Obtaining value from executive coaching and mentoring

We are delighted to have received permission from the Careers Research Forum to reproduce the Executive Summary from their April 2001 research into executive coaching and mentoring, conducted by Andrew Lambert. Copyright remains with the authors.

  1. Confusion between the terms mentoring, coaching and counselling continue to persist. This is not helpful when deploying and propagating these mechanisms. Companies and professionals should endeavour to convert this confusion into understanding of both the overlaps and the distinctive objectives and characteristics of each.

  2. In contrast to the picture painted in the CRF report in 1996, coaching has now become a key tool both in developing talent and achieving culture change, particularly at the top of organisations. It is arguably the primary method for remedying deficiencies in management style.

    • However, as with any other people management mechanism, much depends on how well it is deployed; it is not a panacea, nor a cure-all.

    • Developing a coaching culture is widely seen as a desirable aim, and an important indirect contributor to organisational effectiveness.

    • Nonetheless there are practical limits in what can be expected from line managers as coaches, in comparison with what a skilled and experienced executive coach should achieve in terms of personal transformation.

    • External executive coaching is a potentially powerful tool, but its expense means that it must be used wisely and sparingly.

  3. Mentoring is a useful adjunct to coaching, specifically in providing career guidance and longer-term support, as opposed to the relatively short-term and performance-related purpose of most coaching. Well-conducted, it has specific benefits in terms of demonstrating recognition and aiding retention, and providing a conduit for off-line upward, downward and lateral learning.

    • However, there are two divergent styles of mentoring - the developmental and the patronage approaches - which different national cultures display, to a greater or lesser extent; these do not mix well in the same organisation.

    • Matching mentors with coaches is not something that will work if forced; a successful mentor will have both the time and the necessary skills, and these people tend to be in short supply, particularly when implanting mentoring.

    • Mentoring is typically a more gradual process than coaching, and its impact on behaviour and culture is commensurate with this.

    • Once coaching has achieved its immediate objectives, some executives wish to maintain the relationship with a coach such that this becomes a mentoring relationship; this should still retain some clear objectives over time, and avoid dependency and becoming 'expensive conversations'.

    • Several varieties of mentoring arrangements exist alongside the familiar model of the older, wiser head working with the aspiring young executive. These include 'buddy' schemes for new entrants, and mentors designed to help overcome career block for minorities, such as senior female executives, the disabled and ethnic minorities. (These are more commonly found in the public rather than the private sector.)

  4. Counselling is an area of advice and assistance that in most instances centres on helping with problems (eg the distinction between careers advice and career counselling). Coaches (and perhaps mentors) may need to refer a coachee for counselling and psycho-therapeutic help.

  5. Out of 16 organisations interviewed (10 of which are featured in mini-case studies in this report), the vast majority were in the process of implementing new initiatives to introduce or strengthen mentoring and coaching arrangements - this is a very 'live' issue at present. A few felt that it was potentially a strain to introduce both contemporaneously, and would opt to use coaching first to generate sufficient skill and orientation at the top to allow mentoring to flourish subsequently.

  6. The key success factor in introducing coaching and mentoring is the example set by the top, and particularly the way the chief executive facilitates the process. For longer term embedding, there needs to be a clear connection with the strategic aims of the organisation; just wanting to raise capability for its own sake was not sufficient.

  7. There are some doubts about how strategic some initiatives are perceived to be - they may ultimately be perceived as 'nice-to-haves' and cut back in lean periods, like marketing spend, even if this might not be logically the best thing to do to sustain performance. However, certain organisations, such as those seriously competing in the 'war for talent' clearly communicate the continuing importance of capability for long-term competiteveness.

  8. There are threats to the perception of coaching in particular if evaluation fails to show results over time, if the growth of demand leads to lower quality entrants flooding in - as some fear - and if clear standards do not emerge. In the US, there is a reasonably sophisticated infra-structure of skills training and accreditation for management coaches - whether external or in-house. In the UK, this area is quite undeveloped.

  9. Organisations are typically using psychometric tests and 360 degree feedback to provide the basis for both growth and remedial coaching. Executive coaches tend to place greater importance on the 360 degree feedback, although the standard 'packages' may need supplementing to obtain genuinely useful development pointers.

  10. In selecting and working with executive coaches, experienced buyers in CRF companies place particular importance on the track record of working in businesses at the top level, usually internationally, but also on the depth of coaching skills - both are essential. The ability to work effectively in a multi-lateral relationship - achieving and retaining the trust of the coachee while being mindful of the needs of the company, and of relationships with both HR and the line manager - is a difficult but essential balance to achieve.

  11. Effective personal support is increasingly essential for corporate leaders, given the steadily increasing pressure on top executives and risks of failure. It is pertinent for investors and other stakeholders to know that the leadership of the organisation is robust, which these days means well-advised and self-confident without being arrogant or dictatorial. Some appreciation of the nature of development and learning mechanisms is advisable, although this is not an area to which analysts are, as yet, well-attuned.

  12. Ideally, company chairmen should be able to act as mentor-coaches for chief executives, and the latter for director in turn. However, while this is the case in some instances, the realities of power games and different corporate norms mean that openness and honesty at this level is frequently strained. Trust is the key ingredient to a successful mentoring or coaching relationship, and this is scarcely omni-present. However, if a leadership team genuinely wishes to encourage other levels of management to adopt a coaching culture, then the challenge starts with themselves as role models, which includes their ability to conduct effective appraisals, development and career planning.

  13. While in some circumstances non-executive directors might make useful mentors for board members, there are constraints deriving from corporate governance.

  14. Although most companies admit that they need to do more to evaluate their coaching and mentoring activities and improve their skills in doing so, it appears clearer than in our 1996 study that a range of reasonably reliable measurement techniques does exist. However, the factors that make the difference are the clarity of objectives and the rigour in applying the measurement methods and analysing the results.

  15. There is wide agreement that there is little point in trying to identify whether coaching and mentoring have a direct affect on bottom-line performance when it is clear that they are indirect influences in the first place. Studies are nonetheless emerging that substantiate the belief that quite powerful benefits are achievable.

  16. A wide variety of executive coaching and related consultancy suppliers is emerging. Buyers need to think carefully about what suits their needs, and to check credentials carefully. This is likely to remain a fragmented market, with limited reliable buyer information, for some time to come. Word-of-mouth reputation is currently what often counts most. Buyers therefore need to maintain good records and be prepared to network. Experience so far indicates that reputations can and do go up as well as down.

  17. HR's role emerges clearly as the facilitator, standard checker, buyer and relationship holder of coaching services, as well as the orchestrator of internal coaching initiatives. In some cases, this had involved placing a disciplined framework around the use of coaches already underway within line management. Effective record keeping and evaluation are important areas to focus on, along with monitoring the market of external coaches continuously. In some organisations, significant steps are being taken to enable OD or 'learning and development' specialists to take on some of the role given to external professionals, through training or recruiting experts.