Posts From September, 2014

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Coaching New or Transitioning Executives

What is behind the growth in executive coaching for transitioning or onboarding of key talent — and how best to explore the benefits for your organization?

There are many factors driving the rise in transition and onboarding coaching, including the great baby boomer exodus that’s just beginning across the workforce, rapid growth and global expansion for more and more companies, and the need for new leaders to get results faster.

What’s more, the complexity of business today adds other factors to the mix that can keep a leader from finding her footing quickly and fully engaging in the work to be done. They include cross-cultural teams, customers, and reporting relationships, challenging governmental and legal constraints, lack of bench strength on teams, as well as the challenge of learning completely new businesses and how to operate them.

Here’s the challenge for most organizations: They need to move more leaders into broader, more complex roles — often before they’re fully ready. That can make for wobbly, less-than-ideal transitions as leaders take the reins of new and often critical roles, where important results are needed often in the first few months on the job.

Transition coaching is an investment with a high ROI in the way it helps to ensure leaders land well and hit the ground running. That’s true whether the coach is supporting an internal leader who is transitioning to a new role through promotion, a lateral move, or a rotational assignment, or a new-hire who is onboarding into the organization from outside.

Many companies provide these leaders with orientation programs, checklists, and targeted training (e.g., new country culture), But these solutions don’t deliver the individualized support that leaders need to make it work for them in their unique context. Leveraging executive coaching in a focused and personalized way to support a new leader can provide that “personal trainer” element that executives in VUCA environments need to ensure success.

Which executives need to be supported in this way? Consider these scenarios:

  1. Expats — and also “repats” (who, after years away, often get no support in integrating back to the “home” or HQ culture)
  2. Positions that have become a revolving door due to lack of success
  3. Key positions on the succession plan, and leaders who are high potential and are facing multi job grade/band jumps
  4. Leaders with extremely diverse teams or geographies to lead through and to
  5. Key mid-career hires coming from outside your company — particularly if you have an organization with a strong culture, as most do

Considering the financial and time investment organizations put into acquiring and relocating talent to address business and leadership needs, transition and onboarding coaching has a relatively small price tag (typically $20–30k) that pays off big time with solid landings, attention to critical needs, and quick hits to make a big difference in a leader’s first 6–9 months on the job.

When organizations invest in transition and onboarding coaching, here’s what to look for to make a big difference:

  • Ensuring the new leader has crystal clear role clarity, through intentional, focused discussions with his manager (and matrixed managers, and his manager’s manager). When leaders end up in new roles, often the discussions that have occurred prior to that time in the “recruiting” process are part real and part hopes and dreams. Ensuring the new leader understands what’s what makes a huge difference in terms of investment of his (and others) time and resources.
  • Acquiring a clear lay of the land around what key stakeholders think the new leader’s job involves. Often, when a new leader shows up, stakeholders — peers, partners, teams, executives who are touched by the new leader’s function — have their own expectations about what she will do. Some of those expectations are grounded in pent-up needs — the things that “will finally be addressed” by her — and the unspoken “hopes and dreams” that others hold for her. Investing intentional time to surface those concerns, expectations, etc. is part of the due diligence every new leader needs to — but often doesn’t — do. And then reputations and impact suffer.
  • Getting a bead on the culture quickly. Is it relationship driven? In what ways? What are the landmines that can set you back months by accidentally committing an organizational faux pas?
  • Understanding the organizational landscape. Beyond org charts: Who are the real influencers? Who do you HAVE to have in your corner to get anything done? What are the unwritten rules of engagement? What are the “sacred cows” you have to be sensitive to? The best plans fail to operationalize if you have blockers instead of advocates. And it’s worse if the blockers are subtle in their approach. Finding out all these nuances early in his tenure — things that often come over time — will help the new leader catalyze his success and impact in positive ways and generate advocacy for his leadership agenda.
  • Identifying the talent on the team, and achieving team alignment: Ensuring that all the players are directionally correct, that everyone on the team is clear about where the new leader wants to go how she works, and what her expectations and needs of the team are, and that the new leader is clear about what each team member needs from her.
  • Helping the new leader determine and plan for how he wants to be experienced in this new role. The age-old term is what is his vision? But really, underneath that is: Does the new leader want to show up the same as he did in his last position, or does he want to take his leadership and impact to another level, a different kind of impact, a new way of “showing up?”

All of these elements are important success factors for a new leader to address as she enters in to her new role.

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Colleen Gentry partners with executives — including C-suite executives and high-potential global leaders — to help analyze and evolve behaviors, increase effectiveness, and improve business results.

Internal Coaching on the Rise

I have seen a dramatic increase in demand for internal coaching capability to help organizations develop key talent more quickly and for greater long-term impact. The trend is for organizations to leverage internal coaching to accomplish their talent goals faster and more cost effectively at deeper levels in the organization.

My experience aligns with the recent 2013 Ridler Report, an internationally recognized research study analyzing strategic trends in the use of senior level executive coaching, which confirms a trend toward growing use of internal coaches — in addition to, or even in place of, external coaches.

Internal coaches are being asked to leverage their unique knowledge of their organizations’ context, systems, and dynamics to support and develop leaders. Often, internal coaches are better equipped than external coaches for a variety of coaching needs.

Internal coaches are helping to address a number of key strategic challenges, including:

  • Strengthening the succession pipeline. As baby boomers transition out, the next generation leaders are lacking the skills necessary to assume those more senior roles. Internal coaches understand the talent strategies of the organization and when coaching at mid to upper-levels can help leaders identify the competencies that will be critical to future roles.
  • Onboarding of mid-career hires. Internal coaches are well suited for onboarding support — especially in light of studies that show high “organ rejection” rates for leaders hired in from the outside. What’s more, because of wide and growing talent gaps further down the org charts, many organizations are now recruiting greater numbers of mid-career hires in need of rapid onboarding to quickly integrate and gain traction in their new roles.
  • Coaching through change. Companies today are constantly in a state of flux either through a shift in strategy, reorganization, merger, or implementation of a new system. Technologies are evolving at warp speed and leaders need resilient teams to sustain success. Internal coaches can work with leaders to understand what the change means for their specific business and for their team. They can assist in identifying the new behaviors necessary for the change to succeed and stick and how to model the new behaviors while making the transition.
  • Transition coaching of internal leaders moving into new roles. Whether it’s a lateral move, a promotion up, or a cross-sector change in job, leaders quickly need to assimilate into the new role and galvanize their new team. Internal coaches understand the culture, the players, key stakeholders, the written and unwritten rules and norms and can support a smooth transition for the new leader who is being promoted to more quickly become successful in the new role.
  • Brief, targeted coaching is another venue to leverage an internal coach cadre, especially when linked with an executive leadership development program. The addition of brief, 3–4 month coaching support to assist leaders in implementing a development plan and practicing new behaviors can yield greater results and sustained behavior change.

If your organization is exploring whether to adopt an internal coaching strategy as a way to create deeper reach and greater efficiency in cost, consistency, application of cultural knowledge and expertise, consider these four key factors prior to launch:

Make internal coaching a strategic solution. Don’t use internal coaching as a separate initiative based on some immediate or ad hoc need. A more systemic, deliberate and integrated approach to enhancing the talent development solutions will yield greater, longer-term success.

Secure executive sponsorship. Let’s be honest: clout and position power can go a long way in influencing organizational receptivity to an internal coaching program. Through advocacy at senior levels by executives who are walking the talk, modeling the leadership behaviors important to the culture and having engaged in coaching themselves, they can help garner the support and, possibly, resources necessary to build an internal coaching practice. Through town halls, all hands meetings, or blog posts on the internal web, their testimonials and encouragement can create momentum and opportunity for a budding internal coaching program.

Identify a small but mighty internal coach cadre at first. The caliber, skill, and reputation of your first group of internal coaches will establish the reputation of your program. Choose your internal coaches as wisely and deliberately as you choose and scrutinize the external executive coaches you bring into the organization. Consider such criteria for selection as demonstrated coaching skills with clients (formally or informally), track record of solid business and people results, and capacity and commitment to assume this added role, to name a few.

Adopt a “pull vs. push” strategy. Go where the energy and appetite for internal coaching resides. If there is a single line of business or sector where those in leadership positions are clamoring for coaching, carpe diem! Where sponsorship and advocacy already exist are the best places to aim internal coaching because those leaders realize the value and benefit of individualized, targeted support.

Final thought: Leveraging an internal coaching strategy can increase scalability of coaching throughout your organization. Think of it as creating deeper, wider ripples in your talent and leadership pond. Internal coaching brings greater impact, deeper penetration, and the research-proven potential for organizational impact and results.

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Krisann Davis helps leaders develop their business and interpersonal skills to optimize their effectiveness and performance, relative to organizational strategy