The use of executive coaches has grown rapidly over the last several years. There are several reasons for this, but probably the most prevalent are the performance and rapid development demands placed on executives. They are expected to quickly be effective in ways that pure work ethic will not address, particularly where interpersonal insights, emotional intelligence and other behavioral competencies are required.
Extensive literature has been published on executive coaching. One of the points almost universally made is that the coach needs to make the executive accountable. If the executive does not follow the script agreed on with the coach, it is the coach’s responsibility to point this out and make the executive accountable. Rarely, however, is the coach’s accountability to the executive given the same emphasis.
The best practice in this area is clear, but often overlooked: the coach is hired to help the executive achieve a result. The stakes are high, and timing is critical. If the coach does not make this happen, the coach is not effective – period! Coaching is not therapy. You can work on your marriage for years, you can analyze your mother forever, but you can’t put off achieving your business goals. If the coach can’t get you there, make the coach history. Either the coach is not effective, or the coach lacks the knowledge and experience to help you set realistic goals.
Often executives do not want to hear this advice. Coaching feels good. It provides an emotional outlet. Those are good things, but not the primary role of coaching. Executives and coaches need to set milestones and meet them as a team. Anything short of this is not effective coaching.
Where companies pay for executive coaches, they should have a process to monitor and evaluate the coaches’ performance, keeping only those who get results for their clients. This is a sensitive subject in light of the confidential relationship between coach and executive, and the best objective measure is performance and advancement of the coached executives as correlated with the assigned coaches. We suggest using a three-year, forward-looking lens in tracking the executive’s progress after coaching. This gives plenty of time for significant successes and for more senior positions to become available. It is also a short enough to so that performance and promotions can fairly be attributed to the coaching process.