Executive Development Coaching Pays: Success is in Selection

At time when knowledge transfer has become an increasingly high-tech game, it seems tad ironic that the business world has rediscovered ancient ways work best. The rise and rise of coaching and mentoring, often as an essential ingredient of corporate leadership programmes, reflects the old truism that people learn best from other people.
The benefits to be had from chewing over either personal or business issues with someone who understands where you’re coming from and can provide an experienced sounding board and/or personal reality check would have come as no surprise to the ancient Greeks. They apparently gave us the word “mentor” – from the name of the chap left in charge of the son of the King of Ithacus, while Dad was away either warring or exploring.
And New Zealand currently boasts bundle of mentors. At least 1200 are registered with Business in the Community. Experienced business folk themselves, they provide valuable knowledge resource for small business.
Coaching is also catching on in big way. The local chapter of the International Coach Federation (IFC) now boasts more than 80 members – and that’s just the more creditable cream of the burgeoning ranks of business, life and allsorts coaches. One of ICF’s concerns is that the widening range of consultants, counsellors or psychologists now jumping on the coaching bandwagon risks diluting the profession’s quality and credibility.
So the first piece of advice for any individual or firm seeking coach is do the research, find someone who not only has the appropriate credentials but is the right fit in terms of current coaching needs. For those who get the recipe right, anecdotal evidence backed by growing body of research highlights swag of personal and business benefits.
A recent MetrixGlobal survey found business coaching produced 788 percent return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business. Personnel Management survey found that training alone increases performance by around 22 percent whereas training plus coaching lifts productivity by 88 percent.
With that kind of ROI in mind, it’s not surprising to find an increasing number of local companies introducing coaching programmes. How they’re going about it and the benefits they’re gaining is of particular interest to Leslie Hamilton. She runs her own coaching company, FutureScape, has recently chalked up decade’s work as corporate life coach and is currently surveying New Zealand business use of coaching as performance enhancement tool.
“What we’re looking to do is identify best practice in corporate coaching in New Zealand organisations and gather information that will help other organisations that are considering its introduction.”
She describes the research (expected to be completed this month) as social or anecdotal rather than rigorously academic – matter of those who’ve already done the yards sharing their stories with those who are either just starting out or thinking about it.
Her experience so far suggests that while not too many organisations are officially measuring the ROI on coaching, its benefits inevitably have both business and personal dimension.
“I’m corporate life coach, not life coach, because I work with clients whose life involves corporate identity or environment and most would never go to coach for purely personal reason. But they find when they resolve specific corporate issue that every other aspect of their life shifts because some of what we deal with is at such core level for people.”
And some business gains can’t really be measured. For instance, Hamilton has coached senior executives who were on the point of leaving their organisations but subsequently stayed after coaching revealed their current dissatisfactions were based on personal rather than organisational issues.
“The cost to the company of replacing such individuals would be considerable but nobody actually knows about it.”

Instilling core competencies
Training, coaching and mentoring are all key skills leaders should have – so being clear about the distinctions and benefits of each is vital, according to Vodafone director Arthur Neely.
“What’s important is they can distinguish what is an individual’s need at that particular time. Do they need to know how to run new software program or do they need to get some balance in their lives? There are some fairly soft lines between coaching and mentoring but for clarity, I see coaching as about personal development, mentoring as about career development and training as about skill development.”
There are grey areas – you could start coaching session and end up mentoring someone, says Neely.
Both are central to Vodafone’s leadership programme because they’re regarded as core competencies for leaders in values-based organisation. It’s something Neely is personally passionate about.
“Leaders do have responsibility for the personal and career development of the people around them. However there was very narrow bandwidth of people [in the organisation] who understood that conceptually and even fewer who had skills to put it into action.
“We then said if this is requirement for our leaders, let’s put in place some clarity around the expectation this is part of their responsibility and to support that, put in place some rele-vant training.”
Because the company lacked the necessary expertise in-house, it brought external advisers on board and has worked closely with organisational consultancy The Zone because “its skills are very complementary to our own”, says Neely.
Coaching the coaches was task that fell to Neely himself and The Zone leader Liam Forde. There are now some 400 participants in Vodafone’s leadership programme across Australia and New Zealand – and while the bulk of them have completed the initial course, it will be an ongoing process, says Neely.
Feedback has been very positive both from participants and, perhaps even more relevant, from those with whom they work. Another measure of success is the company’s popularity as an employer of choice.
“A good example of that is that this year when we ran our graduate recruitment programme for 12 positions, we got 800 applications.

Building leadership
Coaching is vital component in Auckland City’s leadership framework which was developed last year following 360-degree assessment of the organisation’s management performance. Staff feedback had revealed the need for stronger leadership, says AC’s human resources manager Mike Richardson.
Over the past 12 months, the organisation has rolled out coaching programme for its directors and senior managers and is now in the process of developing pilot for the next leadership tier. Each has different focus and involves different external provider.
Selecting the right provider proved fairly intensive process, says Richardson.
“We went out to tender and talked to number of people. What we found was that many larger outfits are selling process rather than specific individual coaches – they couldn’t guarantee the same people would be available. So for both programmes we’ve ended up working with smaller providers for whom this is major project and one they’re committed to.
“It was very important for Auckland City that we had people keen to understand our business and understand partnership relationship. So we bought individuals into the business, not just process.”
Keenan Consulting was chosen for the first-tier rollout which involved an initial three months’ intensive one-on-one coaching and nine-month “maintenance” period. Participants had choice of three coaches and if the pairing didn’t work out, either coach or coachee could choose to make change.
The programme focused on three areas: self, team and business – with the emphasis firmly on the first. Unless issues around “self” are sorted whether related to motivation, personal roadblocks or lack of work/life balance, there’s little value in tackling team and business stuff, says Richardson.
“So the primary thing

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