Here are 12 reasons executive coaching can fail to deliver the best value. In each case I offer guidance around how to avoid the issues.
1. Lack of Commitment: If the executive being coached is not fully committed to the coaching process, it can hinder progress. Coaching requires time, effort, and a willingness to change. The individual must take accountability for their development. If they see coaching as something done to them rather than as a tool for growth, it will not work. It is the responsibility of both the coach and the business to set up the process and explain the value available from giving the process the right type of attention. The executive will need to both take notes and also take away actions, exercises and reflection to make positive progress.
2. Lack of chemistry: The relationship between the coach and the executive is crucial. If there is a lack of fit or trust, coaching can be less effective. A desktop matching exercise should take place. Some practises offer an optional face to face chemistry meeting of two alternative coaches for the individual to select from.
3. Undefined coaching goals: Executive and coach should have a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve. This should be agreed in the initial contracting set up meeting at the same time that expectations and overall process is discussed. If the initial assessment of the executive's strengths and weaknesses is inaccurate or incomplete, the coaching plan may not address opportunities.
4. Insufficient Time: Effective coaching takes time. If coaching sessions are infrequent or rushed, it may not allow for the depth of reflection and growth needed. Individuals can have it explained during the set-up call that turning up on time and ready for the session without distractions will enable more effective use of the session. A minimum of an hour long session is desirable with 90 minute sessions to be considered for more senior executives. At least in the first instance a typical cadence would be monthly to ensure continuity and follow through.
5. Resistance to Feedback: Some executives may be resistant to making changes to their behaviour. If they are not open to feedback progress can be limited. Effective coaching relies on candid and constructive feedback. If the coachee is not open to receiving feedback or if the coach fails to provide it effectively, progress may be limited. Skilled coaches can manage this situation provided the set-up of the coaching programme has been carried out effectively and only those who genuinely are interested in the process are invited to participate.
6. Inadequate Follow-Up: Coaching should not be a one-time event. Effective coaches will make contact with individuals between sessions to check in on progress and actions. A minimum of four sessions is ideal to provide sufficient opportunity for personal growth. Even if initial improvements occur, coaching cannot be said to be successful if the executive reverts to old behaviours. Sustaining change is a critical aspect of successful coaching. Coaching requires ongoing support and follow-up to ensure that changes are sustained over time both line manager and coach have a part to play in the process to discuss implementation.
7. Failure to integrate learning or address root causes: Coaching may fail if the
executive does not actively integrate what they have learned into their daily work practices. The self-reflect, test, and review loop can be employed by coachees to embed behaviours and new ways of working. If there are significant issues in the business which remain unresolved it may not resolve them. If for example organisational politics or power dynamics interfere with coaching, it can be challenging to create a safe and constructive environment. It is preferable for leaders to share the context and challenges up front and for all parties to ensure expectations are realistic.
8. Confidentiality: If the executive feels that their coaching sessions are not confidential, they will not share their challenges and concerns. Even when the business is footing the bill confidentiality is a core principle to coaching. Poor practise would be for a coaching company to attempt to leverage their internal leader relationships by sharing private information about clients. This principle should be agreed and explained to each of the three parties at the start of the programme.
9. Ineffective Coach: Not all coaches are equally skilled or experienced. If the coach lacks the necessary expertise or does not use effective coaching techniques, it may not lead to the desired outcomes. Ask about credentials, check references, industry knowledge and levels of experience of the coaches on your panel. There is no substitute for speaking to a previous client about their experience. Equally depending on the level of seniority of the staff member being coached it is appropriate to consider the level the coach has operated at in the past and whether they are credible to operate at a C-suite level for example.
10. Personal issues: Sometimes, personal issues affect an individual’s ability to benefit fully. If stress is a concern a coach who has experience in this area should be selected. If there are more serious mental health concerns these may need to be addressed separately outside the scope of coaching.
11. Inadequate Measurement and Evaluation: Without clear metrics and a systematic approach to evaluating progress, it can be hard to determine the success of the initiative. Key metrics need to be defined in advance and a baseline agreed with the coaching practice. High level goals can be recorded and shared back with the business with the coachees permission. The progress against these coaching goals can then be tracked. As a minimum this can be done by soliciting feedback from the coachee. Further business measures and individual performance against company targets can be tracked. Impact on the invididual delivering on their Personal Development Plan can also be monitored.
12. Financial Constraints: Limited resources or budget constraints may lead to coaching programs being cut short or not receiving the necessary support and resources. It is preferable to offer a smaller cohort an adequate number of sessions and commit to the programme in its entirety. When programmes do end earlier than planned it can be de-stabilising and leave a void for coachees.
In summary coaches should be carefully selected and should have the necessary expertise and experience to address the specific needs of each coachee. We need to ensure there is commitment from the executive and the organization, and provide ongoing follow-up and support. The leader responsible for the programme cannot simply set it up and step away. There is an ongoing role to be played to ensure the continuity, engagement and value is derived. This leader must continue to engage with and challenge the coaching practice on their performance and the value they are adding for each coachee. Ongoing communication and transparency between all parties helps identify and address pitfalls before they lead to problems or poor outcomes.