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  • Aaron Zaslofsky

The “why” of executive coaching is clear. Let’s talk about the “how.”

The world of executive coaching is filled with “why” – as in why is there a need for coaching? Simon Sinek would be proud that his “why” features so prominently.

“How” is not nearly as well-represented – as in how exactly does coaching provide the benefits we claim as practitioners and how do we differentiate our approach from that of other coaches.

I was reminded of this by a friend, a Chief Human Resources Officer for a large Twin Cities company. I shared with her a business case I created for a client I’ve worked with for a number of years, and where I coach leaders in a host of functions. She liked my client testimonials and “why” coaching was imperative for the organization at this critical moment in their history. That was my contention, at least. But she said my case should be stronger in “how” I contribute to the performance of my coaching clients.

She was right.

My client can now expect an addendum to my coaching business case. In the meantime, here’s what I plan to share with them about how coaching contributes to performance and growth and how it provides the benefits I see in coachee faces every day.

1.     Assure that coachee, their supervisor/sponsor, and coach have the same goals. A coachee is most likely to meet their goals when we identify them early in coaching conversations. But this doesn’t just happen on its own. My job is to make sure we discuss what a client is trying to achieve and regularly discuss progress toward expectations and goals. It’s also my job to prompt clients to get input on coaching goals from their supervisor so that when our work is done, they can say the goal was achieved and their supervisor will agree.

2.     Track progress toward goals. Equally important is to evaluate progress toward goals during the coaching relationship. I check in with the coachee supervisor and/or HR Business Partner on performance goals and share how they are progressing with coaching, while maintaining strict client confidentiality. I consider this my responsibility to the client as someone vested in their performance and growth.

3.     Sync coaching goals with business strategy. Once goals are set, I counsel clients to put them in the context of the business strategy (and on paper). For example, I work with one organization that is under considerable pressure to quickly change their business model as a matter of survival. The stakes are high, and my client is one of a handful of people in the driver’s seat for this stressful, yet invigorating work. So, when we discuss coachee goals to better articulate vision/strategy or earn influence from decision-makers, we do so in the context of the business strategy.

Client progress in a vacuum is still meaningful and fulfilling, but it’s much more so when my client can tell themselves and their organization that our coaching contributed directly to business priorities.

4.     Always set benchmarks – quantitative and qualitative. Client organizations who invest in upfront assessments like Hogan or a 360 review, for example, are likely to see greater progress and tangible growth through coaching. This is because an initial assessment provides a baseline from which to gauge progress toward goals. An assessment also turns what a coachee thinks they know about themself into something they actually know. Finally, assessments like a 360 review allow the coach to hear first-hand from those around them and have a more complete picture of the situation at-hand.

Now, I won’t turn down a coachee because their organization is reluctant to invest in an initial assessment. My job is to make the case for an assessment, if I believe it’s necessary. But the organization should know the coaching experience is more complete and actionable when we have an agreed upon baseline from which to work.

5.     Share advice sparingly. I’ll offer my perspective on an issue if asked, but I prompt clients to take a shot first. Coaches are for questions, first and foremost. Clients are for answers, within or finding them in those they trust. Even if a client doesn’t have the answer, we’ll talk through possibilities and land on one(s) they find compelling. Meanwhile, they keep the accountability by working through their thoughts. This is important because when you give advice to yourself, you’re much more likely to act upon it and benefit from your own wisdom.

6.     Make coaching conversations actionable. Coaching conversations involve introspection, exploration of one’s thoughts and assumptions, vulnerability, and hard truths. In-the-moment exercises make the conversation last and increase the likelihood of habit re/formation. That said, it’s a real skill to frame and execute an exercise that has value to a coachee right in the moment. For example, an exercise on decision consequences, levels of commitment, or relationships to nurture for influence can transform thoughts that aren’t fully formed into those that are tangible and actionable.

To make your thoughts most actionable, it’s important that you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The act of writing thoughts down cements ideas in our brains and makes action more likely. As my dad likes to say, “your brain is a terrible place to keep information – write it down.” This is not only sage advice but recording your thoughts can be the difference between fleeting glimpses of progress and lasting behavior change that outlives the coaching partnership.

If you think you’ve got everything covered in your coaching relationship, or that of someone you supervise, stop and think again. The coaching “how” above is often glossed over, or not even considered in some instances.

How do I know? Because of my friend the CHRO – she was right.


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