Personal Coaching

 A concept that has moved from the world of sports to the executive suite, executive coaching is a means to help senior executives manage a constantly changing business environment and refine their leadership skills, says Professor Sattar Bawany, CEO and Master Executive Coach, Centre for Executive Education.

Coaching isn’t just limited to senior levels either. “Increasingly, people all over the world, at all levels, utilise executive coaches to help them achieve their full potential,” Bawany explains. “The process focuses on the participant’s goals, reinforces learning and change, and increases self-empowerment.”Coaching is a technique that anybody can use. It’s a process that can help individuals and groups close gaps between where they are at present and where they want to be. Coaching differs from training in that it is a personal and intimate way of helping one find a solution to a problem, while training teaches one exactly how to solve a problem.“While internal coaches can be effective, external professional coaches are better qualified and experienced in providing expert opinions, unbiased views without conflicts of interest with the organisation or individual in question,” says Dr. Steve Morris, Head Coach & Partner, Align HR – SMA – part of the Align HR Group.“It’s like when you go for specialist opinions in healthcare. A professional coach is a specialist in growth and development,” Morris explains. “Professional coaches have the relevant training, tools and experience to bring out the best in people in a wide variety of circumstances. In addition, they bring their experiences along with them.”

Amanda Moody, Assistant Director – Professional Development Centre, British Council (Singapore), likens a trainer to the captain of a ship; the one who decides the content of the training session. “A coach is more like a passenger of the ship, facilitating deep discussions while the client is a rudder, steering the conversations in the right way to help him or her succeed,” she explains.

The task of coaching has been anything but easy in Singapore and the region. “In the ‘90s, people here were generally afraid of coaching and thought it was a remedial action for people with problems,” Morris explains. “However, it was the winners and leaders in the US who had coaches to assist them in getting to mastery levels.”

Agreeing, Helen Choe, Principal Consultant, Korn/Ferry International, says people who have performance issues go for skills training, while those on top go for coaching to better maintain an executive presence and navigate their organisations.

The landscape has now changed, with more people being open to the idea of coaching and asking how they can get more out of it. “The golden age of coaching is here,” says Morris.

How to coach?
There are essentially two types of coaching. One is top executive-level coaching that helps to maximise individual capabilities and potential. In his nearly 15-year career as a leadership coach, Morris has coached several high-ranking individuals including Deputy Secretaries, Chief Executives, Group Chairmen, Generals, Admirals, and even a former Commissioner of Police, helping them find their aspirations and manage how they are seen by others around them.

Choe believes coaching should be an intimate, one-on-one engagement with an individual. “This will allow the coach to truly help this person unlock themselves and have an outside-in perspective, thereby increasing self-awareness and understanding of the impact their behaviour has on others,” she explains. “The fact that it is such an intimate session will likely make it uncomfortable for the person being coached, but it yields the best results as well.”

Group-level, or peer coaching is essentially an organisational development programme that helps teams to form bonds, share experiences and values and learn from each other.

“I am a big believer in peer coaching. Peer coaching is a great tool for leveraging off each other’s experiences,” says Morris. “We learn from each other while helping each other. What greater way to work and grow?”

Initially, people in a group setting will feel rather apprehensive about sharing and learning from each other. However, when people learn that others are experience similar problems as them, they are less self-conscious and more open about sharing, coming up with innovative solutions in the process.

For instance, Morris has been working with the leadership team at the National Library Board for the past seven years, improving group dynamics along with individual behaviours and capabilities.

Coaching is not necessarily only for people who are already leaders, as it also plays an important role in succession planning. Morris recently worked with some key talents at BP to help develop them for future leadership roles.

“Management didn’t want to keep hiring expatriate staff for such roles so they decided on coaching high-potential talent and grooming them to become leaders of tomorrow,” he explains. “Indeed, coaching helped to polish them and maximise their potential.”

Other organisations which have done the same include Citibank and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.

Before and after
Still, coaching can get a bad reputation because people don’t align their expectations of what coaching can do for them, says Choe. “Coaching in Asia is a challenge as people here want quick answers. Coaching can’t do that,” she explains. “Regular sessions can provide some direction and guidance and provoke people to think more deeply. That’s where the real benefits of coaching start to show.”

Prior to finding a coach, HR should first assess the current situation that the organisation or individual is in. Using tools such as 360-degree feedback and profile tests, HR can determine how big the gap between “where I am right now” and “where I want to be” actually is, says Morris. “In cases where HR doesn’t have access to these tools, professional coaches can conduct the analysis for HR.”

After the initial assessment is complete, a developmental plan is then drawn up and reviewed by the coach to address gaps in areas such as communication and strategic leadership. “Coaching generally consists of regular bi-weekly or monthly 90-minute sessions with the individual in question, and spans a six, nine, or 12-month period,” Choe describes.

A key aspect of coaching is the measurement of results. This can be done in two ways: qualitatively and quantitatively. For a qualitative assessment, tools such as a 360-degree feedback can be used to compare a person’s behaviour both before and after the coaching plan was put in place.

Questions such as, “Can you see a change?” and “Are you getting a different reaction from people around you?” can also be asked to get a feel of how successful a coaching programme has been.

There are several qualitative tools to assess the efficacy of a coaching plan. These tools include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Team Management Systems and Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Assessment.

“A good coach should be using a framework and have a structure to every conversation with a client,” says Moody. “This also helps in measuring the success of the coaching relationship in a very clear manner.”

Coaching is an ongoing journey. “Organisations must clearly define the purpose of coaching, gauge the process, and evaluate results. Coaching is not just about providing support,” says Bawany. “Ultimately, coaching should deliver what any business needs – real results.”

Communication skills coachingA top ranking female executive in an international company wanted coaching in public speaking so as to be able to present to large international audiences. She also had some issues speaking up in meetings and thinking on her feet.“We worked out what exactly the problem was, whilst also looking at her strengths to keep the assessment well-balanced,” says Amanda Moody, Assistant Director – Professional Development Centre, British Council (Singapore).Due to the key communication style changes she learnt through the coaching sessions, such as how to pronounce words, intonations, adding humour, posture and how to work with visuals such as PowerPoint presentations, the executive was able to deliver a major presentation at a large international conference within four months.

“People were actually coming up to her to congratulate her for the excellent presentation,” says Moody. “Coaching and consistent feedback helped her to be able to better communicate in a business setting where there was a male majority as well.”

Remedial coachingIn the last two years, remedial coaching has taken off. “Leaders in today’s hectic business environment tend to behave in negative ways, not managing their emotions effectively,” says Helen Choe, Principal Consultant, Korn/Ferry International. “They want quick fixes to help them become more aware of what their negative behaviour implies.”With remedial coaching, leaders can see through complex organisational issues more clearly and better lead their organisations. “This ties back to the point of coaching, which is to provide outside-in, broad and unbiased perspectives to problems,” says Choe.
Case study: Leadership coaching Sattar Bawany, CEO and Master Executive Coach of the Centre for Executive Education, once had a client who was working in the Asia-Pacific Regional Operations team of a global financial services firm. The firm was expanding and adapting to increasingly competitive market conditions following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009.“In this intensely hypercompetitive and fast-moving environment, the firm understood that there was one factor that keeps the company ahead – the commitment, creativity and energy of its people,” says Bawany.“They wanted a radical new focus for the leaders at all levels which would drive the results through engagement of the employee in a manner which would capture the very spirit of the company and act as a motivational, inspiring force.”

Using these principles and partnering with the firm, the “Leadership That Gets Results” (LTGR) programme was designed and delivered.

“The LTGR programme created new levels of co-operation and trust that flourished across the various business units of the company,” says Bawany. “Managers became more energised and motivated to take positive action and their new commitment was cascaded through the entire company.”

After the coaching intervention, managers were ready and able to shape the future success of the company and steered the firm towards achieving its corporate objectives and sustainable business results.

This article was first published on 6 Jan 2014 on HRM Asia

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