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Six Success Essentials Of High-Impact Coaching

Forbes Article by Forbes Council Member, Joe Frodsham

Over the last two decades, leadership coaching has become mainstream and continues to grow at a rapid pace. It is estimated that in the U.S., business coaching revenue will be $14.2 billion in 2022. That figure does not include other forms of coaching, such as life coaching and self-improvement coaching. This data is supported by what I and my firm see in the market—a consistent increase in demand by companies for leadership coaching.

It raises the question, with all the investment of money and time, does leadership coaching work?

The answer: It depends. Unfortunately, much leadership coaching is light on process and measurement. Many times the coach becomes a safe and friendly outlet for the coachee with little noticeable improvement or development for future roles.

However, the good news is coaching can work. In my firm's coaching work with over a thousand leaders, we have found that best-practice or high-impact coaching is comprised of six success essentials. When these success essentials are in place, coupled with a willing participant, the coaching realizes significant and sustainable development. This high-impact coaching can change careers and even lives.

Six Success Essentials Of High-Impact Coaching

High-impact coaching combines a process-oriented approach to behavior transformation with the experience that comes from a trained and tenured coach. High-impact coaching is comprised of the following six success essentials:

• Outcome Focused. Each assignment is focused on two to three areas that are critical for the success of the participant in their organization. These areas are surfaced via probing questions—What are the participants' gaps and opportunities? And What does success look like? These focus areas are then defined in observable actions and behaviors. These observable areas act as the focus for the coach and participant. 

• Relationship Enabled. The coach-participant match matters. It is important that the participant feels comfortable with the coach and believes the coach is a useful and credible resource. Participants also need to be assured that their conversations with the coach are confidential and those coaching sessions are a safe place to open up, test new behaviors and be totally transparent with their thoughts and feelings. Often, my firm will have participants talk to two to three potential coaches and pick the one they are most comfortable with to get the match right.

• Assessment Driven. At the front end of high-impact coaching is an assessment of the participant. This is done by having the participant complete a validated assessment, and it can include a 360 assessment (online or verbal) to gather feedback from the people the participant works with most closely. The outcome of this phase is a deeper insight into the broader profile—the beliefs, worries and wiring that are driving the participant—and how it is perceived in their world of work. In the assessment debrief, the participant learns a lot about themselves—having these “aha” experiences builds credibility for the coaching and highlights the source-code areas to be addressed to realize sustainable change.

• Timed. A balanced level of urgency for results is critical for high-impact coaching. There needs to be a timeline. The actual timeline of a coaching assignment will vary based on the coaching outcomes identified and the availability of the participant. However, in my experience, the coaching timeline is generally a minimum of three months and a maximum of one year. Often companies will sign up for three-month increments, calibrating and deciding on whether additional coaching is needed every three months.

• Short Feedback Loops. Participant progress is reviewed monthly with sponsors (direct leader(s) and/or HR) and used to calibrate and adjust coaching focus in real time. In these calibration calls, the coach will discuss the participant’s behaviors and performance but will not share the discussions they have had with the participant—the coaching conversations remain confidential. The coach is not an intermediary between the participant and their boss. Instead, the coach develops the participant’s ability to navigate the company successfully.

• Measurable. By defining the outcomes of the coaching in behavioral terms, you can attach the coaching to key business measures and even measure the financial impact of successful coaching. I've seen growth and savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars directly attributed to coaching assignments—such as the supply chain VP who saved $112,000 through better retention and engagement, or the private equity CEO who formed and led a team that sold the company in two years for $142 million (before engaging a coach, he spent three years frustrated and unsuccessful in his attempts to build a team and grow the business).

These six success essentials of high-impact coaching create a blueprint for coaching across industries, and from the executive level to the frontline leader. If you are looking to leverage coaching for leader success, I recommend you ensure the coach and process include these success essentials. If you do so, coaching can help provide your organization with better leadership and a sustainable competitive advantage.

As seen in Forbes.