There’s a growing discussion these days about the benefits of executive (or leadership) coaching. That makes sense, because executive coaching is on the rise. A recent Hay Group study found that between 21 percent and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use them to one degree or other. But there’s still confusion within the communications ranks about what executive coaching is (and isn’t), how the process works and how it can help public relations professionals and their companies. Here’s a roadmap on how to capitalize on executive coaching.
▶ Who is it for? Coaching can be useful for any executive who has one goal: To be a more effective leader. That doesn’t just mean the CEO or president, but any executive who needs the support of followers to achieve organizational goals. This includes a VP of corporate communications or CMO, the Senior VP of a large agency department, or the president of a mid-sized integrated agency.
▶ Why is it valuable for PR pro s? While there are many skills that leaders can improve with some coaching, perhaps the most important one is influence. Coaching is a valuable tool when you need to increase your influence with the CEO or client. Some leaders are being coached themselves, while some retain executive coaches for their deputies, to grow the organizational bench.
Executive coaching can be quite different from other coaching disciplines. It’s about helping executives empower themselves to reach their potential, to become more inspired and inspiring leaders, and, in doing so, achieve and sustain specific organizational and career goals.
I do both consulting and executive coaching and, while some might disagree, I believe that they are two different disciplines.
For me, consulting is about tapping into one’s knowledge, expertise and experience, and offering the client advice.
Coaching is about using a process that helps the client empower herself to achieve her goals. It’s much less about giving answers, and much more about asking the right questions.
The idea is that the executive (or client) is more likely to make and sustain positive change if it’s the result of his own thought processes and decisions, rather than the coach’s.
In addition, unlike many consultants, coaches continue doing their work as the client implements the plan.
This is why many client-executive coaching relationships go on for years. Once the client makes progress on some key goals, they often identify new and more challenging goals they wish to achieve.
▶ How it can transform your PR career. Executive coaching is sometimes viewed as a last resort for those senior executives who have many powerful attributes and skills, but may be seriously lacking in one or more areas concerning leadership.
On the agency side, many executives get promoted through the ranks because they’re great communications professionals, are terrific at managing accounts, are well liked by clients and have proven they can grow business.
However, they’re often not leading their teams effectively, and, in fact, are driving staffers out the door.
This is a classic example of how coaching can help the executive bring their leadership abilities up to the same level as the aforementioned talents and skills and, in doing so, transform the executive’s career.
And that’s a win not only for the executive, but also for the agency, the staff and clients.
▶ It’s not just remedial. While the example above reflects one use of a coach, more and more companies use executive coaching to help their high-performing executives accomplish breakthrough results, achieve more challenging goals and reach their potential.
▶ It boosts leadership skills. Coaching can help executives in all the areas that define leadership, including creating a vision, articulating values, building trust, acting courageously, inspiring and motivating followers and helping teams to achieve their goals.
While coaching can also help managers get better at managing processes and budgets, its true value lies in helping leaders get better at leading people, which is a much more difficult, and ultimately, valuable skill.
▶ Coaching ROI. A coach’s training, experience, processes, technique and intuition all contribute greatly to a coaching engagement’s success.
The factors that have the greatest impact are how badly the executive (or client) really wants it, how open the executive is to the process, how willing she is to go deep and face some difficult-to-hear truths, and how game the person is to embrace change and reach her leadership goals.
As with most business expenditures, half the battle to succeeding with executive coaching is getting buy-in from senior executives.
But the beauty of executive coaching is that it helps drive the outcomes you want, whether with your team, your peers, your boss or your clients.
Sidebar: Monetizing Executive Coaching
Having survived the Great Recession, companies continue to keep a close eye on expenses, not the least of which is PR. Let them. Executive coaching can generate solid ROI. Here’s how:
▶ Increased productivity. In one case study from business coach Vic Bullara, an executive making $175,000 undertook a six-month coaching engagement of 18 sessions at a cost of $4,500. A post-coaching satisfaction survey indicated that her productivity increased by roughly 25%. While salary is not the sole measure for productivity, there is precedent for using it this way. In this case, that’s a savings of $43,750, versus an investment of $4,500, for an ROI of 8.78.
▶ Decreased turnover/replacement costs. For those cases in which the leader excels in some key skills, but is driving staffers away, companies often don’t realize replacement costs, which some estimate at 35% of an executive’s salary. So if coaching a leader at a cost of $15,000 results in two $75,000 employees staying with the company rather than leaving—thereby saving $52,500 in replacement costs—the savings and ROI are obvious.
▶ Manage up. Executive coaching is highly effective at improving PR and marketing executives’ ability to “manage up.” At a time when corporate communications professionals desire the proverbial seat at the table, it’s clear that executive coaching—with its focus on improving communications, persuasion and influence—will help get them there faster. Perhaps most important, improving these skillsets boosts the odds that C-suite executives will actually listen to and act on the advice of their senior level PR professionals. In light of how CEOs’ communications goofs negatively affected reputation, sales and stock price, the value of executive coaching is priceless, if incalculable.
Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps leaders achieve their potential. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the November 3, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.