The Executive Coaching Process Explained: Interview With Frank Wagner, PhD
Frank Wagner is a partner in the Marshall Goldsmith Group and co-founder of Stakeholder Centered Coaching. Clients include Microsoft, Intel and The Mayo Clinic. He will be presenting at the upcoming HR Specialist Summit.
JATHAN JANOVE: What is executive coaching?
FRANK WAGNER: As we define it, executive coaching makes successful people more successful. In the past and still to some extent, coaching has been to fix behavioral problems. However, the best ROI comes from working with people who are already good at what they do and helping them become even more effective.
JANOVE: Why is that? Isn’t a matter of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?
WAGNER: In 40 years of leadership development and coaching, we have yet to meet the perfect leader. And we have been lucky to meet many outstanding leaders who work in excellent companies. A good behavior can get better. Improving a behavioral strength can serve the leader and the organization better than improving a bad behavior. And our experience has strong evidence that good leaders still can have bad habits that are better replaced with good habits. Lastly, as leaders move up in their careers, they sometimes forget to use behaviors that served them well and have to relearn them.
JANOVE: How long is a typical coaching engagement?
WAGNER: In our organization, the engagement is officially one year and often runs over to about 15 months.
JANOVE: Supposedly habits can be changed in 30 days. Why a year or more?
WAGNER: That may be true but the question becomes, “Will the new habit stick?” In our experience, habit change is fragile. Change is difficult. Permanent change is even more difficult. All systems have a deep memory and have a tendency to revert back to the norm. A longer engagement period greatly improves the likelihood that the change becomes permanent.
JANOVE: What kind of financial commitment is involved?
WAGNER: For a year engagement, coaches in our organization charge between $50 to $60,000.00. Marshall Goldsmith, who coaches CEOs of some of the largest organizations in the world, has charged $250,000.00, and recently even higher for some engagements.
JANOVE: That seems like a lot of money to invest in a single person. How do you justify it?
WAGNER: We don’t just look at short-term benefits, we focus on changes that will have a positive impact for many years. Take, for example, a senior executive who’s a micromanager. If a coach helps develop an empowering approach to leading others that becomes a permanent part of the executive’s leadership style, the long-term impact, economically and otherwise, is enormous. The leaders we coach cast a long shadow. Their actions affect a lot of people. Our work affects many more people than the one person we are tasked with helping to improve. That’s what our clients tell us.
JANOVE: What process do you employ?
WAGNER: We start with an assessment, which includes a 360° evaluation where we measure how the executive is perceived by others on key behaviors. From there, the coach and executive craft a development goal and a list of stakeholders who will be invited and involved in the process. The next step is the goal and the list of stakeholders are approved or modified by the leader’s manager. Then the stakeholders are enrolled and used to help create the development plan by providing suggestions on what the leader will do to be successful with the selected goal. With stakeholder input, the coach works with the leader to refine the plan, including expected results and measures of success. Then the real work begins with the leader implementing the plan. The coach, along with the stakeholders, provides ongoing support and reinforcement. At the end of the engagement, we assess results and address questions, such as what did the executive learn, what did he or she do differently, and where does the executive go from here.
JANOVE: What distinguishes your coaching group from other executive coaches?
WAGNER: First of all, we don’t get paid unless there is measurable ROI. At the end of the coaching engagement, we conduct an anonymous online survey of stakeholders, the people with whom the executive interacts. We use a -3 to +3 scale regarding whether stakeholders have perceived change. Zero means no perceived change. For us to get paid, the aggregate score must be at least +1.0 or higher. Otherwise, we’ve worked a year for free.
Second, stakeholders are center stage and do a lot more of the coaching than is done in a traditional coaching engagement. They provide ongoing feedback and suggestions, at a minimum on a monthly basis. We make it clear that they have a responsibility not just to assess change. It is to their benefit to help make it happen through timely feedback and reinforcement of the executive’s new behaviors. They live with this leader and have a genuine “stake” in what happens. We coaches leave after the engagement is over. And, it is essential that they perceive the change and acknowledge it for sustainability.
Third, we build into our process a plan to avoid “coach effect,” which occurs when sustainability of change depends on the coach’s continued involvement. By the time the engagement ends, we want the executives to have cemented a new habit and know how to continue the process on their own. In other words, they should become independent of the need for the coach’s involvement. The change has become embedded in the executive’s habits and working relationship with the stakeholders. Our process is intended to have a very positive impact and change the relationship with those in the organization that the leader interacts with the most.
Jathan Janove’s book, Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories From the Management Trenches, will be available in November 2016 from AMACOM Books.