How Organisations Use Coaching to Drive Peak Performance

This article contains a seven-point plan on how businesses can use coaching to boost the performance of their management.  It can also serve as an invaluable primer for senior executives deciding if coaching is for them. The seven-point plan is: 1. Clarify “Why?” 2. Set Clear Goals 3. Maintain (Appropriate) Confidentiality 4. Agree Ground Rules 5. Understand the Power of Intent 6. Adopt a Rigorous Process 7. Draw a Line between Coaching and Therapy.

Message from an Accidental Coach

I became an executive coach pretty much by accident. My “day job” is working with the leadership of businesses to facilitate peak performance. The bottom line objective of all my strategy development, leadership development and change management work is about achieving tangible results – as quickly as possible.

When my existing clients started to request that I coach senior leaders on a one-to-one basis alongside my other work, the objectives felt spookily familiar. There are clear similarities between improving organisational, team and individual performance – they all set off on a journey of rigorously asking three fundamental questions: “Where are we now? Where do we want to be? What do we need to differently to get there?”
The roots of coaching can be traced back to sports pitches. The work I do (sometimes differentiated with the label executive coaching) more often takes places in a board room. The objective is identical: facilitating a process whereby a “player” performs to his or her full potential.

Coaching Works

Effective one-to-one coaching has a transformational impact both on the individuals being coached and the business in which they’re working. Here’s some evidence:

  • Financial analysis by Manchester University shows coaching spend delivered return on investment of between 5 and 7 times the initial cost.
  • 96% of companies reported coaching improved individual performance, with 92% reporting improvements to leadership and management effectiveness.
  • In a survey of over 4000 American corporations the primary benefits of coaching reported were (in order): improved individual performance, bottom line results, client service and competitiveness and development of people for the next level, including confidence raising, skills and self empowerment, goal achievement, relationship improvements, and retention.

Risks & Challenges

A business doesn’t invest in coaching out of the kindness of its corporate heart. The intent is identical to any other business investment: to deliver commercial success. Coaching can certainly help organisations succeed, but there are risks and challenges in rolling out coaching programmes. A coaching programme is a number of sessions combined together for maximum impact often supported by external input such as 360° feedback reports and psychometric assessments.
The issue is around fair balance. Coaching has two beneficiaries – the organisation and the player (my adopted replacement word for the rather limp and unproactive “coachee”).* Both their needs and expectations have to be balanced so the organisation gets return on investment and the player experiences maximum value from the one commodity they are normally short of – time. Here is the seven-point plan to ensure return on investment from working with external executive coaches:

1. Clarify “Why?”

It may sound obvious but all parties need to understand coaching has to be about improving a player’s performance to drive benefits for the organisation paying the bills. The most powerful opportunity to align the interests of the organisation (“we want to improve our performance, achieve our objectives”) and the player (“I want to improve my performance, achieve my objectives”) is to transparently agree the player’s coaching goals at the start of the programme. Of course, this arrangement does not preclude powerful win-win opportunities for the player as I’ll explain next.

2. Set Clear Goals

Clear goal-setting is the foundation for any effort to change a person or an organisation. One way to help a player to be completely honest about what that they want is to allow ‘public’ goals, which are reported into the organisation, and ‘private’ goals, which are kept between the player and the coach.
Private goals often reveal some kind of vulnerability or sensitivity. Obviously, there needs to be trust between the organisation’s client contact and the coach that these private goals will be linked to improving performance in the workplace – and achieving the public goals. Here’s how this works in practice:

Public Goals: “I want to”….“Achieve my sales targets”; “Improve my managerial skills”; “Boost my team’s performance to support other departments”; “Win promotion within two years”.

Private Goals: “I want to”…. “Increased my prominence and profile inside the business”; “Improved my pay packet”; “Repair my relationship with my boss”; “Build bridges with two key colleagues I am feuding with”; “Get over my fear of public speaking”.

3. Maintain (Appropriate) Confidentiality

Confidentiality can be tricky. It’s often something the player and the player’s line manager are nervous about. The coach has to strike a balance between protecting the player and ensuring the organisation gets its money’s worth. I achieve this by being transparent from the start with both parties about how and when information about the coaching will be shared. My ideal is the organisation receives written reports (normally written by the coach) on goals and progress; with the documents signed off first by the player first to ensure no confidence has been breached. We also come to a clear agreement on whom within the organisation, other than the designated client (normally a line manager or HR Director), has access to these written reports.
It can happen that player wants to discuss their long-term future beyond their current employment. In my experience the only way to tackle this is before the coaching begins by agreeing with the organisation if time can be spent on this. Many organisations take the long view. They accept, by encouraging people to become more aware of their future direction, it may lead to some leaving the organisation. The calculation is this: a small proportion will leave on good terms, most will stay and appreciate the development effort that’s been invested.

4. Agree Ground Rules

The player’s approach to the coaching is crucial and needs to be agreed up front. Here are the ground rules I ask players to stick to:

  • Trust – good relationships are based on trust. The only guaranteed way to sabotage coaching is if this relationship breaks down, or never gets started. The player needs to trust the coach which is why being clear about intent and confidentiality is key.
  • Honesty – the player needs to be completely honest with the coach about his or her behaviours, perceptions and beliefs.
  • Openness – the player needs to display the appropriate amount of openness needed to honestly discuss the issues in play. It’s fine to keep back some thoughts and feelings (we all do this) as long as they’re not relevant to what is being discussed.
  • Transparency –the coach, the player and the organisation need to be transparent about their intentions for the coaching.
  • Engagement, Enthusiasm, Effort – the player needs to engage with the coaching sessions and the vital work in-between with enthusiasm and effort. Anything less will lead to failure or unsatisfying incremental improvement.

5. Understand the Power of Intent

Observed through a sound proof window coaching is just two people talking. The reason why it can transform is due, in small part, to methodology and technique. But the coach’s intent is a far more important factor. Here is a brief overview of my coaching intent and beliefs:

  • The intention of coaching is to facilitate a player’s awareness, to encourage responsibility for his or her behaviour to improve performance.
  • People are their own best resource and each person has their own solutions, this is why a non-directive, questioning coaching technique is the most effective approach.
  • Human beings have a truly astounding ability to learn, change and succeed. We all interfere with our ability to do this to some extent through unhelpful mental chatter or unhelpful mental models – coaching helps players to observe and remove this “interference” and close the gap between their potential and performance.
  • Awareness is curative. In other words, we naturally change things simply by observing them.

6. Adopt a Rigorous Process

At its best coaching is dynamic, fluid and creative. But, as with many things that look “magical”, there is a solid methodology at work. The process of a coaching programme should include:

  • Agreement between player, coach and organisation
  • Identifying Issues
  • Goal-Setting
  • Mid-Programme Review
  • End of Programme Review
  • Longer Term Evaluation

A basic programme could be comprised of six sessions with the initial sessions spaced one or two weeks apart when the need for support is greatest, with later sessions potentially spaced further apart.
Within the sessions there is also need for a robust structure which results in clear actions for the player. The best I’ve discovered is the well-known GROW Model (GOAL – set a direction, REALITY – explore the current situation start point, OPTIONS – identify actions that could be taken, WILL DO – identify what action will be taken).

7. Draw a Line between Coaching and Therapy

One of the greatest barriers to (and, very occasionally, attractions of) investing time or money in coaching is that its “therapy”. Let’s be clear. It’s not. The intent of therapy is to heal extreme phobias, anxieties or fears. The intent of coaching is to facilitate behaviours and mindsets required to achieve peak performance. There’s a big difference.
However, I sign up to the notion that a “good inner game” leads to a “good out game”. So, whereas the objective of coaching is about results and achievement the discussions how to get there may dive underneath the surface to investigate more philosophical issues such as a player’s life purpose, cherished values, inspiring vision for the future; how to “self manage” thoughts and emotions or develop greater ability to engage with others. This is not navel gazing – there is robust evidence that happiness, optimism and even joy in our work are strongly linked to our ability to succeed.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

*I found this term – Player – in Miles Downey’s Effective Coaching, Cengage Learning which I highly recommend