The Role of Metrics in Executive Coaching: My Observations

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Published November 1, 2014. ncda.org/National Career Development Association (original article can be viewed here)

The Role of Metrics in Executive Coaching: My Observations

When I interview for executive coaching assignments, I must address these two questions for the prospective client and the organization that is supporting this coaching:

  1. What is the individual's Return on Investment?

  2. What is the organization’s Return on Investment?

Sunitha Narayanan of Career Partners International - CincinnatiThrough the years, I have collected a few observations on what helps me communicate the value of working with a coach, whether it be preparing for an expanded role, addressing gaps and growth potential, selecting talent for succession or working through a difficult performance evaluation. Here are my observations at defining the return on investment (ROI), first, at the individual level and then, at the organizational level.

ROI For The Individual

My natural inclination as a coach is to over-prepare. For example, before meeting a potential client, I recall and rehearse previous success stories. I might also research the organization and learn about the role of the individual to understand the business case for coaching. Sometimes I look at notes that were written down in an initial meeting with the Human Resources contact. While this trait usually generates successful outcomes for me, it also gives me pause as I question my approach to this first interview with a client. I suspect it is because my preparation unconsciously creates perceptions and beliefs that more often than not, are distinctively different from the reality experienced by the individual and possibly, the organization. My role in this first meeting works best when it is purely from a place of curiosity and exploration. Asking powerful and exploratory questions helps me to dance in the moment and hold the client’s agenda sacred. Here are a few questions that work nicely towards establishing a relationship and making a business case for coaching:

  • “What might success mean? How does your definition differ from that of your employer’s/supervisor?”

  • “What personally do you want to build on?”

  • “What feedback from your supervisor resonates with you?”

  • “What is something that few people know about you?”

These can and do generate a robust conversation in the quest for the best fit between the coach and client.

What I wonder most is about how best to quantify for the individual what is a very qualitative process –at least in the first interview where decisions are being made to hire you as a coach. It is easier to have conversations about how you will set goals and talk about accountability and what the expected outcomes might be for coaching. What I am curious about is the unseen, unsaid and waiting-to-explode-human-idiosyncrasies that can dramatically change any defined outcomes. One of my clients recently shared, “I know that the work you did with me REALLY helped me change my thinking. I wasn't even always sure how/why- it just really worked.” What struck me was the comment, “I wasn’t sure how/why….” I believe that for this particular client and perhaps, for many others that I work with, here is what is helping our coaching relationship:

  • Quieting my need to over-prepare. Intentionally becoming an “empty vessel” - helps shift ownership to individual

  • Using wholehearted presence to build trust which mostly requires fewer words than more – helps uncover emotional buy-in to the coaching process

  • Embracing the discomfort of the unknowns present in these conversations – helps mitigate assumptions on both sides.

I am learning that when this first conversation slows down, the sacred space of human connection and resiliency takes over. Organically, within this space, the individual ROI is introduced and acknowledged. All this is done without the need for hard data and defined goals; if that happens to come up, it is welcomed. This first conversation is truly about discovery – of each other’s style and setting the stage to meet all the goals that will eventually be defined clearly and aligned to professional growth and organizational well-being.

ROI For The Organization

Does coaching really provide value? This question is usually at the heart of conversation with pricing the coaching package. What is the best way to communicate proof that coaching delivers measurable value to the organizational bottom-line? Tim Morin, former CEO of Drake Beam Morin, Inc., an international outplacement and human capital consulting firm suggests the following formula to calculate ROI from an organizational standpoint:

%ROI = Benefits Achieved - Coaching Costs X 100
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Coaching Costs

Certainly, pricing is immediate in a decision-maker’s mind; however, pricing and value are distinctively different. A sale is made because of implicit value that is understood and embraced by the organizational leadership. And, the value-sell, again, is in that personal conversation. However, here is what I observe is different in these first conversations:

  • Open-ended questioning to dig deeper into the business case – helps define and clarify objectives using language familiar within the organization

  • Insightful listening to what is unsaid and creating structure to the problem – helps identify mismatch between realistic and unrealistic expectations

  • Diligent exploration of the different relationships in the partnership – helps define logistics and parameters across people, confidentiality and reporting.

Getting Hired as a Coach

Interviewing for a coaching assignment is a dance – the music could change, dancers could move and judging panel could push back. What remains consistent for a coach is the willingness to ask questions, the humility to give generously and the courage to say no when the fit isn’t right.

What are your thoughts?

Reference

Morin, Tim, (2004). Calculating ROI for Executive Coaching. Retrieved May 26, 2014. http://www.wjmassoc.com/insight/roi-executive-coaching-on-boarding/

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