Executive Coaching  - My Personal Experience as a Coach

 by Roger Curtis FCIPD, MA in Organisational Psychology, Further Edu Teacher’s Certificate.

Executive Coaching is a term that has been gaining popularity, and can cause some confusion for it may be seen as a brand new management technique, when it is something that has been happening is some areas for a long time, but like many areas in management development as undergone a repackaging.

In today’s world of the World Wide Web we can turn to that wonderful source of knowledge, Wikipedia for clarification of terms:

“Coaching is training or development in which a person called a coach supports a learner in achieving a specific personal or professional goal. The learner is sometimes called a coachee. Occasionally, coaching may mean an informal relationship between two people, of whom one has more experience and expertise than the other and offers advice and guidance as the latter learns; but coaching differs from mentoring in focusing on specific tasks or objectives, as opposed to general goals or overall development.

Business (Executive) coaching is a type of human resource development. It provides positive support, feedback and advice on an individual or group basis to improve personal effectiveness in the business setting. Business coaching is also called executive coaching, corporate coaching or leadership coaching.

Coaches help their clients advance towards specific professional goals. These include career transition, interpersonal and professional communication, performance management, organizational effectiveness, managing career and personal changes, developing executive presence, enhancing strategic thinking, dealing effectively with conflict, and building an effective team within an organization. An industrial organizational psychologist is one example of executive coach.

Business (Executive) coaching is not restricted to external experts or providers. Many organizations expect their senior leaders and middle managers to coach their team members to reach higher levels of performance, increased job satisfaction, personal growth, and career development. Research studies suggest that executive coaching has a positive impact on workplace performance.

There is no certification or licensing required to be a business or executive coach, and membership of a coaching organization is optional. Further, standards and methods of training coaches can vary widely between coaching organizations. Many business coaches refer to themselves as consultants, a broader business relationship than one which exclusively involves coaching.

(source Wikipedia)

As an Organisational Psychologist I see Coaching itself has usually being regarded as an activity the line managers should do to their staff and often will involve aspects of delegation of work with an accounting interview where the staff member can discuss with the manager:

·         what they did well and how they could do even better

·         what they feel they did not do well and how they could improve

Mentoring is somewhat similar but with the “coach” not being the line manager.

Executive Coaching  I see as where the person being coached is in an executive position and the coach is more like a mentor because they are not the person’s line manager, but is a person who has considerable knowledge and skills is how to get the best out of Executive.

The role of the Executive Coach should be:

To create a learning atmosphere where the executive feels comfortable in talking about what they would like to develop in themselves, and then providing them with the means of meeting these needs.

    Appropriate areas are:

·         A better assessment of themselves and how they can develop

·         Useful techniques they can use to be better managers or solve particular problems

·         An understanding of how well they have managed a particular situation and what they can learn from this in order to do even better next time

·         Specific knowledge and skill areas

·         How to solve particular problems.

·         Being able to inspire themselves to excellent performance, both at work and throughout their lives.

The above is very similar to the Action Learning Concept developed by Professor R Revans, where he advocated the use of an Action Learning Group, a technique that I have found very useful.

With Executive Coaching one is usually dealing with one on one meetings between the executive and the coach using an Action Learning approach, although there is no reason why particular executives cannot make use of an Action Learning Group if each executive feels they need synergy from each other.

In order to carry out the above, the coach needs to have credibility with the executive.  This does not mean that he or she has to be more skilled or knowledgeable than the executive, but they do need to have sufficient know-how to be trusted by the person. A comparison with sports coaches is useful here, for example, the best football coaches are not usually those who have been the best players but they do have the gift of getting the best out of a current player as an individual and team member within the circumstances of the game.  This can involve ensuring appropriate physical, mental and skill development plus advising on particular tactics and techniques to be used during the game as well as motivating the player.

From my experience Executive Coaching involves a series of meetings with the executive. Here is a suggested outline for the meetings:  (remember that you have to be flexible in these meetings so the following is only an outline)

First Meeting: Getting to know one another.

·         Time about 1.5 hours.

·         Equipment -   flip chart, lap top connected to the WiFi, printer connected to the laptop, note pad, camera.

·         Venue –quiet room, no phones.

Explain the purpose of the sessions. Explain the ground rules of the coaching session  and their structure, such as levels of confidentiality, time intervals between each sessions, and what will happen within the sessions and between sessions. Share background information about each other.

Ensure each you both have each other’s contact details.

Ask if you can take their photograph, take the photograph for reference, this is especially useful if you are coaching a number of people at different times during the day.   Explain why you are going to take notes.  ( Audio recording devices however are intimidating).

Decide on what the executive wishes to get from these meetings.

 Suggest that they might want to learn more about themselves. Suggest that they complete a personality questionnaire. I suggest the Saville “Wave “questionnaire with the Expert, Leadership and Development Reports being generated.  Ideally have the executive complete it on line during the session or at home.

Start an Action Learning activity by helping the executive identify any improvements or work problems on which they may wish to focus.   Help the executive clarify at least one of these.  Provide knowledge input where appropriate  ( this may include referring to articles which you may have on your hard drive  that you can print out, or subjects for them to look up on line), and agree an action plan.

Planning for the next session – ( probably 2-6 weeks later). Agree with the executive on what they are going report  at the next session and what you are going to do during the next session, this to include giving feedback on the “Wave “ questionnaire.

Note Taking – It is important to take notes and type them up for use in the next session.

2nd Meeting .  About 4-6 weeks after the first session.   Time, equipment, venue - the same as the first meeting. Outline structure:

·         Executive  gives an account of what he/she has done and learnt

·         Wave feedback, review of development plan and leadership report generated by “Wave”

·         Getting other information

·         Action Learning Activity: deciding improvement/ problem solving areas, coaches inputs, mutual ideas generation, agreeing action plans.

Executive  gives an account of what he/she has done and learnt

From experience it is a good idea to remind the executive during the period between the two sessions of the agreed action plan and accountability report.

Hopefully they will give you a clear account of what they have done and learnt.  You can then extend this where appropriate to the next session.

Wave Feedback

You need to be trained in the properties of this instrument and in how to give proper feedback.  Once the Executive understands and accepts the results one can then decide how best to use the insights gained.  Particularly useful tools are the development and leadership reports generated by the questionnaire.  The development report can easily be turned into a development action plan by means of agreeing with the executive which of the suggested actions to do, giving a time line, a reporting back date, a sign off / or further action box.

Getting Other Information

Chris Argryis  in his book  “Intervention Theory and Method” points out the need for valid, appropriate and useful knowledge. This works for both organisational and executive development.  Therefore, as well as getting useful personality information, you should find out what other information the executive would find useful to his/her development. Some of this information might already exist through appraisals or surveys. Some they might have to seek out.

It is important for the executive to have clear reality perspective when considering this information to decide how valid, appropriate and useful this information is.  As a coach you can help in this by working with the executive in getting and examining this information.

It is often useful for the executive to also have information on the staff their staff, peers and boss.

I find producing a Repertory Grid with the executive is very useful to obtain this information, and therefore explain that we will be covering that in the next session. 

Action Learning Activity: deciding improvement/ problem solving areas, coach’s inputs, mutual ideas generation, agreeing action plans.

This would be like the previous meeting.

3rd Meeting

Structure:

·         Executive  gives an account of what he/she has done and learnt

·         Production of a Repertory Grid

·         Action Learning Activity: deciding improvement/ problem solving areas, coach’s inputs, mutual ideas generation, agreeing action plans.

The first and third items are the recurring ones for all sessions.  I normally use the Repertory Grid with executives for them to get clarity about their staff, but it can also be used with some adjustments for peers and bosses.

The Repertory Grid approach if basically very simple and very low tech. Once you have started using it, make any necessary adjustment to make it work for you.

In essence when using it with staff working for a person, it helps to identify the factors that that produce a good performer as opposed to a poor performer.  This information can then be used in:

·         Staff selection

·         Job redesign - producing a method of working that fits the staff or players ( sports analogy) you have.

·         Staff Training and Development

·         Remedial Action with your staff.

The Repertory Grid Process:

1.       Have the executive write down the names of their best performing staff, putting numbers against each person’s name while ranking them 1 to 5 with 1 being best performer.  Then have the executive write down the names of their worst performing staff,  putting numbers against each person’s name while ranking them 6-10 with ten being the worst performer.  Note, you do not need to know the names, the list stays with the executive. If a person does not have 10 staff members you can do the exercise with less people.

2.       The numbers are put on the Repertory Grid chart and in the jargon of the approach are called elements.

3.       You then take cards labelled 1-10  ( I used UNO cards) ,  place them face down and shuffle them. The executive is then asked to select three cards. The numbers on the cards selected correspond to three of the names on the executives list.  The executive is then told to think of these people and decide in what ways one person is different from the other two people or in what ways two people are similar to each other and therefore differ from the other one person.

4.       The information is logged on the form.

5.       The coach and the executive then decide which aspect of the feature identified is desirable or not.  For example “asks for more work” would normally be seen as a desirable feature “whereas does not ask for more work” would not be.

6.       Each person on the list of ten is then scored against this feature on a scale of 0-7, with 7  being the best score.  Usually those ranked as the high performers will score higher.

7.       One then takes the sum of the scores of the top 5 performers and compares it with the sum of the scores of the worst 5 performers.  If there is a marked difference then this feature could well be in important factor in performance.  One would then have to study the feature in detail to decide if there is a define cause and effect. Be careful a distinguishing feature could be that the top performers all wear black shoes and the poor performers wear brown shoes. Is this an important factor in performance?  At first glance one would think not but you might want to study this correlation further.

8.       The two of you study the three people identified in the cards further to identifying other distinguishing features until one runs out of steam. After that the cards are put back with the others, and reshuffled the process is repeated until one feels no more useful information can be gained.

9.       All the results of logged on a chart, which will then show the factors/attributes/competencies/skills/knowledge etc. important to good performance.  It will also show who needs training or remedial action and in what area. You might also decide to redefine the job based on these results.

 

Below is an example of a repertory grid outline, followed by one I produced in a real situation.


 

 

Repertory Grid – Initial Outline

 

 

Elements (People)

Constructs

Sort #

Score of 1-5 minus 6-10

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One different

Two similar   

1

33-10=13

7

7

xD7

6

6

3

3

xS2

xS2

0

Seeks work*

Waits of work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X Selected in card sort

D  - Differs       S- Similar

*Desired feature

In sort 1  all elements (people) have been scored out of 7 on “Seeks work”

 

 

 

                                                                                  Example of a Repertory Grid Produced in 2013

 

 

 

 

Constructs

Comments

 

Sort #

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

 

 

Training required for 7-10

6 needs help

Maybe 10 needs to be more worrying

 

Top 5 minus bottom 5 scores

Top 5 performers

Bottom 5 performers

 

 

1

 

30’s

30’s

30’s

30’s

30’s

30’s

30’s

30’s

30’s

30’s

Age

No trend

2

 

India

I

Pak

I

I

Jordon

Local

L

L

L

Nationality

Possible factor

3

 

masters

m

m

m

m

batch

b

b

b

d

Education

Possible factor

4

 

high

h

h

h

h

h

av

a

a

dip

GPA’s

Possible factor

5

15

5

5

5

5

5

5

1

2

1

1

Easy travel to work

Likely factor

6

 

m

m

m

s

m

s

m

?

m

m

Marital status

No trend

7

1

5

7

3

7

4

2

(weight)

7

3

7

7

Health

No trend

8

13

6

5

5

7

6

2

4

3

3

4

Attendance

Likely factor

9

16

6

6

6

7

5

3

4

2

2

3

Delivery

Likely factor

10

15

7

7

6

7

6

6

4

2

3

3

Skilled

Likely factor

11

10

7

7

6

6

6

6

5

4

4

3

Knowledge

Possible factor

12

10

6

6

6

7

5

7

5

3

3

2

“Smart” Clever

Possible factor

13

9

6

4

6

7

5

6

3

4

3

3

Open to ideas

Possible factor

14

7

6

7

3

7

4

3

3

5

2

7

Not easily stressed

Possible factor

15

4

6

5

6

7

5

6

2

5

5

4

Optimistic

No trend

 

 

Meeting 4 and Beyond

·         Executive  gives an account of what he/she has done and learnt

·         Action Learning Activity: deciding improvement/ problem solving areas, coach’s inputs, mutual ideas generation, agreeing action plans.

The above continues as long as necessary, somewhat like Physiotherapy  until the person feels they can go it alone.