The other day, a woman reached out to me and asked me when the right time is to hire a coach. Here’s what I said.
The time to engage with a coach is when the coachee is fully committed to making whatever changes are necessary to move forward. My most successful coaching clients are open to feedback and are ready to do the work required to move forward.
Her note to me got me thinking that there’s still a great deal of confusion regarding when coaching will work and when it’s a waste of time and money.
Let me explain.
Executive coaching (not to be confused with business coaching) will only work if the client’s issues are behavioral, the coach is experienced in helping their clients shift their behavior, and the person being coached is fully onboard. Here’s what I mean.
Are the clients’ issues behavioral?
Executive coaching has become so popular these days, yet many people are still unclear on the results a coach can achieve. Sometimes I get nonsensical requests for coaching. A VP of engineering recently called and asked me to coach one of his engineers. I asked, “What is his problem?” He replied, “He is not proficient in the latest approaches to engineering.” I chuckled and said, “Neither am I.” Behavioral coaching will only help behavioral issues. It won’t turn mediocre engineers into good engineers, regardless of how great a coach someone might be.
Second, when leaders commit an ethical violation, they should be fired – not coached. This may sound harsh, but it only takes one ethical violation to ruin the reputation of an otherwise outstanding company. Employees need to understand that integrity is not a performance appraisal factor. It’s a requirement for continued employment.
Third, if a leader is headed in the wrong direction, behavioral coaching will only help them get there faster. Company strategy is ultimately determined by its top executives. Behavioral coaches cannot turn bad plans into good ones. No amount of coaching can salvage products and services that aren’t meeting the needs of customers.
Are the clients willing to try to change?
I could give advice all day, but if the client isn’t willing to try to change, things will remain the same. If clients are willing to do the work needed to achieve positive, lasting change – they can definitely improve. If not, coaching is a waste of time and money. You do not get better because you read a self-help book or hire a coach. You will only achieve positive, lasting change in behavior when you do the work required to make this happen.
You know this to be true if you’ve ever bought a book on weight loss or if you joined a gym, hoping the pounds would miraculously melt away, with little effort on your part. Like most things in life, you get what you put into something. If you’re thinking of hiring a coach for an employee on the fence, in terms of commitment, save your money.
Are the clients going to be given a fair chance?
Sometimes I’ll get a call from a CHRO asking me to coach one of their executives. During our conversation, I hear warning signs that indicate this person doesn’t stand a chance of remaining with their employer, regardless of how great a job I do.
In some cases, a company’s top leaders lack the courage to give their people honest feedback. I write about this epidemic in more detail in my newest book, Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work. They seek to hire an executive coach so they can tell their lawyers that “We did everything we could to help this person! We even invested “X” dollars in hiring an executive coach.”
In other situations, leaders may want the person to succeed, but peers may sabotage the chances of coaching making a positive difference. Peers can write off their colleagues and create an environment where nothing they do to change will be given any credibility. In situations like this, you’ve waited way too long to bring in a coach. Nothing I or anyone else will be able to do if others are gunning to take this leader down.
In summary, there’s a lot to consider before starting the process of bringing in a coach for someone in the organization. Leadership coaching can result in significant positive changes when the client’s issues are behavioral, they are motivated to change, and they are given a fair chance. Both coaches and organizations need to ensure that these conditions exist – before engaging in the coaching process.
Got a question about coaching? Feel free to schedule a call with me.
Bio: Roberta Matuson is an executive coach to some of the world’s top leaders. She’s certified in Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching and is the author of six books on leadership and talent, including the international bestseller, Suddenly in Charge, and The Magnetic Leader.