Article from the Sunday Business Post featuring Maureen Hewitt. Managing Director.
Issue dated 20 March 2011. Written by Linda Daly. (See http://www.sbpost.ie/post/pages/p/story.aspx-qqqt=RECRUITMENT-qqqs=themarket-qqqid=55118-qqqx=1.asp)
Coaching to inspire excellence
20 March 2011
Executive coaching can help firms develop and nurture their brightest talents, writes Linda Daly
Companies have begun to invest in executive coaching again, following a quiet period for the industry, according to Linda O’Neill, business coach with IMX. ‘‘We are seeing an uplift in terms of money spent on sales training and sales coaching. Coaching is also gaining momentum in the recruitment and retention of staff,” said O’Neill.
Maureen Hewitt, principal coach and managing director of the Positive Success Group, agreed that interest in executive coaching was picking up.
‘‘When the recession hit, there was a slowdown on the learning and development programmes, but there was an increase in executive one-to-one coaching. In the last nine months, the training programmes are back on again, and the demand for coaching at all levels has increased,” she said.
What it is
Executive coaching comprises regular meetings between a manager and a trained facilitator.
These meetings aim to equip the manager with skills that will have a positive impact on their business capabilities. According to Hewitt, training offers a number of potential benefits to managers.
‘‘Right now, individuals must deal with a lot of chaos, whether it is through the external forces of the economy or [because] they no longer have the staff, so their old style of leadership and how they behaved does not work any more. Coaching will bring about a sense of business maturity and boost confidence levels,” she said.
Hewitt said that executive coaching could be particularly helpful to companies that were looking to bring specific skills into the business. ‘‘What emerges from the coaching is new ways of thinking and new ways to move forward. Ideally, the return they will get is more engaged staff who will provide a better service to the customer,” she said.
Lisa Manselli, senior executive, Accenture Ireland, believes that coaching has the potential to be a powerful business tool. ‘‘There is no doubt in my mind that, on several levels, coaching helps an organisation – from boosting engagement levels and making the individual feel valued, to aligning that individual with the business strategy,’’ Manselli said.
Accenture coaches staff at all levels in the organisation. As a qualified career counsellor and coach, Manselli herself provides coaching services inhouse for the firm, and also for its clients.
‘‘We expect everybody to be a coach, so it is very much part of our culture,” she said. ‘‘Our people are our assets, so we need to invest in them. We have found that, if you go on training alone, employees will get a 20 per cent shift in behaviour, but if you couple that with coaching, you can get the other 80 per cent shift,” she said.
O’Neill said that successful coaching was reliant on a number of factors. ‘‘First, you must establish what the goals are that you are trying to achieve,” she said. ‘‘Before you start coaching, get a measurement of where the person is now, so that there is a clearly recognisable outcome at the end, which should be measurable.”
O’Neill advised employers to use a goal-orientated approach to coaching, whereby the coach met with their subject at agreed intervals (typically once a fortnight) and, between sessions, asked them to carry out specific tasks.
Return on investment
It is important that companies measure the effectiveness of their coaching programmes.
‘‘I don’t think that a company should spend money on any kind of intervention, be it an IT system or HR, unless they can measure what they are getting at the end of the day; coaching should be no different,” said O’Neill.
There are a number of ways to measure return on investment (RoI) in coaching. You could, for example, look for a rise in sales, customer figures or employee satisfaction.
Accenture measures the effectiveness of its investment in coaching on two levels. It gets feedback from the ‘coachees’ on their experience, but also looks for proof of tangible benefits to the wider organisation, like increased sales or improvements to customer loyalty, for example.
Its also questions staff in an employee engagement survey, which it produces once a year.
‘‘We see it as having a very positive effect on our engagement scores. It improves discretionary effort, and it is a very effective way of ensuring that people are aligned to the organisation’s perspectives,” said Manselli.
Difficulties in assessing the effectiveness of coaching sometimes arose because of the ‘‘dual responsibility’’ the coach had, both to the trainee and the employer who was paying for the service, O’Neill said.
‘‘One of the critical parts of measuring RoI and making sure the person is moving forward is to get feedback on how they are doing in the workplace – and that would typically be from information from their line manager – yet the coaching between the coach and coachee must be confidential, so they feel they can open up,” she said.
Hewitt said that transparency was vital to the success or failure of a coaching assignment.
‘‘All the work we do has to be honest, open and genuine, with agreement from the business that the content of all sessions is to be kept confidential. However, what can be measured is the progress or the engagement.
‘‘For example, we may be asked to log the amount of hours we did, the employee’s level of engagement and level of progress with the coaching,” she said.
When the recession hit, Deloitte made a conscious decision to continue investing in staff training and development.
Orla Graham, head of human resources with the firm, said that executive coaching was a key feature of the company’s ‘‘talent strategy’’.
‘‘We felt it was more important to motivate and invest in our people. We are fortunate enough that we can do a lot of it in-house in a cost effective way,” she said.
Deloitte’s coaching programmes are geared primarily at managers and senior staff.
‘‘At a certain level, classroom training is fine, but once you are at senior level and above, you must do a combination of both. We feel it retains and motivates people,” said Graham.
The firm employs coaches within the organisation (Graham herself is a qualified coach), but also works with external coaching consultants. Executives at the firm are offered the opportunity to participate in coaching programmes upon promotion to senior management positions.
‘‘Because, at that stage, the technical skills are a given, coaching allows us to focus on other skills such as optimism, empathy, self-awareness and flexibility,” said Graham.
Deloitte uses ‘‘360-degree feedback’’ – that is, feedback from a number of the coachee’s colleagues and superiors – to measure the success, or otherwise, of its executive coaching initiatives. ‘‘A lot of our measurement is anecdotal; people will comment on how an individual is performing, motivating their teams better or achieving results,” said Graham.
Coaching at the firm is carried out on a confidential basis. It is not linked to the coachee’s performance review with the aim of enabling them to get the most out of the process.
‘‘The proof in the pudding is that people often ask to have coaching done without it being part of any programme, because they have seen how other people benefited from it,” said Graham.