- Intro: Building a Leadership Development Culture
- Part 1: The What, Why, and Who of a Scaled Coaching Program
- Part 2: Planning A Seamless Coaching Program Launch
- Part 3: Leaders, Make the Most Of Your Coaching Engagement
The What, Why, and Who of a Scaled Coaching Program
Part 1 of a four-part series on how to design and direct scaled coaching experiences to transform leaders and deliver impact to your organization.
A Series by Lisa Banks
HR and Learning & Development teams are eager to roll out scaled coaching programs to their mid-level leaders. Yet, we’re often asked: “How do we ensure the coaching will positively impact our organization and how do we select participant-leaders who will make the most of this investment?”
Here’s what to consider.
Get clear on your purpose.
Engaging your organization’s leadership in a conversation about the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ of a coaching program sets the stage for a strategically driven initiative tied to identified organizational outcomes. Challenge leadership to answer the following questions:
- What’s the vision for this initiative?
- What specific organizational needs will be addressed?
- Why now?
We recently spoke to a CEO whose company is on the threshold of exponential growth. As he approaches this opportunity, he wants his company to become a ‘builder of entrepreneurial-minded leaders’. He’s taking time to name the competencies that he believes entrepreneurial-minded leaders exhibit. We’re betting that his bold and detailed vision will not only generate excitement for the proposed multi-level development initiative but also serve as a valuable recruitment tool over time.
Other use cases we encounter frequently include:
Planning for succession
According to a Deloitte study, “While 86 percent of leaders believe leadership succession planning is an “urgent” or “important” priority, only 14 percent believe they do it well.” Strategically-designed coaching programs can ignite the succession planning process and ready a large number of high-potential leaders for the next step in the organization. Building capacity from within improves engagement and likely reduces the cost of continuous recruiting and onboarding.
Up-leveling a team or unit to meet a new opportunity
When a business unit takes on a new initiative, each member must bring their best. One-on-one coaching elevates the collective effectiveness of the entire team by giving each member a trusted thinking partner to support and challenge their individual growth. Coaches help clients identify the skill and mindset levers they personally need to pull to meet new demands facing the team.
Driving business agility
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that change is a powerful force for innovation and adaptation. Almost overnight, companies were forced to find new ways of doing business – and they did. The necessity for complex operations to change course quickly and, in doing so, to seek better results requires agility across the organization. Coaching helps leaders cultivate the agile mindset they need to spur innovation and continuous improvement while going fast in the face of enormous change.
Providing leadership development as a benefit
“Research now shows that the #1 reason people quit their jobs is the ‘inability to learn and grow’.” ~Deloitte, Human Capital Trends 2019 Young leaders tell us that they are thirsty for development opportunities that will help them step into their increasingly complex roles with confidence. Given a 2020 Gallup study, which found that “the overall percentage of engaged workers … is 36%” and, “[t]he largest decline in employee engagement was among those in managerial or leadership positions,” we advocate that coaching has gone from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’.
Creating a learning organization
Some organizations want to develop a deliberately-developmental culture because the value of building leadership capacity is well understood as a strategic advantage. This vision often emanates from senior executives who have personally experienced the transformational power of coaching. As they become champions of a learning culture, ‘development’ is viewed holistically and unique programs are created for each stage in the leadership pipeline. For instance, one client company invested in coaching for their executive team and thereafter steadily added coaching programs for all VPs and Directors in follow-on years. Now, they’re further expanding their developmental vision to include an internal coaching team and a ‘leader-as-coach’ program.
Clear purpose tied to identifiable organizational objectives sets expectations that can be communicated.
Know what success looks like.
Once your organization is clear on its strategic objective, define what success will look like. At the end of the engagement, what will be different and how will you know?
Like the possible outcomes to the Rubik’s Cube (43 quintillion), leadership development affects individuals, teams, and organizations in myriad ways, some small and some monumental. It’s vital to identify specifically what you’re hoping to achieve and be transparent with participants about those goals. The best programs take into account both qualitative and quantitative measures, which together will tell the story of impact.
Is the leadership initiative tied to specific skills or internally-delivered learning content? If so, you might identify skills — such as delegation, feedback, accountability, decision making, or leading-up — and decide what progress looks like. Although each leader will have different coaching needs around each skill, you can set the expectation that the coach will touch on each and that the client will commit to cultivate and practice the skills that need attention.
Is the goal for your leaders to build self-awareness and expand their overall leadership capacity? If so, will the leaders select their own goals or will you involve supervisors in the goal-setting process or seek 360 feedback along the way?
Does a team have a targeted goal? For instance, we recently coached a team, which had experienced a communication breakdown that was hampering their results and negatively affecting other teams. The sponsor was clear that the team was expected to address their working relationship, but he left it to each leader and their coach to determine the ‘how’. He let them know that at the end of the engagement, he would ask, “How are you working together? What’s different now? How will you right the ship if you go off course again?”
Clear measures of success allow the sponsor to set realistic expectations with the organization, the coaching provider, participants, and coaches.
Identify the right individuals to be coached.
Sponsors often wonder which types of leaders make the most of a coaching opportunity. We’re coaches, so our quick answer is, ‘all of them.’ Leadership is developed through self-awareness, intention, and practice, which is accessible to all of us. And, in the course of coaching scores of leaders over the years, we’ve confirmed that every individual has the capacity to grow.
Universal potential aside, consider these guidelines.
Identify the pool of leaders who are linked to the identified strategic purpose and desired outcomes for the program. Perhaps a unit must elevate its leadership capacity to take on a new line of business. Or you’ve decided to develop talent across a particular level, for instance, first-time people managers, prospective partners, or all rising VPs. Has a team taken on a stretch assignment that makes coaching for the entire group the right move to propel the initiative? Are all leaders being tapped to develop an agile mindset?
Now determine how the program will be rolled out to this group. Will it start with a pilot, be offered in stages, or gather all leaders together in one cohort? Will participation be opt-in or mandatory? Note that each of these decisions informs the communication strategy, which we will address in the next article, Plan a Seamless Coaching Program Launch.
Beyond group identification, gauge individual interest. High potential leaders are natural candidates for coaching. Their demonstrated initiative and enthusiasm have already caught leadership’s attention and they are likely being tapped for new opportunities. These leaders are inquisitive, hungry, and aligned with the company’s mission.
Widen your lens to also consider leaders who are at a stretch-point in their career. These individuals may be performing effectively, but are no longer challenged. They might be asking to join new projects or seeking additional learning opportunities. On the flip side, these leaders might be experiencing stagnation, which can look like a lack of initiative or ‘phoning it in.’ In either case, don’t assume. Rather, invite a conversation about their career aspirations. Do they hope to move up in the organization? Do they feel they have the capacity to stretch? Do their supervisors? If given the opportunity, will they commit the time to reflect and grow?
It is true that leaders who are open to and excited about the prospect of having a partner in their own development are easy to spot and will likely thrive with a coach. However, this does not mean that a reluctant leader is ill-suited for coaching. Rather, it means you must prepare them differently for the engagement. Be genuinely curious about their concerns and open to their questions, which may be about confidentiality or whether a planned assessment or other ‘results’ will inform performance reviews or promotion decisions. Giving leaders time to raise concerns and ask questions is vital, as is arming them with wisdom about how to select the right coach for them.
Finally, although the ability to build leadership capacity is available to all, timing might be important. If a leader is in the midst of challenging circumstances, consider whether it makes more sense to include them the next time around. As with all the tips above, a supportive conversation beats assumptions every time.
Leadership can be developed and will evolve throughout a leader’s career. Providing a coach to partner with them along the way accelerates their potential to thrive and contribute within your organization, which in turn, improves your organizational outcomes. We call that a win-win.
To start smart,
- Clarify purpose.
- Define specific outcomes and know what success will look like.
- Widen your lens to invite the right leaders to the coaching program.