You might be surprised to learn that a growing number of companies are looking to executive coaching to help them drive key strategic shifts and change initiatives.
This trend presents a unique opportunity for the coaching field, which I’ll write about in a separate blog post. But I wanted to take a minute here to share my thinking on this important trend – something that perhaps isn’t yet on the radar screen of some senior executives tasked with driving change.
I’ve written and spoken a great deal in the past about the need for the executive coaching field to evolve to help organizations meet key strategic challenges. That’s both a departure and a stretch for many executive coaches. But it’s clear that more executives are looking at coaching as an important component to implement strategy and accelerate change.
For years now, I’ve been calling this strategic coaching and it’s a shift from coaching as individual leadership development – targeted towards the individual needs of specific executives – to coaching focused on advancing organizational objectives.
Shifts involving strategy and change require, among other things, a critical mass of leaders pivoting in the same direction to gain the necessary momentum for success. A team of executive coaches working with key leaders and managers – and working from the same playbook around the strategy or change initiative – can quickly build momentum by reinforcing critical behaviors required to move the initiative forward.
Here are three examples of where executive coaching is elevated to the strategic, organization-wide level:
- Executive Retention: Cambria worked with a major global client in a coaching engagement around accelerated learning to head-off a retention problem with a key population of leaders. The people in question were those who missed out on being promoted to Managing Director because they needed a year or two of additional seasoning. The company typically loses many of them when they don’t make the cut — so the challenge was to come up with a solution that could stop the losses.
The answer was to have coaching focused on a uniform way to talk about what Managing Directors needed to know in order to be effective in the role. The company found that they retained a significantly higher amount of people through this process of accelerating their learning about what it would take to make the cut next time.
- Performance Improvement: Cambria helped a prominent financial services firm that desired to speed performance improvement by changing the nature and focus of the conversations the top 100 investment banking leaders were having with employees. These were year-end conversations – evaluations, goal-setting sessions, coaching, etc. – and too many of them were not effective.
We designed an approach built around just-in-time training, coaching, and preparation for the performance review conversations. A group of ten coaches worked with the 100 top investment bankers in sessions prior to their performance review conversations with employees, preparing the bankers in real-time. Afterwards, we surveyed the employees who were reviewed, asking for input and an assessment about whether their experience in those conversations was different and better in terms of focus and quality.
There was a real and measurable difference compared to the prior process. Leaders received real feedback before and after the performance conversations with clear measures for improvement. Those conversations were regarded as more valuable and effective – and they became the catalyst for performance improvement.
- Executive Endorsement: It’s common to view coaching as a good solution for individual leaders who are having difficulty or who need specific, individual development. And, too often, being assigned a coach can send unfortunate signals.
However, coaching increasingly is viewed as central to shifting entire populations of leaders within an organization – work that builds extra momentum when it’s endorsed from the top.
In one global organization where Cambria has extensive experience, the CEO realized that coaching was critical to accelerating change as the company expanded in globally and navigated a new strategy implementation. The watershed moment came at a meeting of the company’s top 500 executives, when he stood up to announce that he had his own executive coach and explained why he valued the work around flexibility and receptiveness to new challenges. The message sent was very clear: Senior leaders needed to learn different ways of doing things and to view continual development as a positive, necessary component of managing change.
That act changed the view of coaching instantly — with the CEO demonstrating the value of coaching at the top to foster deeper, more sustained learning across the organization vs. the traditional view of coaching to address someone’s individual development needs.
These are just a few examples of the many opportunities for coaching to support organizational goals in a more strategic way and to help accelerate change. Certainly, more and more organizations are concluding that executives knowing how to lead people in times of enormous change is a critical, competitive advantage, and a strategic approach to coaching is uniquely equipped to provide tools and processes to do that.