Executive coaching

by 08 Jul 2008

Executive coaching is a popular way of trying to improve the performance and productivity of senior leaders. Teresa Russell talks with two organisations about HRs role in selecting the coaches, managing the process and measuring the efficacy of coaching

In the 2008 CIPD Annual Learning and Development survey in the UK, 71 per cent of the 730 companies surveyed were using either internal or external coaching. Of this group, 44 per cent offered coaching to all employees. The main reasons coaching is used is for general personal development; as part of a wider management and leadership program; as a remedy in the case of poor performance; and where a specific change in behaviour is required.

So, just how effective is coaching and how is efficacy measured? According to Australian research by Armstrong, Melser and Tooth, Executive Coaching Effectiveness: A Pathway to Self-Efficacy, (conducted in 2007 for the Institute of Executive Coaching), coaching has a huge beneficial impact in the workplace.

The researchers found that: “In particular, coaching is valued by coachees for its building of self-efficacy, with particular outcomes being identified in the area of increased ability to communicate assertively and confidently with colleagues and staff.” The coaches found these outcomes more valuable than impacts on work organisation and planning or overall work adjustment factors such as workplace stress.

Bringing in the Coaches

TV1 General Entertainment Partnership operates TV1 and the SCI FI channel. The partnership is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Sony Pictures and CBS Paramount. The organisation has just 37 permanent employees in Australia, including Danielle Rowland, the CFO with responsibility for HR.

It launched SCI FI in late 2006 and has doubled its output since then. Rowland employed two HR consultants that help her with what she refers to as “soft and hard HR”. She wanted to lift the capabilities of the business and, to do that, had to invest in employees through training programs and coaching where required.

“We expect people to solve their own problems and manage different scenarios within the business,” Rowland says. “Coaching gives people within a small organisation like ours independent, outside support. Coaches facilitate dynamic thinking processes outside the day to day business and facilitates ownership of solutions,” she says.

Meg Hooper, manager leadership and management development at Queensland’s Department of Main Roads, says coaching at her organisation has been going on for five to six years. “Main Roads has always been progressive in its approach to leadership development, but in 2006 we decided we needed to align all coaching to ensure strategic effectiveness. Coaching is a powerful way to get better leaders and managers and improve our leadership profile,” she says.

HR decided it needed to nominate an expert panel of coaches, so they organised auditions. Staff hired an actor to play the part of someone who wanted to be coached and they observed the coaches in action. “We were looking for a good mix of people who used a coaching process and had business management skills. We didn’t want life coaches or spiritual coaches and we also didn’t want coaches to be too directive or solve the problems themselves,” says Hooper.

Some of the coaches working at the time did not apply to join the panel, which now comprises a broad range of coaches ranging from those who specialise in helping international employees adjust to life in Australia, to team coaches, senior executive level coaches and generalists.

At TV1 and SCI FI, Rowland sourced three coaches and tried to match them to the employee, who has the power of veto after their first meeting. “The employee has to be comfortable with the choice of coach, or they won’t get the most out of it,” she says.

The panel coaches at Main Roads were given a standing offer arrangement for fees set for two years. Individuals choose their coaches based on the biographies and profiles on their database, as well as testimonials from people who had used them in the past. “Four of our leadership development courses have a coaching component, so panel coaches are used for these as well,” explains Hooper, who adds that people are very happy when they find a coach they click with.


As the CFO, Rowland is conscious of getting value for money in her coaching expenditure. “On the costs side, there is time and money. On the benefits side, we have observed increased staff motivation, improved general business skills and improved performance, noted on performance reviews.

“Coaching is a great investment, especially in a small business like ours where senior management may have nowhere to go, to work through the ever-increasing demands of their jobs,” she says.

ROI is too complicated to measure, according to Hooper. “We rely on the market to decide the benefit. If managers have the budget to use coaches for personal development, they must consider it beneficial. No one has ever questioned the value of coaching in our organisation,” she says.

Sage Advice

Hooper says that if she were setting up coaching in another organisation, she’d first set up an evaluation framework, before setting it loose on the organisation. “You must make sure coaching is aligned with the strategic intent of the organisation. You shouldn’t be paying for coaching that is effectively counselling – that’s what an Employee Assistance Program is for,” she concludes.

A Personal Account

Melanie Clark had been working in the marketing department at TV1 and SCI FI for three years when the marketing director, who had been in the job for eight years, announced she was pregnant and would be going on maternity leave. “I had been shadowing my boss for three years and knew her role really well. But rather than throwing me in at the deep end, they offered me coaching,” says Clark.

There were a few specific issues that Clarkfelt needed addressing. The first was how to step up from having six colleagues as peers to being their direct manager. “I wanted to learn the psychological and practical skills of managing a team,” she says.

Secondly, her promotion meant that she joined the management team at TV1 and SCI FI – a team whose members had been in management for an average of five years and who were at least 10 years older than her 26 years. Thirdly, she wanted to make the role her own, having to replace a very successful, long-term marketing director.

Clark is degree-qualified in marketing, but describes the coaching she received as “perfect for the place I was at”. She underwent five one-on-one sessions that lasted one to two hours each. “The first few sessions were more theory-based, but I also learned that a large part of managing people comes down to natural leadership style and ability,” says Clark.

In the latter sessions, she workshopped issues with her coach, Suzanne Salis, senior consultant at The Learning Factor. “I had to work out what I thought was the right way to manage an issue. Sometimes it felt a bit like therapy – there was so much psychology involved,” she says.

Clark has been delighted to learn that she can call on a coach, if required, next year when she will have “a few more examples to discuss with her”. She says that she feels lucky to have been given the opportunity to have some coaching so she could hit the ground running.