Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What an Executive Coach Can Do for YOU?

Across Corporate America coaching is routine, but Corporate India is yet to wake up to the benefits of coaching its mid-level employees. KS Rajasekar explores the process and results of coaching.

Note: This is an article I wrote when I was with www.midcareers.com (currently off air)

While it’s welcomed in the West, why hasn’t coaching taken off in a big way in India? In some ways our culture doesn’t permit high costs for counseling and personal advice. And the corporate outlook is that anyway the seniors are supposed to mentor/ coach the juniors, why should we pay heavily for coaching by external people. Or is it that they aren’t very aware of the actual benefits of a coaching program? Explaining the reasons, Ajay Nangalia, an executive coach, says, “Right now, the awareness of coaching and its benefits as a leadership development option have not yet been appreciated by our market. Only companies that have coaching for their employees in the West, now seek coaching for their Indian counter parts. So essentially, the awareness is very low amongst the senior leadership in India. That seems to be the main reason.”

Currently, it looks like the only sector that seeks coaching for mid or senior level employees is the IT sector, perhaps, because they are carrying their US experiences to the workplace here in India. Nabendu Gupta, Director – Performance Edge, Kolkata, concurs, “It’s only the IT majors that have taken to coaching in some way.”

Relevance of coaching
The challenges at work are the starting point of a coaching process and the office dilemmas makes it very contextual, and relevant to the work environment. Unlike training which is generalised and delivered to a group, coaching is highly individualised and relates to specific organisation goals and challenges for the coachee. All the experiences, challenges and gaps are within the organisation’s framework. Therefore it’s easier to relate, apply, learn and correct course while on a coaching mode.

Isn’t coaching more relevant to the organisation and individual’s issues than general training programs, and therefore much more productive? “There are limitations to training. Coaching approaches development differently. It is more need based and focuses on individual growth areas for development. In this sense it is far more effective than training. Having said this, training and coaching complement each other. Skill impartation is often sustained when training is supported by coaching. So yes, the answer to your question is that coaching is far more effective than just training. However, I would not want to write off training but rather look at both supporting each other as different streams in the common development process,” says Floyd Vaz, a Bangalore-based coach.

Coaching - a reward for talented employees
Every organisation has a need to identify, train and groom future leaders if it has to succeed in a competitive business environment. While the constant churn is a worry for managements, the other driver is the pace at which the market is changing, technology is evolving and innovations are happening. So businesses can’t afford to be laid back and run the risk of being left behind or run over. It’s an organisational challenge to retain talent. And in an employee’s list of what might make him consider sticking onto an organisation, training and development benefits are high priority. Stars in any company soon run of steam if they are not properly engaged and tapped into. Coaching certainly is very satisfying to such individuals whose performance is evidently enhanced after the process.

When does a mid-career professional need to hire a coach?
When executives feel they know where to go but don’t know how to reach there, then it’s time for a coach to step in. Essentially, the individual must be aware of the inadequacies and be willing to be coached. When organisations see a change for the future organisational leader, they hire a coach. The employee may be readied for extra responsibility or a new project that calls for a leadership upgrade.

So does it mean that if there’s no change, an employee doesn’t need a coach? Quite often, since senior executives are caught in a perspective of one’s own, an objective look by an outsider offers immense value. Relooking at existing problems and working a way out is also a coach’s priority.

“If coaching is about ‘developing the best potential of any executive,’ it implies that any time is the best time to appoint an executive coach. Another good time for someone to work with an executive coach would be when he or she needs to grasp the finer points of leadership. Remember, leaders will emerge from the organisation’s manager pool, but leadership is a learned craft and, most managers, even those who have come from the best management schools, may only be good at managing but not necessarily adept at leading. Coaching is perhaps the best development methodology for such situations,” explains Floyd Vaz.

Benefits of coaching
A key pull in coaching is that there’s a high level of confidentiality maintained between the coach and the coachee. Once a degree of confidence is attained, an individual expresses his inadequacies and personal experiences and opens up to the coach, since that’s the only way to plug the behavioural or skill gaps and enhance effectiveness. This may just not be possible in a training class or a session with a boss. The coach is non-threatening since he’s willing to understand the coachee’s gaps and work on them with specific goals. The coach being an external professional would not be able to relate what is stated by the coachee, to anybody within the company. That provides a lot of comfort to the coachee. Moreover, the coach is a partner in this event and is likely to provide a perspective to the coachee and serve as a sounding board. The coach can be objective since he is not impacted by your performance. And coaches tell you the truth, because they don’t have a reason to please you. That’s very important for the coachee.

Coaching is a perfect choice for middle career professionals (midpros) because of the unique phase of their corporate life. They have about 8 to 10 years of experience, jumped two or three jobs and are currently in some ways underutilised in their workplace. But what are actual benefits for them. Nabendu Gupta reasons that coaching “Helps them take corrective action on career blocking factors before it is too late.” In what ways you may ask. Ajay Nangalia throws more light, “There are huge benefits for the coachee: he or she can explore issues with an impartial sounding board and this helps the coachee think better. It helps him or her think and deal with complex situations clearly, and then they know how to deal with it more effectively. My experience is just talking and explaining the situation helps the coachee see things in a new light! It can help mid-career professionals re-look at their current competency set, and chalk out a whole new development plan to take them to the next level. It could be to be more effective on a global scale, to run an operation independently, or to find balance in one’s life. Coaching can help mid-career professionals re-energise their relationships at work by helping them find purpose and a plan to take them higher. “

Too often it can become lonely at the workplace. And sometimes a midpro may not feel at ease sharing his thoughts with peers or bosses. A coach can be a confidant with whom you can share what you want to do and why you desire that action. And he can help you achieve it in a very satisfying manner. He can work on your indecisions, confidence and attitude by giving you a 360 degree feedback and making you look at different perspectives.

What are the benefits for the company?
Improved leadership is one key benefit. It’s certainly speaks about the employer’s commitment to retain best talent by rewarding them with satisfying development programs. “Companies benefit tremendously because many times the money invested in leadership training programs has little impact, since there is no link between what is taught and what is implemented. In addition, each senior leader has unique development needs that cannot be addressed in leadership seminars. In coaching, the senior professional identifies the development agenda and an action plan to implement agenda. This leads to a better return on the training investment, as there is a commitment to change from the coachee’s side,” details Ajay Nangalia. Companies can design a customised development program for each senior professional based on his or her strengths, which are aligned to the company’s goals.

The coaching process
Any program must be over a period with goals being clearly defined, feedback shared and effectiveness measured. How does the coaching process work? How long does a typical coaching relationship last? “In coaching, agenda and the responsibility for change rests with the coachee. The coachee defines his or her own goals and sets the action plans, typically over a six-month engagement. The coach is an enabler of the thinking process, and a sounding board. The coach raises different perspectives and helps the coachee reflect on the impact of various actions. The coachee also sets effectiveness standards and tracks change. The reason coaching succeeds – this will surprise many – is precisely because it is completely the coachee’s program – not the coach’s. Coaching is not a quick fix solution. The coach also shies away from offering advice or solutions to the coachee; he does not tell the coachee what to do. The coach is a catalyst for the coachee’s own thoughts and actions,” points out Ajay.

Does coaching also look at emotional and behavioural gaps or just career related issues? “Coaching can address the emotional, behavioural, skill and/or competency development issues of an individual. It can also address individual career related issues as well as team and organisational development issues. Because of its short-to -medium-term nature, a good coach will at the outset want to know specifically and clearly the area/goal an individual, team or organisation wants to work on or better still, get them to define the outcome they are looking for in that area with timelines,” details Floyd.

Does coaching have to be face-to-face only?
Well, most coaches like to have as many face-to-face interactions as possible. But, it never happens all the time. So the process initially begins with 2 to 3 hour sessions once a month, backed by smaller sessions over phone and chat. Floyd Vaz avers, “Coaching is best done across the table one-to-one and can be supported by brief in-between-meetings, phone and chat services. But when this is not possible, the Internet chat facilities like SKYPE are a good alternate. I personally prefer SKYPE over the telephone because of the file transfer features. If a coaching intervention has to be facilitated over the Internet only, this is fine, but every attempt must be made for both the coach and the person being coached to meet across the table once in a while for ‘rapport building.’

“Coaching is especially helpful for mid-career professionals, as they have achieved functional expertise and success but need to understand how to move to the next level. The stumbling blocks could be self-limiting beliefs, social intelligence skills, or skills to help them succeed in a global economy. A coach can help each individual identify such blocks – often with the help of 360 degree feedback – and develop personalised plans to overcome them. A coach could also help these professionals assess their life priorities, values, and then align these to organisation realities. This would help manage any conflict between personal values and the demands of the organization,” signs off Ajay.

So be it promotion, leadership role or relooking at challenges within the organisation, it’s time to look out for a coach.