How can executive coaching help to accelerate people, performance and profits?

At Collingwood we are experts in providing executive coaching to meet several business needs including performance optimisation, change management, succession and career transitioning or on-boarding. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, executive coaching offers business leaders an external independent perspective through the lens of a professional coach. An experienced, qualified and skilled executive coach, with an outstanding business track record to match, can provide the necessary challenge and insight to add value to executives who are seeking to make a difference, whether in relation to people, performance or profits. The concept of ‘good’ to ‘great’ is as important to individual performance development as it is to business performance development.

The often uncomfortable truths relating to executive behaviour is that irrespective of their responsibilities, they are human with the frailties to match. Executives are not immune from failing to notice their derailing leadership behaviour. The increasingly complex business environment creates incredible pressures which can result in toxic stress levels which may creep up on a busy and pressured executive. Companies are only as good (or as great) as the leaders in charge and therefore it makes sense to invest in developing this scarce resource. Operating at executive level can be a lonely job. A top quality professional coach can help to bridge the gap between the internal and external business environments, facilitating an independent sounding-board for the sharing of ideas and concerns that cannot be expressed in their raw embryonic form internally. A coach can provide a way for executives to test their strategic options, communications and leadership style.

Yet, the days of fireside chats and unfocussed discussions often utilised by executives as a comfort blanket for their ideas and plans are becoming extinct. So too are the coaching discussions that solely depend on the views and perspectives of the executive coachee. Very quickly the relationship between an executive and their coach can become ‘comfortable’. The use of feedback data can help to provide a platform for more objective (rather than subjective) coaching discussions. Research studies clearly show that executive coaching is more effective in terms of achieving behavioural change and ROI when a feedback process is used within a coaching intervention. This provides a reality check for the coach and coachee to undertake more meaningful discussions and achieve value-based outcomes.

The ubiquitous 360 feedback process is often wheeled out as the answer to this problem and is often dismissed quickly by the executives concerned. The reasons for this resistance are legion, for example, a concern of raising the profile of the executive coaching intervention amongst a wide number of colleagues including reports, peers and board members. In some cases, due to personality make-up or cultural environment, individual executive coaching may be seen as a threat rather than a development opportunity. Even when these challenges are not evident other issues may surface around the accuracy and validity of 360 feedback particularly in terms of reporting managers who may not wish to rock the boat.

So if 360 feedback is not the answer what is? What if a more accurate picture of leadership behaviour could be achieved via a different approach? A way in which a realistic view of the behaviour of an executive could be achieved without asking those people around them. At Collingwood, we use such an approach. The evidence-based Hogan Leadership Assessment gives an accurate picture of an executive’s reputation (the way people see the executive) rather than identity (the way the executive sees themself). This enables the executive to build greater self-awareness with the help of their Hogan accredited coach.

The use of the Hogan leadership assessment enables the coach to challenge the coachee about the reality of their behaviour rather than just taking the executive’s own perspective on board. In my many years of using Hogan assessments I have yet to find an executive who disagrees with their Hogan personality profile, even when the feedback brings to the surface negative issues, shortcomings, derailers and overused strengths. Yes the Hogan assessment diagnostic is that precise! This is because over decades of use the Hogan assessment methodology has been proven to be unerringly accurate when used to measure personality traits and leadership behaviour. Hogan Assessment Systems is the global leader in leadership behavioural assessment. The Hogan assessment process is both reliable and valid which means that it will consistently hit the bullseye and eradicate any lack of self-awareness, including blind spots.

Hogan assessments, when used in an executive coaching process, provide a behavioural conscience for a leader without going viral. A personality picture of a leader is created by identifying the key traits of leadership success, for example, engaging factors such as emotional stability, ambition, sociability and interpersonal sensitivity. At the same time the potential for disengaging derailing factors is identified including excitability, caution and leisureliness. This type of executive coaching is often classified awareness coaching in contrast to skills coaching. The evidence indicates that the potential for improving executive performance relates more to increasing their self-awareness rather than skills development. The greater the seniority the greater the potential awareness coaching offers. By the time a person achieves executive level the less potential there is for skills development. This could be driven by an executive having achieved an optimum skills level or that there is less need for specific skill sets at strategic level, rather a greater need for strategic awareness. Of course the deficiency in a skill set could be down to a failure to recognise that there is a problem, which brings us full circle to a need for greater self-awareness.

Awareness coaching is therefore the optimum approach for developing executive performance and potential. In our experience the major issues created by a lack of self or strategic awareness include an inability to (i) balance strategic intent with execution, (ii) manage risk based decisions, (iii) inspire and motivate people to drive change, (iv) recognise derailing personality driven behaviour, (v) delegate rather than micro manage and (vi) develop talent and succession plans.  

Hogan assessments are also ideal for coaching executive teams who wish to improve their effectiveness and achieve high performance capability. Research shows that a large part of an executive team’s working week involves them in ‘firefighting’ activity, reacting to unplanned events, crises and problem issues. This can be as much as 40% but certainly is rarely below 20%. So if we assume just 20% of an executive’s time is lost due to a lack of focus then that’s the equivalent of one day a week, thus stealing an executive’s time away from more strategic, focused and productive activities. 

The Hogan Assessment coaching framework enables teams to review their ways of working so as to achieve and sustain high team performance. One important aspect of a high performing team is the role each team member plays when working together. There are two types of team role, the formal or functional role defined by an executive’s specialism/job description and the informal or psychological role. Both types of role are as important as each other, yet the latter informal role is often ignored and rarely developed.

The following 5 informal roles are present and active in high performing teams:

1. Results; people who organise work, clarify roles, coordinate effort and provide direction for others.

2. Relationships; people who are concerned about morale and how team members get along. They are positive and optimistic, attuned to people’s feelings and good at building cohesive relationships.

3. Pragmatism; people who provide practical, hard-headed evaluations of ideas and proposals. They advocate pragmatic solutions and their views are not influenced by the need to maintain harmony. They are direct and grounded in reality. 

4. Process; People who are concerned with implementation, the details of execution and the use of process and systems to complete tasks. They are reliable, organised and conscientious about following procedures.

5. Innovation; people who recognise when conditions have changed and when the team needs to adapt. They spot trends and patterns quickly, enjoy solving problems and generating creative solutions.

Most executive teams have an emphasis on the results, pragmatism and process roles thus ensuring a results-based focus and practical ways of executing business plans. In other words managing the business on a day to day basis. Yet most executive teams have a ‘role gap’ in the areas of relationships and innovation roles, both critical to leading change within the business. By identifying an executive teams psychological role profile then team awareness and development can be worked on to ensure the role gaps are identified and picked up individually and collectively going forward.

What is the process for delivering an executive coaching programme?

To bring all of this together requires a coaching framework to ensure the overall value of the coaching interventions are greater than their individual parts. At Collingwood we follow a simple three stage process designed to optimise the value of the executive coaching process.

1. Introduction of the executive coaching framework and personal background including a reality check on past, present and future context. This process often involves the executive and their manager within a tripartite coaching approach.

2. Implementation of the Hogan Leadership Assessment to achieve a ‘reality check’ without having to involve other colleagues. This is followed by Hogan feedback within a focused developmental framework, which creates specific development objectives aligned to performance goals.

3. Commencement of a series of coaching sessions designed to address the agreed developmental focus via a set of personal, team and organisational goals. If an executive team is completing the Hogan assessment process together then a workshop is recommended to consider team personality traits which drive leadership behaviour, both strengths and derailing behaviours. This will enable the executive team to take actions designed to achieve improved performance. 

We believe leadership is the single most important factor in the success of a business. The use of an evidence-based executive coaching process can help to achieve the leadership edge that is necessary to survive and thrive in today’s demanding business climate.

If you’d like more information on how we use the Hogan Assessment framework to help executives achieve a step change in their performance then please click here access details on our approach and related case studies.

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