Choice and Context for Coaching

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For most businesses, developing people is a means to an end—not

the end itself. Investing in the development of people must return

value to the organization. Developing leaders raises the stakes given

the higher expectations for how leaders will impact the organization.

A lot is riding on how quickly leaders develop to the point at

which they can assume greater responsibilities. Coaching adds value

by accelerating the development process and focusing development

on the most salient and higher impact areas for the leaders.

One way of looking at the organizational context for leadership

development is with a supply and demand model. Ideally, an

organization wants to achieve a balance between the leaders it needs

(demand) and the leaders it has (supply). In a balanced situation, if

the demand for leaders increases, then the company has a ready

supply of leaders who can meet this demand. In today’s turbulent

business climate, the demand for leaders can spike or tank with little

notice. When either of these situations happens, a lot of stress can

be placed on the leader supply process.

When the demand for leaders spikes (i.e., the demand rapidly and

unpredictably increases), there may not be enough leaders on hand

to meet the demand. People in the organization may be tapped to

take on leadership roles they are not quite ready for. In these cases,

added support such as coaching must be given to these new leaders

so they may succeed. Another source of leaders comes from recruiting

leaders from other companies. In these cases, newly hired leaders

will need support to readily fit into the new organization.Whether

the leader is sourced internally or externally, coaching can be highly

effective in providing the support required for these leaders to

succeed. Coaches can enable the newly appointed leader to more

quickly develop a winning leadership style and gain acceptance from

others for the new role. Coaches can work with a newly hired leader

to effectively adapt his or her leadership style to the company’s

culture and business priorities.

When the demand for leaders tanks (i.e., the demand suddenly

drops), several leaders may find themselves without a position or

underutilized in their positions. CEOs may issue the “abandon ship”

order precipitating the exodus of many employees. This situation

would seem to eliminate the need for developing leaders, let alone

coaching them. In fact, this is what typically happens. The experience

of Nortel Networks, however, suggests a different and perhaps

better path. In 2001, the markets in which Nortel Networks was a

dominant player all took a nosedive. Over the course of a year or so,

half of their 100,000 employees were laid off. The business and HR

leaders reasoned that during these extremely challenging times, the

need for leadership was even greater.Moreover, these markets would

come back at some point, and they knew they had to have the right

leaders in place to hit the ground running when the business climate

improved. Nortel Networks stayed the course with its coaching initiative

during 2001 for more than 70 of its top emerging leaders.

This strategy had an immediate payoff in terms of more effectively

managing through the tough transition and a longer-term payoff of

having a strong bench of leaders ready to seize new market opportunities.

Coaching is but one development activity in the greater leader

supply process, and it is important to understand this entire process

so that coaching can be placed in an organizational context. A leader

supply process has four major components, as illustrated in Figure

8.1: selecting, developing, managing, and transitioning. Organizations

may slice and dice these four components in different ways,

but all four will be present in any leader supply process.

_ Selecting leaders. Leaders may be selected internally from within

the company or recruited externally from other companies.

Generally, internal promotions are favored over recruiting. The

track record of hiring leaders, especially senior ones, is not

encouraging. These leaders come with a high price tag and

often struggle to adapt to the company’s culture. Assessment

strategies have proven effective in making a better match

Creating Context and Purpose for Coaching 125

Leader

Supply

Process

Selecting

Managing Developing

Transitioning

Figure 8.1 Leadership Supply Process

between a candidate and the culture. Most selection decisions

are based on a formal assessment process. The “good old boy”

network approach has been largely (but not completely)

displaced. Ideally, the assessment tools, such as competency

models, are based on the same criteria used for development

and performance management. For external candidates, assessment

centers are being increasingly used to make successful

selection decisions. For internal candidates, rating and ranking

systems may be used to identify high-potential leaders, pointing

out who is ready immediately and who will be ready soon

for promotion. Assessment information based on competencies

or behaviors can be extremely valuable to the coach

working with the leader. The leader’s areas of strength and

improvement opportunities can be suggested by assessment

data and provide a rich foundation for coaching.

_ Developing leaders. There are many different approaches to

leadership development. Many of the more traditional,

classroom-based approaches are being replaced with more

experiential activities such as action learning and job rotations.

Action learning sessions involve leaders who are drawn from

across the business enterprise to work collaboratively for a week

or so on a real business issue. Their work is facilitated by

someone who works with the client (the person who owns the

issue) to set the objectives and then guides the team activities

to reach these objectives. Job rotations involve having leaders

take on a new position for a limited amount of time, usually

less than one year. The intention is for leaders to learn how to

quickly assess new situations, set goals, and energize a team to

achieve the goals.

Whatever approaches to development are used, coaching is

emerging as an effective way for leaders to reflect on their experiences

and to better integrate their learnings from a wide

variety of sources. Leaders do not learn only by doing; they also

learn by reflecting on what they have done. Coaches can accelerate

the reflection process and help leaders focus on the most

salient aspects of their experiences, drawing valuable lessons

that can shape near-term behavior and long-term leadership

style. For example, many organizations are grappling with how

to ensure that their leaders see the big picture and work collaboratively

across organizational boundaries (“silos”). The big

picture here refers to being able to think strategically, decipher

major market trends, and see what needs to be done to optimize

business opportunities. Leaders must also be silo busters,

letting go of their parochial perspectives and doing what is

right to optimize the entire business enterprise, not just their

own area. Coaches provide an external, more objective perspective

that can take the blinders off leaders so they see more

of the world around them. Coaches open up possibilities for

the client to improve collaboration with other leaders and build

effective cross-silo networks.

_ Managing leaders. Organizations typically have an annual

schedule of performance appraisal reviews. This is often the

only time people receive feedback on their performance, and

even in these cases, the primary purpose of the review is often

to make compensation decisions, rather than to open up development

opportunities. It is challenging to have an open and

frank discussion of performance when this discussion forms

the basis for decisions about money and possibly promotion

eligibility. It is important to separate feedback for the purpose

of development from performance evaluation feedback.

Mixing the two in one conversation waters down the impact of

the feedback. This leads to performance appraisals becoming

safe, relatively comfortable pro forma conversations in which it

is easier for managers to sugarcoat performance issues rather

than deliver honest feedback. It is little wonder that development

planning that is based on these reviews often fails to hit

its mark.Managers feel relieved that the annual review has been

completed with no ruffled feathers, and the subordinate is left

scratching his or her head about what just happened. These

data hold little value for a coach to gain insights into a client’s

development needs. As a result, most coaches will have to

conduct their own performance assessments at the beginning

of a coaching relationship. Tools such as multirater feedback

discussions, leadership style surveys, and others will be used to

help the coach and client pinpoint the most critical issues on

which to work.

_ Transitioning leaders. Transition decisions about leaders are

based on individual performance and capability, and organizational

need. A formal succession planning process is intended

to look into the near future and line up leaders who can potentially

be promoted into certain positions. Leaders are often

characterized as “ready now” or “ready in one or two years.”

Positions are ranked according to their criticality to the business.

The outcome of succession planning is to ensure that

leadership bench strength is queued up to those positions that

are most critical to the company. Coaching has proven effective

in two ways: (1) accelerating the readiness of leaders to

assume new roles and (2) helping leaders hit the ground

running when they assume these roles. For example, when

Clare became a VP (in Chapter 6), she was faced with many

challenges, not the least of which was gaining support from her

peers for the business development opportunities she proposed.

Her coach provided her with a more structured way to

assess people’s actions, understand their intentions, and tap

into intuition to effectively influence others.

Of course, another transitional path for a leader is to be separated

from the company for performance reasons. In some

cases, leaders who have performance issues are assigned a

coach, even though the decision has pretty much been made to

separate the leader from the company. This is when coaching

becomes “coach-out,” and coaches need to be aware—and

beware—of these situations. If the situation is perceived as

unsalvageable, the coach must ask the sponsor of the coaching

about the true intentions for initiating coaching. If it turns out

to be a coach-out situation, then all parties must honestly come

to grips with the situation. If this does not happen, then it is

best for the coach to disengage from the coaching relationship.

This really comes down to a matter of integrity; disengaging

from this relationship will avoid a lot of frustration and hurt

feelings on the part of all involved.