure out what matters.
In response to how they are evaluating the success of coaching in-itself, Kavi kept the answer simple. Are there increasing numbers who want to coach? Are there increasing numbers who want to be coached? Asian Paints has put up the list of names & numbers of internal coaches on the company portal. And people are free to take it up from there! No reporting back & no hands-on monitoring. The learning & development team is ready to offer help on any count.
What is most significant about this ongoing coaching narrative at Asian Paints?
To me, it is this. Coaching has the power to change lives. Organizational leaders know it to be a strategic tool. But the more strategic & powerful you consider something to be, the more you try to exercise total command & control over its use. If leaders think coaching is strategic they want it be an instrument of change that they are in total control of. They want to know exactly what is happening in the name of coaching, they want to predict its outcome & they want to control the way it rolls out.
The essence of coaching is individual freedom. Coaching enables us to reclaim our power & responsibility to live a fulfilled life. This power & responsibility is intrinsic to our very being. Nobody grants it to us. In an organizational context, the way leaders seek to use coaching goes against the very grain of what it is. They do not create open spaces – for experiencing freedom, for reclaiming power & responsibility – in alignment with organizational purpose.
The question to ask is, does the structure & process imbibe the very essence of coaching? Do people feel free? Do they experience their own power & self-responsibility? To ask this is not explore moral questions. To ask this is to probe existential realities that impact upon organizational outcomes.
This exploration leads us back to leaders & their need to command & control. How many leaders & organizations are able to let go? For some, letting go is abdicating their duty to lead. For others, to let go is to become helpless. They like to tighten their grip. It creates a false sense of security because the results are outside the organization. The world is complex & we create all sorts of machinations to get it sorted out in our heads. So that we can create order out of it & derive a sense of control, a sense of certainty.
It is fitting to borrow words of wisdom.
The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers – Erich Fromm.
We are yet to embrace the uncertainty that will impel us to unfold the powers of coaching, especially in an organizational context. Kavi Arasu, his team & the leadership at Asian Paints, have begun to embrace this uncertainty as a part of their coaching journey. On the other hand, business imperatives demand the quest for certainty more than anything else. How to negotiate both – what is uncertain & what can be made certain – is a higher-order level of uncertainty!