Play to Win, Part II: Executing Executive Coaching Programs

Last week, PR News introduced the topic of executive coaching programs and considered how they can be valuable assets for communications executives, especially in a turbulent business climate. Developing a strategic program within an organization (or knowing the right questions to ask when vetting potential external partners) is step one, but even the most thoroughly planned initiative will fall flat if executed poorly. Picking up where Part I left off--that is, with familiarizing the coaches with their "subjects"--the next phase of the program's execution revolves around sustaining its momentum to ultimately achieve the highest degree of coaching value. With that, consider the following strategies. *Take ownership, and then share it. If the program is developed internally, the coach will likely have a communications background; if brought in as an external consultant, the communications department should oversee the progress. Either way, communications executives should be heavily involved, as their responsibilities include training individuals to put their best foot forward when facing stakeholders. That said, coaching program management should be co-owned by communications and human resources, which requires a collaborative working relationship between executives from both disciplines. "A senior HR person adds value by overseeing the program," says Susan Ennis, president of Susan Ennis & Associates and board member of the Executive Coaching Forum. "This program manager acts as the contact point for coaches and executives, conducts needs analyses, creates and maintains standards, and resolves issues. The program manager ensures that the coaching is a solid investment for the business and the individual." *Identify ways to get more bang for your buck. Developing and executing executive coaching programs does require up-front investments, whether it's in the form of hiring a full-time coach, training an existing employee to be a coach or partnering with an outside consultant. Thus, you need to find ways to get more for your money. While executive coaching most often focuses on the top-tier leaders in an organization, there is clear value in tweaking the program to apply to mid-level managers and even junior employees. This gives the program traction throughout the entire company and it helps to make it self-sustaining at lower levels so the coach can direct most of his/her attention to counseling the C-suite on issues as they arise. "For more junior employees, you can do a couple of things to leverage your dollars," Ennis says. "Find groups of people who can work together, and have a set number of times that they meet. Then, factor in peer coaching so employees can give each other feedback for when coaches aren't there." *Prove value, whatever value means to you. Senior management--most likely the very target of the coaching program itself--won't continue to commit to the initiative if you can't prove measurable results. That, of course, is easier said than done. "Measuring the success of executive coaching is notoriously difficult," says Ennis, pointing to a recent evaluation study at a midsize financial services institution to support her statement. Among the study's findings: More than 57% of executives who had been coached said it was "difficult to impossible" to measure the business impact of the coaching; and, However, 81% were personally "very satisfied" and 92% agreed their organization received "high value" from the investment. It's the typical disconnect of quantifying versus qualifying the ROI of an intangible asset--in this case, coaching's impact on executives' behaviors and decision-making skills. But there are a few strategies and tactics that can help ease the inevitable pain of measuring. Put the cart before the horse. Measurement shouldn't only happen at the end of an initiative; it should be on the table from the start. "If you want to measure coaching effectiveness and value, you must set and document clear, measurable goals from the beginning, then establish business-impact measures and track results by each individual who was coached over an extended period of time," Ennis says. "For example, if an executive is being coached because he has poor employee retention due to his leadership style, retention improvement and accompanying cost savings could be assessed." Identify various measures of success. These could include customer satisfaction, retention, employee morale, unit performance and incentive programs. Consider executive coaching measurement in the context of other measurement programs within your organization. "360 degree-assessment results and pre- or post- organizational climate measures can often reveal improvement over time," Ennis says. "Skill attainment, such as presentations and media relations, are relatively easy to measure using observational techniques. Although more subtle behavioral changes are harder to prove, they can be calibrated using qualitative assessments from people who interact with the executive." Regardless of the specific measures of success that apply to your organization, always remember the common theme. "A critical goal of executive coaching is to increase self-reliance by improving the executive's capability to handle leadership, management and business issues," Ennis says. "A well-designed and executed coaching program will also ensure that the coach builds the capability of [other managers] to support the executive and business in the challenges ahead." Ultimately, executive coaching's success or failure (like so many things in life) can be likened to a common sports ideology: If a team wins a game, it's because of the athletes' skill; if the team loses, it's because of the coach's lack thereof. PRN CONTACTS: Susan Ennis,; Andy Gilman, Executive Coaching & Media Training: Same Difference? After reading this two-part series on executive coaching, perhaps you are thinking that executive coaching sounds an awful lot like media training, just for a broader stakeholder base. And, in many ways, you are right. PR professionals' expertise in coaching, training or otherwise counseling is rooted in their ability to overcome challenges by shaping messages and enhancing communications. "Executive coaching and media training share many of the same goals, such as to improve the performance of managers and executives," says Andy Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting Group. "Coaching tends to look at the behaviors and styles; presentation and media training work on techniques and tactics. Yet both share the need to develop key messages, stories and examples that impact either employee behavior and, in the case of media, get a reporter to report information." The overlap between executive coaching and media training can also apply to measurement strategies. "We often measure success in what we see or read," Gilman says, recommending that communications executives ask themselves the following questions: Did the company or spokesperson get a better quote in an article? If you poll employees, do they recall key messages? Is the executive more open to discussion and collaboration on messages and strategy? Internally, did you help create a culture that embraces preparation and practice?

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