So you are thinking about hiring an executive coach, either for yourself or for a manager in your company. But how do you know that you are getting what you need from a coach? After all, this is an investment and you want to know that you are spending your time and money wisely. How do you know you will get your money’s worth? What exactly is the return on investment with coaching?
The fact that you are asking those questions is a good sign. Hiring a coach is most definitely an investment – meaning an output of money and time that you should expect to provide real returns in your business. Successful coaching is not a feel-good exercise or a last-ditch attempt to save someone you want to fire anyway, although it can sometimes be used that way. To get a return on your investment, there are some key considerations to look at when choosing a coach. Certainly you want to know about your coach’s background and qualifications, their business experience and training. But in addition to those things, you want to know that the experience of coaching will get you the results you want.
Coaching that delivers real value can be measured in the following way:
- You are able to clearly define success measures right up front. Your coach should be able to work with you in the first session or two to determine what specifically you want to see as a result of your coaching, whether it is for yourself or for others you are sponsoring in the company. This means defining measurable goals and results – behaviors that are observable, repeatable, and specific, and results that are customized, specific, and measurable. Business results are often focused in one or more of these four categories – money (sales, profit), time (length to market, down time), quality (defects, customer satisfaction), and quantity (number of customers, market share). The approach I use to define results is based on Mary Beth O’Neill’s Three Key Factors – we decide on the desired business results, the new behaviors that you will see in yourself, and the new interactions you will see in your team. This gives us a clear, measurable picture of what success will look like.
- The goals you are choosing are a little bit intimidating. A good coach will help you set stretch goals that are achievable but that will push you outside of your comfort zone. The only way we can grow is to expand the edges of what we have always done to include new behaviors, perspectives, and approaches. The right goals will scare you a bit, and will likely include a challenge you have been avoiding in some way. Your coach is a partner in helping you move past your edges in a supportive and practical way, but a good coach must be willing to push you and call you on your crap when needed.
- Your desired results are linked and self-reinforcing. Choosing goals that are isolated or one-time things won’t give you the same impact as goals that are connected to one another and grow over time. For example, if one of your personal leadership behavior goals is to give fewer directions in order to allow others to make decisions, a linked team interaction goal would be to have team members give input and problem solve outside of their functional area. As you jump in with the answer less, they will be forced to work together to solve problems more. As they problem solve together more, you will need to provide fewer decisions. These results support and link to one another in a way that builds over time. And your business result goals should be equally linked, so all three reinforce one another. When they problem solve together and find collaborative solutions, their decisions improve time to market because each area has had input and ownership of the solution. If your goals don’t support and reinforce one another, it’s back to the drawing board to refine them until they do.
- Your coaching is strategic about the key factors that may affect your desired results. Setting clear goals is one very important part of ensuring you get the results you want out of coaching. But equally important is understanding what factors are most likely to impact the achievement of those goals – factors both inside and outside the organization that will either help or hinder your desired results. An internal factor that would help drive your results might be having a highly skilled and engaged team, while an external factor that might hinder results could be the impending loss of a large customer. Your coach should work with you to identify these factors, and help you plot a strategy to either minimize or enhance them. You don’t work in a vacuum, so coaching must take into account the entire system in which you operate in order to create lasting and meaningful results.
Coaching provides accountability, honest feedback, a neutral observer who can reflect your own experiences back at you, and if done right, the business results you want. Hiring a coach is ultimately a personal decision, in that you must like and respect your coach enough to work with them. But liking them isn’t enough to ensure you are getting your money’s worth, so taking the time to be clear up front about what you expect at the end of the coaching process is key to finding the right coach.