Board and executive coaching – what’s in it for HR?

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As I sit down and write this, I look across at my husband who’s transfixed to the TV watching the Ryder Cup with our son, both of whom are keen golfers. This got me thinking about the great summer of sport we’ve enjoyed over the last few months. From the US Open, the Olympics and Paralympics, to Wimbledon and Euro 2012, and now of course the golf – in all of which British athletes have performed, and all with their coaches in their respective corners.

So if the very top sportsmen/women have coaches, then why don’t all the top executives have coaches? Is the business world really that different? 

Ian Poulter and Justin Rose wouldn’t have competed in such a major competition if it wasn’t for their coaches. Murray wouldn’t have won his first Grand Slam without his coach to the side of him. And our Olympians wouldn’t have had the fantastic success that they had if it wasn’t for their coaches.

Whether it is sport or business, coaches can make a massive difference to an individual’s performance. And the better the coach, the better the outcome.

Like in sport, business coaches don’t have to have had the experience of running a successful large corporation, or performed well as an MD of a start-up themselves. Roy Hodgson was never a fantastic player, but he is a good coach.

This leads me nicely onto my first point as to why HR should be interested in board and executive coaching. Coaching provides a confidential and impartial sounding board. If you’re running a large corporate or even heading up a small company, staff (including HR) look to you as the leader (quite rightly so), and somebody with strong leadership.

However, even leaders need to confide in people, and bounce off ideas. Sometimes asking your own staff for suggestions can look a sign of weakness to employees, as you’re the one who is meant to have all the answers. And if employees lose faith in you, then they start to lose faith in the business. A leader can’t always confide in their team, as again this could be a sign of weakness. It can be very lonely at the top, and without anybody to talk to this can really affect morale and performance. If the board or executives aren’t performing, then very quickly the business stops performing. 

The beauty of an executive coach, and this leads on to my second point, is that the coach comes with absolutely no internal baggage or politics. The coach can come in with a completely open mind, and perhaps see things, or pick up on things that others wouldn’t if they were involved in the day-to-day running of the business. 

My third reason as to why HR should be interested in board and executive coaching is that the support and development via coaching is tailored to the specific needs of the executive. No two people are the same, and each executive role provides its own different challenges. One-to-one sessions with a coach are bespoke, and therefore really drill down to the heart of the problem or concerns, meaning these issues can be resolved quicker and more efficiently. 

Every company has stakeholders. These stakeholders need certain information to be able to support your organisation and buy into its culture and processes. Existing both internally and externally, these stakeholders can have competing priorities and needs. In an ideal world, organisations could ignore this clamouring for attention and go about the important business of making money. But stakeholder relationships that are unmanaged or mismanaged have a number of less than favourable consequences for companies. 

By effectively managing relationships to increase the opportunities and lower the risk for each relationship, a company can enhance the quality of its intangible assets and therefore increase the overall valuation of the business. A coach can focus on key stakeholder relationships and help the executive manage these relationships.

Finally, and my fifth point, board and executive coaching can be flexible in terms of delivery. Executives and CEOs are all busy. Coaching can easily fit into their schedules, be it regular sessions to suit their diary, or telephone support when they need it.

In my experience, coaching is one of the best ways of making a difference in an executive’s performance. Training courses can be valuable for skills development and providing knowledge but coaching (and its mentoring) provides the opportunity over several months to bring about an agreed behavioural change or deliver specific improvements.

Coaching used to be given primarily to ‘problem’ executives to turn them around. Now coaching has moved to enhancing the highest performers.

So, if you’re a HR manager looking to implement board and executive coaching, so that your senior team produces winning performances for the company, here are my top tips to remember when choosing a coach:

  • Choose a coach with the right gravitas/presence to be credible at this level
  • Remember there are three in the bed – the coach, coachee and organisation – get a coach who clearly understands this dynamic
  • Be clear on focus for the coaching and the measures of success
  • Look for a coach who is happy to start with a three-way, use psychometric and 360 feedback tools and complete stakeholder interviews



# cgordon 2012-10-03 05:28
Nicola McCall (@Livelifenowex pt) kindly tweeted me about a good article in the Harvard Business Review called "Confessions of a Trusted Counselor" which is a good analysis of the positives and negatives of the coach relationship at Board level, see
# Leadership Coaching 2012-10-11 05:15
Nice article. Keep it up.

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