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Coaching is considered as vital to leading corporations to ensure that their best people develop effectively. Audrey Besson Levine says it is even seen as a means to ensure long-term sustainability

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with a client in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”.

In the past, coaching could have easily been associated with helping under-performers. However, in today’s environment, it is mostly used to provide “A players” with the means to sharpen their skills and enhance their performance as leaders.

A study carried out by the American Management Association reported that 60 per cent of the individuals that are being coached are employees with a high potential for advancement.

Statistics around the benefits of coaching are scarce, but in 2001 Manchester Inc conducted a study among 100 executives, mostly from Fortune 1000 companies. Its findings suggest that the average return on investment for a company that invested in coaching for its executives is almost six times the cost of the coaching.

The benefits ranged from increased productivity, organisational strength and bottom-line profitability to improved working relationships, work satisfaction and teamwork.

When conducted with a clear and adequate approach, it has been proven that coaching can have a significant impact on employees’ individual job performance and improve the company’s overall capability as a result.

When to coach?
There are many different scenarios where coaching adds value to a company. In many instances a significant change is happening, either to the employee’s situation or to the organisation.

A coach can help an individual during the transition period by partnering with them in order to maximise their own potential and create the opportunity for change.

This results in a win-win situation for both the employee and the company. Examples of such situations include coaching employees who have just joined the organisation or who have been newly promoted, helping workers through the implementation of changes and supporting successors during transition.

Coaching can also be used to improve a worker’s motivation, or to correct their under-performance, but this tends to be the minority of cases. A coach can be useful when an A player is identified and the company wants to develop their talent and build competencies, while team coaching can be a great way to improve the efficiency of a management team.

Coaching executives is another category. Being successful as a senior executive often requires a different skill set from those they may have relied on to get where they are today.

One study involved a leadership competence model developed by Lyle Spencer for the $2bn industrial controls division of Siemens. When star performers were compared to average managers, four competencies of emotional intelligence emerged as the unique strengths of the stars.

Not a single one of them related to technical or purely cognitive strengths. The following four abilities distinguished those managers who were star leaders; that is, those whose growth in revenues and return on sales put their performance in the top 10 to 15 per cent:

1. The drive to achieve results.
2. The ability to take the initiative.
3. Skills in collaboration and teamwork.
4. The ability to lead teams.

Then, with a clear idea of which competencies to target, another pool of managers was trained to cultivate these four strengths. They were evaluated on each competence and then set goals for improving them.

The result was an additional $1.5m profit, double that of a comparison group that had no training. This example illustrates how a coach can add significant value in the C-class by helping leaders to develop emotional competencies.

It can get very lonely at the top, and having someone who is going to listen, help reflect decisions and behaviours, and challenge beliefs can be extremely valuable at this level of the organisation.

A coach can be called in for many reasons, and in a variety of scenarios where an organisation can see value in developing, retaining and motivating their employees.

Coaching has been found to be more successful when there is clarity around the reason why it is used. It is also advised to try to match the right expertise with the right employee to ensure success in the coaching relationship.

What are the benefits?
Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of coaching. In 2002, Metric Global conducted a survey in a Fortune 500 firm and concluded that “coaching produced a 529 per cent return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business”.

The financial benefits from employee retention boosted the overall return on investment (ROI) to 788 per cent. Better productivity, employee satisfaction, working relationships with peers, supervisors, customers, conflict reduction and bottom-line profitability enhancement are some of the advantages that companies recognise coaching can bring to the table.

In a research report from the Lore Research Institute, a summary of the personal and organisational improvement lists the following: enhanced executive learning, gains in corporate performance, enhanced relationships and increased leadership effectiveness.

Although there is no recent data and accurate methodology on how to calculate the ROI of a coaching relationship, all opinions tend to confirm that there is a significant value added in hiring a coach in the right circumstances.

Most Fortune 500 companies use the services of coaches today. A survey in the US carried out in 2000 among 300 companies concluded that almost 60 per cent of them were using coaches, which would lead one to believe that this number might be now closer to 80 per cent.

A survey by Qa Research that was carried out in the UK in 2011 reported that 80 per cent of organisations interviewed had used or are now using coaching. There are at least 12,300 business coaches in the US and Canada, about 18,000 in Europe and around 4,300-4,700 in Asia, according to a 2008/2009 global coaching survey.

Those numbers show that there is a real demand for coaches and it is safe to assume that it is due to the success of the model.

What is the process?
Each coach will have his or her own methodology, but in most cases the process includes similar phases. The first is the contracting phase, where all the relevant parties agree on the terms and conditions of the agreement, define confidentiality and the operating mechanisms.

It can include the coach and the coachee, as well as any other relevant parties and stakeholders. Once all parties find a consensus on the terms and conditions of the coaching relationship, the coach and his coachee can decide on some initial goals.

These may evolve over time, but it is a good starting point. It can include, for example, three goals the employee wants to achieve by the end of the coaching relationship, typically a minimum of three months.

If HR is involved and underperformance is one of the reasons for using a coach, the goals should address those needs.

This phase is usually followed by an assessment, which can be conducted in many different forms. A 360-degree survey is one of the most common assessments, but other tools can be used, including Myers Briggs, DISC behavioural-style assessment, PIAV values assessment or the Bat-On EQi emotional intelligence assessment.

These tools can be an objective way to assess a client’s strengths and development opportunities, and provide a good baseline. Based on the results of the assessment and the initial goals, the coach can help the client to put an action plan in place with achievable and measurable targets that can be evaluated on a regular basis. Lastly, the coach and client will evaluate progress along the way and adjust direction as needed.

Accountability is an important part of a coaching relationship as it helps the coachee to be both action-focused and goal-oriented.

Even if the process is similar, each coach will have their own style. Some will be more direct than others, have a more holistic approach versus a specific one.

Some will have no problem challenging a client, while others might be less inclined to do so. It is critical for the success of the coaching relationship to find a good match to the personality of the person being coached.

The chances of good results are higher if the coachee feels comfortable and can establish a relationship of trust with their coach.

Important things to consider when selecting a coach...
The benefits a coach can bring to an organisation have been demonstrated in many surveys and business cases.

The challenge becomes how to find the right coach. A study carried out by the American Management Association found that using external coaches for managers and executives is more effective than internal coaches.

Having someone who understands the business world and has completed a recognised certification should be a minimum requirement. A good coach should not be confused with a consultant, a therapist or a friend.

They should respect their client’s agenda and help them find their own answers, rather than bring solutions to the table. A successful coach is a facilitator who will help an employee to find their untapped potential and bring it out to reach a new level of competencies.

They will be able to challenge their client when required and help them to discover new ways of thinking, behaving, and eventually, being.

Audrey Besson Levine is a business and executive coach and a freelance writer. She spent eight years with General Electric, where she was part of the corporate audit staff, before taking up a CFO role in a newly acquired consumer finance business in Belgium

Photograph: Getty Images

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