- Intro:Growing Leaders Through Online Coaching with Optify
- 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
Planning A Seamless Coaching Program Launch
Part 2 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
“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” – Alexander Graham Bell
Increasingly, organizations are utilizing scaled coaching programs as a strategic talent development tool. Given the investment that it takes to bring coaching simultaneously to dozens or hundreds of leaders, companies are understandably keen to ensure smooth execution, participant engagement, and tangible results. Yet, few companies pull off each element consistently.
Where an organization focuses – or doesn’t – will drive program outcomes. For instance, some companies emphasize providing a coach to as many leaders as possible, but pay less attention to preparing those leaders for a successful coaching journey and supporting them along the way. In these cases, we find that leaders drop out of the program at a higher rate, making overall impact hard to gauge.
Other organizations operate their programs like a secret mission, failing to broadly announce the initiative and loop-in the participants’ bosses and teams. By doing so, they miss the opportunity to showcase a learning culture and cut the participants off from internal feedback that will accelerate their growth. Other oversights, such as not tapping the coaching provider’s expertise or not scheduling progress check-ins, can also diminish success.
As we noted in the Introduction to this series, applying intention and attention to key components of the program launch pays dividends. Our planning “Do’s” include establishing clear communication with each stakeholder, cultivating a transparent and consistent working relationship with the coaching provider, and preparing participants and their supervisors. Here’s what to keep in mind as you launch your scaled coaching program.
Know the Players
Gather the right people and communicate the information each needs to support the effort. We think coordination with each of these stakeholders is critical to a successful program launch.
Typically, HR or Learning and Development specialists run scaled coaching programs. As the program sponsor, they establish internal buy-in for the program, research, select, and contract with the coaching provider, select the leader-participants, keep an eye on program progress, check-in with clients and their supervisors as needed, and assess impact.
As a sponsor selecting the coaching provider, consider how well the company understands your goals. Have they proposed a leadership development program to fit your unique needs? Will they be collaborative and responsive? Assess the quality of the company’s coaches. How have other clients rated their experience with the company’s coaches?
The coaching provider partners with the program sponsor to develop a coaching program that meets the organization’s identified strategic need. Based on the program design, providers select the right program manager and coaches for the engagement. Optimally, a coaching provider will have a platform to manage the execution, details, and progress of a large program. At Optify, we’ve built a coaching management system to keep everything and everyone on track. A great coaching provider is proactive, shares their expertise, and handles the heavy lifting of the engagement.
This coaching professional delivers the coaching program and is the primary point of contact for the sponsor, sharing progress reports and aggregated survey data, and tackling issues as they arise. Program managers coordinate the team of coaches to ensure that they understand the organization’s objectives for the program, the program details, and the assessments or resources that will be used. The program manager schedules periodic check-in meetings with the sponsor and with coaches as well.
Optify program managers help the sponsor determine the pre-program communication strategy and assess the need for additional information-sharing meetings. One sponsor we work with asked the program manager to meet briefly with company executives and all participant supervisors to ensure alignment. Our program managers also routinely conduct a kick-off meeting with the participant group to orient them to the program, answer questions, and give them a point of contact. We find these approaches create clarity and buy-in, improving the likelihood that participants will stay on track throughout the program.
Clients in the coaching program can be selected using a number of criteria. Consider our guidelines for how to determine who will make the most of the opportunity. Typically, the sponsor solicits input from internal leaders and then selects and prepares the participants for the program. The program manager can assist in this process. Once coaching has started, clients are encouraged to share their goals with supervisors and teams and invite feedback along the way. When clients share what they are working on, others look for – and call-out – improvements in real-time. Feedback in the flow of work keeps clients excited about their progress and educates companies to notice leadership development in action.
The Program Manager selects coaches who best align with the program’s objectives and clients. At Optify, we recruit professionally trained, certified and diverse coaches who have experience in business, as leaders, and/or as leadership development training experts. Coaches are fully read-in on the program’s strategic goals and details about assessments, number of meetings, and required resources.
Though not directly involved in the program, each client’s supervisor, boss, or manager, plays a key role in the growth of their direct report. The more these leaders check-in on and encourage the progress of their employees, the better the results. When supervisors are involved, clients report feeling more supported and accountable and say they are more likely to get direct feedback about the progress they are making. We recommend that sponsors and/or program managers communicate the purpose and details of the coaching program to supervisors and encourage their support along the way.
A sponsor we work with reached out to the supervisors at several points in the program to gather their perspective on the program’s value. The supervisors in turn sought input from the participants. With such detailed feedback, the program manager and sponsor implemented a few mid-program tweaks.
Discuss the Details
Beyond the coaching services agreement, there are operational details that sponsors may not think about – until something goes wrong. Spend time settling as much as possible upfront. Here’s what’s on our checklist.:
- How will the organization’s strategic program goals impact the coaching engagements?
- Is there a strategic project timeline or promotion cycle involved?
- Are coaches expected to coach around organizational values, competencies, or internal learning content?
- Program delivery
- Is the end-date fixed or is there flexibility for each client?
- Must a set number of meetings be delivered?
- Who is the point of contact for the clients? For the supervisors?
- What steps will be taken to handle coach/client challenges, such as a mismatch or a ghosting client?
- Assessment management
- How will assessment administration be coordinated?
- Do 360 assessments need to be staggered to reduce “evaluator fatigue”
- Clarify who will have access to assessment results
- Coach-Client relationship
- Clarify confidentiality
- Will there be an alignment meeting with the client’s supervisor?
- How much flexibility do the clients have to select goals and coaching topics ?
- Are specific learning topics expected to be covered?
- Sponsor/Program Manager Collaboration
- Agree on the best way to ensure client engagement.
- Create a process for resolving issues as soon as they arise.
- Set frequency of check-ins and progress report elements.
Prepare the Participants
Client engagement is one of the biggest factors affecting program success. Unfortunately, many organizations take participation for granted. While it is true that most leaders are excited to invest time and energy in their leadership growth, some are hesitant or even skeptical about the experience. Bring all participants along with these simple tips.
Set the stage
From the moment they invite participants into the program, sponsors can set a tone of enthusiasm for the program. Coaching is an investment in a leader’s development and should be promoted as such. Unlike decades ago when coaching was seen primarily as a “fix” for poor performance, today, coaching is a strengths-based intervention designed to unlock each leader’s unique potential so they can contribute most effectively in their business environment.
The more an organization talks about leadership development as a natural and essential element of the leadership pipeline, the more its leaders will embrace the opportunity to expand their capacity. Sponsors should emphasize to participants that the coaching program is a gift, not punishment.
Sponsors should also be transparent about the details of the program, including estimated time commitment and feedback loop expectations. Clarify that the participants will select their own coach. With their coach, they will set their own goals but should socialize those goals with their boss. Explain that goals may be informed by assessments or 360s and should reflect what the client believes will best serve his or her ability to lead well and contribute to the company.
Meet clients where they are
Sponsors, program managers, and coaches each play a part in helping clients engage fully in the program.
The sponsor or program manager can conduct a pre-program kick-off meeting to walk participants through the process and answer any lingering questions. This meeting is a great opportunity to gauge and boost buy-in of the group. We recently conducted a kick-off meeting where several of the participants came in reluctant – almost suspicious – about the program. Given a full explanation of what to expect and the space to ask all of their questions, these leaders left the meeting feeling reassured and eager to begin their coaching journey.
At Optify, an intake questionnaire asks clients to rate their commitment and enthusiasm for the coaching ahead. Their response alerts us to possible client hesitance that the coach can address in the safety of the first coaching meeting. We also share a short video that tells clients what to expect. Article 3 in this series addresses how clients can make the most of their coaching opportunities.
At the first coaching meeting, the coach and client will discuss the client’s commitment to their learning and address anything that might get in the way of their full participation. This is an opportunity for coaches to create a confidential and trusting atmosphere that allows the client to openly share their concerns or worries. Coaches can also invite clients to reflect on what they hope to gain from the coaching experience.
Finally, as we’ve noted throughout, involving the client’s supervisor or boss promotes earnest engagement and progress. When managers actively support their direct reports’ leadership growth, the participants take the engagement more seriously. They feel free to schedule coaching meetings during work hours, experiment openly with new ways of leading, and ask for in-the-moment feedback about shifts they are trying to make. In short, when deliberate development is a demonstrated priority in the company, clients can adopt the growth mindset needed to make the most of the experience.
Supervisors are encouraged to make time for an alignment meeting once their direct report sets goals, and schedule periodic check-ins to track progress or concerns. Concerns are shared with the sponsor and program manager as appropriate.
A successful scaled coaching program is one in which: 1) the participants have a positive experience and make noticeable progress on their goals; 2) the organization sees that coaching supports its strategic goals, and; 3) the sponsor can execute and assess impact with ease. Clearly, none of the best practices we’ve shared are novel but implemented together, they consistently deliver results to all three objectives.
While the first two articles in this series were written with program sponsors in mind, we’ll focus our remaining two articles on client participants with guidance about how to Make the Most of your Coaching Engagement and Select a Coach Who’s Right for You.