What Sarah Could Have Done Differently

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_ Understood business strategy and how coaching fits. In her six

months coaching the three clients, Sarah had learned little

about the business. Her updates with the HR VP were limited

to generalized descriptions of the progress the clients were

making. Each of these updates was a golden opportunity to

educate the HR VP on the business value of coaching, and more

to the point, the potential positive impact on the business that

would be gained by expanding the coaching initiative.Most HR

VPs have a lot on their plate, and it is a mistake to assume that

they will automatically understand how coaching will relate to

achieving business strategy.

First and foremost, the person wearing the consulting hat

must be a student of the business. He or she must access Web

sites, annual reports, investor reports, magazine articles, and

other sources of information to quickly come up to speed on

the organization and the industry. Effective consultants

develop a point of view. Do not just regurgitate information:

translate the information into insights about how to achieve

strategy. Educate the business leaders about how a coaching initiative

can make a meaningful and strategic contribution.Open

up possibilities. Coaches often leave their consultant hat on the

table and are content to be a business tourist. As Sarah learned,

the time of being only a tourist can be short-lived and ultimately

less satisfying than a longer-term relationship with a

client organization.

_ Diagnosed the performance gap and how coaching can close the

gap.Why coach? Unfortunately, the answer is often: “Why not?”

Everyone is doing coaching, so it must be good. Coaching

books have proliferated. Coaching gurus are sprouting up like

daisies. Get on the bandwagon early so you’re not left out! This

bandwagon mentality may be viewed as good for the burgeoning

coaching industry in the short term; however, this mentality

is good for no one in the longer term, especially client


When people put on their consulting hat, they begin to ask

business leaders and potential sponsors some tough questions.

If Sarah had put on her consulting hat, she could have asked

questions such as the following:

_ What do you view as the top performance issues your business


_ How do you feel your strategy has raised the bar for


_ What are you not getting from leadership that you most need?

_ How does your people strategy support leadership development?

_ What are your expectations for how coaching will improve


_ What objectives have you set for the coaching initiative?

Sarah would ask these questions within a backdrop of her

own research, and based on this research, she would have her

own ideas about the answers to these questions. This is where

developing a point of view comes into play. Let’s look at a specific

example of how Sarah could have worked with the HR VP

in a different way.

Prologue. Sarah had read the company’s people strategy, and it

had all the right words about the importance of people and

commitment to learning.What was conspicuous in its absence

(at least to Sarah) was that the strategy and tangible business

outcomes were not closely linked. This was, to Sarah, a serious

strategic disconnect. She could see why HR initiatives were

viewed as fluffy by business leaders. She developed a point of

view: the coaching initiative must be linked to a business

outcome, and the HR leader must own not only the coaching

initiative but also part of the business outcome.

Act One. Sarah decided to devote her third monthly progress

review session with the HR VP to mutually exploring potential

business outcomes.Well-armed with a point of view, she began

the following conversation:

Sarah: I have really enjoyed coaching these three leaders, and

I believe we are making real progress.

HRVP: Yes, I agree. I am hearing some good early buzz from

these sessions.

Sarah: We have talked about what you generally expect from

each individual I am coaching. What I would like to

explore with you now is what you expect from coaching

as an intervention or initiative for your company.

HRVP: What do you mean exactly?

Sarah: Well, for starters, how do you think coaching fits

within the people strategy?

HRVP: I think that it’s pretty straightforward. Coaching is a

developmental tool, and people development is one

of the central pillars of our people strategy. Is this

what you’re driving at?

Sarah: We’re driving in the right direction. Specifically, when

I read your people strategy, I could see how coaching

fits as a development tool, but to what end? I guess

my question is how you think leadership development

will impact the business?

HRVP: Hmm, that’s a good question. I would say that it

would surface in many ways, such as better decision

making, improved problem solving, increased effectiveness

as a leader . . .

How Coaches Navigate Turbulent Organizations 161

Sarah: Yes, I would agree with these outcomes, and let me go

one step further.

HRVP: All right.

Sarah: You mentioned increased effectiveness as a leader.

Given your business growth strategy, it seems like you

will need many more leaders than you have now.

HRVP: Yes, our business will grow 40 percent in the next

three years.

Sarah: Is it fair to say that the business outcome of leadership

development will be to accelerate building the

bench strength of leaders?

HRVP: Most definitely.

Sarah: So, by accelerating the supply of available leaders, it

seems that you are producing a tangible business


HRVP: Yes, it’s very tangible and one that we measure. Every

year leaders are rated as “ready now, ready in one year,

ready in two years” to assume greater leadership roles

in the company. Come to think of it, given our threeyear

growth strategy, we should probably do this

every six months, not annually. At any rate, coaching

could play a key role in accelerating this leadership

supply process.

Sarah: It may be time to think about how to leverage coaching

across a bigger base than just three leaders.

HRVP: Yes, that’s a good point. There are at least forty other

leaders who would benefit from coaching, and more

to the point, the business requires this for achieving

the strategy.

Sarah: I’m prepared to help in any way I can. What do you

see as our next steps?

This conversation served as a platform for Sarah and the

HR VP to design a coaching initiative with a tangible and

strategic business outcome. She knew that the HR VP would

need help in moving this initiative forward, so she got the green

light from him to meet with more leaders and key influencers

in the decision to move forward with a broader coaching

initiative. Which brings us to the next thing she could have


_ Increased networking within the company. First, networking

does not mean selling. A big hot button for most leaders is

having coaches stealthily network throughout their organizations

looking for more coaching clients. The intention of networking

is to open up possibilities for new relationships and to

add value along the way. The one-act play opened the opportunity

for Sarah to meet new leaders with a specific purpose

and mandate from her sponsor: Position coaching as a business

initiative with a tangible outcome and seek the support of key

business leaders and influencers to proceed with coaching. Of

course, if Sarah is successful, she will have a lot more coaching

work to do. The point is that she is approaching these meetings

from the vantage point of how to achieve the business strategy,

not how to feather her own nest.

_ Focused on building relationships. These initial meetings are

openings and, if appropriate, can lead to building stronger relationships

with a broader group of leaders. For example, Sarah

could debrief the HR VP on her leader conversations and identify

a critical set of leaders who will need to continue to be

engaged in the coaching initiative. Sarah can work with the HR

VP to develop an agenda and a set of outcomes for these conversations,

and in so doing, can define how these relationships

can grow and blossom.

_ Asked for the business. Sarah concluded the one-act play with

the right punchline: “I’m prepared to help in any way I can.

What do you see as our next steps?” She asked for the order. So

often, as consultants we do all of the legwork, work hard, get

right to the altar, and then fail to pop the question. Don’t be

shy about asking for the work. By wearing the consulting hat,

you are offering a new set of valuable services.Work with your

sponsors to understand their needs, performance issues, and

business requirements. Educate your sponsors on how your

How Coaches Navigate Turbulent Organizations 163

solutions will meet their needs. And when you get their attention,

be sure to ask for the work.