Hiring A Executive Coach? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself (and Your Prospective Coach) First

By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

If you (1) are a coach, (2) have worked with a coach or (3) are hiring a coach (for yourself or others) ask yourself these three questions (discussed in more detail below):

  1. What does success look like and who gets to decide?
  2. What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?
  3. What is the process?

(Note, I believe that a lot of what I discuss here also applies to hiring and working with other consultants, not just coaches)

Let’s talk about what most coaching looks like today and what we believe it should look like. Consider the below two scenarios and ask yourself:

  • Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
  • Which scenario is preferable and why?

Scenario I: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. Although the manager’s boss and the Vice President of Human Resources had a good idea what the manager was working on (he needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) they did not participate in the actual coaching process. The coaching was a somewhat mysterious process as it happened behind closed doors. Even some of the coaching client’s close working colleagues did not know that he was working with a leadership coach. Over the duration of the engagement, there were two progress meetings during which the client and the coach reported their progress to his boss and the HR VP. At the end of the engagement, the coach submitted a report in which he outlined how the client progressed during the engagement. He presented primarily self-reported anecdotal evidence. The report included a (positive) self assessment by the client. The coach believed he had earned his $35k fee because he spent a lot of time with the client and strongly felt that the client got better.

Scenario II: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. The client involved her stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses) from the very start in the coaching process. The client developed her coaching goals (she needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) in collaboration her stakeholders and regularly solicited feedback on her progress from them. Halfway through and at the end of the engagement stakeholders rated the client on her progress against her coaching goals in an anonymous online survey online survey. The results of the first online survey were less than stellar and forced the client and her coach to make some changes. The second and final online stakeholder survey showed a significant improvement of the client’s targeted leadership behaviors. The coach collected his $35k fee because (and only because) he facilitated a process by which helped the client get better, as assessed by the client’s 3rd party stakeholders.

Again, ask yourself:

  • Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
  • Which scenario is preferable and why?

A lot of coaching in small business and corporate America is significantly closer to Scenario I than to Scenario II (I know because I have practiced it myself…). For those of you even vaguely familiar with our leadership coaching approach, it will come as no surprise that Lauren and I are strong proponents for moving coaching towards Scenario II.

Let me explain.

I have been coaching for more than 10 years and looking back over this period I am amazed how much the field of coaching and my practice has changed.

I started my coaching as a career coach, quickly transitioned into small business/entrepreneurial coaching and finally ended up finding my calling in leadership (executive) coaching.

I have worked with many wonderful clients (100+ of them) and I believe I have done a lot of good work and, on occasion, some great work. However, I often had the nagging feeling of uneasiness around the measurable impact of my coaching. Yes, the clients felt happy and gave me positive feedback. I did feel they were (for the most part) making good process and got things done they would not have done without our work together. Nevertheless: my outcome driven personality was not satisfied. Questions would linger: How did I really know if I made a difference? Who should be the judge? Did the results achieved justify my fee?

At about the same time I was pondering these questions, Lauren and I were certified in a methodology called Stakeholder Centered Coaching pioneered by executive coaching legend Marshall Goldsmith. In essence, the coach first identifies the client’s key stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses.) Stakeholders are critical to the process as they are people best in a position to: 1) identify the client’s existing leadership shortcomings, 2) give specific and immediate suggestions for ways to improve and 3) assess progress towards desired change. The stakeholders, in essence, are turned into collaborative partners in the coaching process. (Scenario II describes a Stakeholder Centered Coaching engagement, which is the approach Lauren and I now use in our engagements.)

The result? A quantifiable assessment that is hard to “game” by either the coach or the client. (Another side benefit to the Stakeholder Centered approach is that it tends to greatly improve the quality of conversations across the organization, but that’s the subject of another article!)

Coaching represents a big investment in time, money and effort for the client and your organization. Make sure you get a fair return on your investment by asking the questions below before you hire a coach. Does their process look more like Scenario I or II? Does it provide good answers to each of the questions below?

1. What does success look like and who gets to decide?

    • How does the coach define success for the coaching engagement? What about the client? The boss? HR? How is failure defined?
    • How will progress be measured, along the way, and at the end? Is it quantifiable?
    • Who reports progress/results? Is it self-reported (client, coach) or by third parties (e.g. anonymous surveys, stakeholders)

2. What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?

    • Are you paying for process/activities (e.g. billable hours spent) or measurable results?
    • Are you having to pay the coaching (consulting) fee no matter what the outcome of the engagement or is the coach’s fee at least partly dependant on the success of the engagement?

3. What is the process?

    • Is the coach able to clearly articulate the process (note: coaching is not (anymore) simply a series of conversations)?
    • Does the coaching only happen in private, behind closed doors, or is the process attempting at building leverage across the organization (e.g. by including various stakeholders)?
    • Is the coaching engagement clearly scoped? Does everyone agree what is being worked on and what is not being worked on? How do you prevent scope creep?
For a detail description of our coaching process, visit our website at Redpoint Coaching.
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One-on-One Meetings: One of the Most Effective Leadership Tools by Urs Koenig

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

One on Ones for Better LeadershipDuring his tenure as CIO of Swissair (the former Swiss Airline) my dad applied for the top job at the Swiss Disaster Relief Agency. During the interview, he was asked to define leadership. He responded with a one liner (and was expected to present a thesis and as a result didn’t get the job…): “Being a leader means getting things done through your people.”

While I like his definition for its brevity, the question remains: how do you get stuff done through your people? You engage them, you inspire them, you listen to them, you set goals for them and you hold them accountable.
And what is one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage, inspire, listen, set goals and hold your people accountable?

You guessed it: Conducting regular and meaningful one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.
As with so many of the things we coach our clients on, conducting regular, productive and meaningful one-on-ones is a very simple concept but not always easy to pull off.

Why have yet another meeting and what if I don’t have time?

If you are like 90 % of the managers out there, most of your interactions with your people occur in an ad hoc manner — during team meetings (even if many of the people present don’t need to be part of the conversation), in hurried emails and voicemails, in passing in the hallway, or when a big problem desperately needs attention.

While all of these often interrupted, incomplete and hurried interactions are one-on-ones, they are seldom the most effective ones. Often there is no logic to the timing of these conversations. In fact, they are usually random, incomplete, and often too late to head off a problem or solve it before it grows large.

Regular one-on-one meetings will get you ahead of this curve. Not only will your people prepare for the time they have your undivided attention, they will discuss issues they won’t bring up in a group meeting or in impromptu discussions: their dissatisfaction with part of their current role, interpersonal challenges or other problems that could keep them from succeeding at work.

One on OnesIf your direct report is falling short, the one-on-one setting enables you to communicate in no uncertain terms what changes you need to see happening. Following the principal of praising in public and criticizing in private, you can be firmer and sterner during a one-on-one than during a team meeting. Think of the perfect one-on-one meeting as hybrid of an information gathering, planning, coaching and accountability meeting.

Like any meaningful meeting, not having it will cost you an expensive multiple of the time you would have spent in the meeting. Having it will save you time and headaches in the long run. There is one more important, not often talked about benefit to regular, meaningful on-on-ones. By sitting down with your direct reports and demonstrating true interest and concern not only for their productivity but also for their input, opinions and development, you build a more committed and engaged team which leads to all sorts of well documented soft benefits (e.g. increased job satisfaction) and hard benefits (e.g. lower turn-over, lower recruiting and training costs).

But how do I best do them?

Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports at least every other week, better every week. Make it a regular, re-occurring meeting. Don’t use travel as an excuse not to have it; conduct a phone meeting instead.

Keep a file for each of your direct reports where you gather all the none-time sensitive questions and issues you need to discuss with them. So rather than interrupting your folks constantly whenever you think of something, drop it in the file for discussion during the one-on-one. Take notes of issues raised in the one-on-one and agreed upon courses of action.

Here is my suggestion for a standing agenda for your one on one meeting:

1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
2. What is going well?
3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
4. Action items going forward

Once a quarter, I recommend you go ‘bigger’ and cover the following:

1. Where are we going (the organization)?
2. Where are you going?
3. What are you and your part of the biz doing well? What are you proud of?
4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your part of the biz, for yourself)?
5. How can I help?
6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me?

Have the one-on-one meeting primarily driven by your direct report. Make this a coaching conversation by asking lots of questions and listening well. Provide guidance if it’s needed but do not fall into the trap of filling the time with your own talk. If you are taking up more than 30 % of air time, you are talking too much.

Leadership 101: Get These Basics Right!

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Lauren and I absolutely love supporting our clients in getting better. If we could have it our way, our clients would work on their leadership skills all day, every day. Thing is, they have some other things to get done…

Within those resource constraints the question for us is always: which leadership skills, if applied correctly, will make the biggest difference for our clients? Which 20% of behavioral changes will get our clients 80% of the results?

Here are the three basic leadership skills we believe will get you a long way towards the famous 80% of the 80/20 rule:

  1. Valuing being respected more than liked
  2. Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’
  3. Owning and managing your own development

Valuing being respected more than being liked

One of my early bosses once told me: “Look Urs, my goal is for you to respect and like me. However, if I can only have one, I take the former.” Because I probably sometimes care more about what other people think about me than I should, this comment has really stuck with me.

To varying levels, we all have the need to be liked. Some of us need less external gratification, others need more. It’s important to understand your ‘default mode’:

  • Are you someone who tends to sacrifice business results in order to preserve a relationship?,  or
  • Do you tend to value business outcomes over the relationship?

Where do you sit on this continuum?

In our experience most leaders fall into the first category: they are leaders who have a strong need to be liked. This becomes a problem when you are fulfilling your need to be liked by comprising sound business decisions. In doing so, you might get a short term ‘like boost’ but in our experience, the same people whom you were trying to please might actually lose respect for you in the long run.

As a true leader:

  • You make the best decision for the organization;
  • You sit down with your people, look them in the eye and explain the business reason for making the hard decision; and
  • You show compassion for those negatively affected by your decision by listening, (really listening!) to their concerns and acknowledging them (including the accompanying feelings).

Transition from ‘Doing’ to ‘Leading’

For many bosses, but especially for founders, it is very comforting to be involved in the ‘doing’ of the day to day of the business. Some leaders I have worked with may be ok to let go of running the operations side of the business but find it very challenging to transition the deep and rich customer relationships they have built over the years.

No matter if it is operations or customer relationships: If you want to grow your business and scale it, you need to transition from doing to leading.

What do I mean by leading?

  • Setting goals for (and with) your people;
  • Getting out of their way so they can do the work they need to do; and
  • Holding them accountable for their results.

Setting goals for (and with) your people

Much has been written about good goal setting. Here is just one piece of advice in order to gain staff buy-in for goals:

  • Have your staff give input on your overall goals for the organization. Don’t just develop them by yourself in your corner office, then present them to staff and expect them to be jazzed about it. Really involve your staff in the development of company goals. Having said that, also be clear that you really want their input but that you will have the final say on what the final goals will be.
  • Once your organizational goals are defined ask your staff: What do you or your team need to achieve in order to get us there? Have them develop their own goals. Make yourself available to provide input and coaching. Having your staff develop their own goals will go miles towards buy-in.
  • Finalize all goals and publish them across the organization. Have everyone know what everyone else is working on. There is no better accountability tool! (Include progress towards the main goals in your staff meetings to help accountability, speed progress, and identify and solve obstacles.)

Get out of the way

Offer your insights, coaching, and resources along the way but don’t give into your urge to jump back in and get your hands dirty. Remember, micromanagement does not scale!

Don’t be afraid to defer to your team member when you get approached by a customer who wants you to personally take care of them. You need to develop your own wording but something along these lines might be a start: “Thanks Jeff for reaching out to me and thank you for doing business with us. Let me put you in touch with my team member, Sherry. She is very knowledgably in the area of xyz and will be a great resource for you.”

It is even better if you have previously brought your key team members along with you to meetings with clients, mentored their client development and relationship skills, and allowed them to develop their own relationships with clients along the way.

Use your co-workers or a coach as an accountability tool to avoid slipping back into old ‘Doing’ habits.

Holding them accountable for their results

One of the most powerful ways to start an accountability discussion is to have your staff self-assess their performance vis-à-vis the goals. If you have hired the right person she will be doing a lot of the work for you. Be sure to celebrate and acknowledge wins (“Lauren, this is a job really well done because of x, y z”) and don’t hesitate to be equally direct where you need to see improvements: “Urs, you know I really value your hard work and this simply is not good enough. In particular I need you to improve x, y, z”). Moving from Doing to Leading can be a very difficult transition to make. You need to redefine your role in the organization and change how you define your success.  A good day is no longer about how much YOU did but about what your TEAM achieved. 

Owning and managing your own leadership development

Hint: no one else will own and manage your leadership development if you won’t, so here is where micro management can work well for you.J

To kick the process off, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • When was the last time you invited the people you work for and with to give you their honest feedback on how you are doing as a leader? What is holding you back from doing it in 2011? What are you afraid to hear?

How clear are you about the leadership skills needed to take your organization to the next level? Do you have them? If not, do you have the potential to acquire them? If yes, how will you go about it? (see below)

  • How much formal and informal work on your leadership skills have you done in 2010? What are you planning to do in 2011? (This may include: formal training, consciously taking on new stretch assignments on the job, coaching, mentoring, and participating in a peer group).

Reflect on your answers to the above questions and then answer the following simple question:

What one thing are you willing to commit to in 2011 to become a more effective leader to help you get the basics right? 

We would love to read your response to this question. Send us a 10 pager or a one liner to: changeability@redpointcoaching.com. Your entry will go into the drawing for one Leadership style assessment valued at $100 and 5 Starbucks coffee cards. We will also publish all entries (anonymously, of course) over the course of the next few ChangeAbility ezines.