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What a Corporation Looks for in Executive Coaches

Interview of Judy Hayner by Sylvia Dolena

Judy Hayner is a Global Executive Leadership Development Manager for a Fortune 100 company. Her responsibilities include working with the top 300 executives in a $50B company of 80,000 people. Judy delivers a program geared to developing leadership competencies in top leaders. Individual and group coaching is part of this program. This company sees the value of investing in their top leadership!

If you are an executive coach already, you might use the content of this interview as check list of what corporations are looking for in top coaches. If you aspire to be an executive coach, you might use the content of this interview to develop yourself and gain the experiences that corporations looking for.

The following is an interview of Judy Hayner by Sylvia Dolena, internal change management consultant working with Hewlett Packard.

What is your executive development program?

"First, let me be clear. This particular development program I'll be talking about targets our top 300 executives in the company. So we are talking about executive coaches. We have other development programs that include coaching that target middle-managers, first-level managers and individual contributors. We can talk about that at some future time."

"Our program begins with a 360 evaluation instrument that we developed ourselves. The instrument evaluates our leaders in eight key competencies necessary for our company to accomplish its business objectives. Over time, these core competencies may change as our company evolves or as we change direction. Using the 360 feedback as a basis for development, our executives receive the appropriate education, experiential opportunities and are matched with a coach.

Specifically, how does coaching fit into this program?

very important step in the coaching process is for the coach to help the executive interpret the 360 feedback. The coach needs to translate the leadership competency profile into action. The ability of the coach to translate behavioral feedback into a plan of action is very important in creating an effective development plan for the executive. The coach must be able to determine the relationship between personal behavior and the organizational and business context in which the executive operates. The coach must be able to size up the gap between the executives words and their actions. The coach, of course, coaches the executive in their competency building through one-on-one sessions and in building their interpersonal skills in group interactions. The coach monitors the executive's progress against their development plan, gives them feedback and more coaching.

What is the process for qualifying executive coaches?

We use our own set of interview questions developed to test for the executive coach criteria and conduct a behavioral interview. This means that we ask for specific examples of their coaching experiences. With the examples the coach selects to talk about, we listen for a match to our criteria. We listen for the experiences that are aligned to what our leaders encounter.

What do you look for in an executive coach?

We developed some criteria that we use when we qualify coaches. We looked at the key leadership competencies that our leaders need and we determined that we needed coaches that could match these competencies. Specifically, we look for coaches that spend a majority of their time with top executives, CEOs, and VPs. We want coaches who have had experience as executives in large organizations or have been high level executives in their own coaching organizations. This gives credibility to the coach when they work with our executives. They (the coach) has been there. We encounter some great coaches with great methodologies and maybe they have worked with middle-managers, but have not been executives or worked with executives. We don't use them in this program.

We look for the coach's range of experience. Have they done individual, personal coaching? Have they coached in a team situation or have experience in group coaching? Have they collaborated with other coaches? Have they coached in Fortune 100 companies? We want to know if they have coached in companies similar to ours. We also want to know if the coaches have experience in change management, behavioral changes, emotional intelligence? Do they have experience in a global corporation that is going through a major transformation?

We also want to know what domain experience these coaches have had. What is their business experience? Have they worked in high tech companies or do they have related industry experience that they could apply? This is important because many of the competencies our leaders need to have are within the context of our industries. So we look for the ability for the coach to evaluate the person's behavior and competency within the business context. We ask how a coach measures success in a coaching engagement. What business results were directly attributed to the coaching?

The coaching model and methodology these coaches use is an important aspect of our qualification process. We ask the coach to describe their model and methodology. It must fit our culture and it must be easy to understand.

Beyond Experience Criteria

Beyond testing for the criteria we have defined, we also look for other things such as, coaching style, attitude, personality, communication skills and diversity. When they communicate are they direct, to the point and succinct? "There is a clear cut difference in those coaches who give lots of information in one hour and those who struggle. You wouldn't believe how some of them just ramble all over the place." With the coaches that have great communication expertise, can get through the interview in one hour. With others, we only get half way through in one hour." We need our coaches to present workshops, do presentations and lead discussions with our executives.

Personality and style is important. Does the coach come across warm, friendly and open? "We interviewed a coach who had great answers, but there was something about her that I couldn't put my finger on. I went back to my notes and she answered all the questions perfectly." I had the opportunity to discuss the coach with my colleague. As we talked, we found that this coach had an "edge" to how she presented herself. We felt she wasn't a good match. One of the executives found his own coach. We interview this coach to see how he would do in our qualification process. The coach was confrontational and was very open about. He felt that this was his was his unique style that worked for him and his other clients. During the coaching process, he was confrontational with the executive and the executive's staff. The executive team couldn't work with him. We replaced him with another coach. We look for coaches who can coach to a system.

We want diversity in our coaches. By diversity we mean diversity in their experiences in coaching across cultures, geographic regions, gender and ethnicity. We want to know what their challenges were in those areas.

We look for coaches who continually improve themselves; we want learners. What personal and professional development have they been involved in during the past year? What are their strengths? Where do they need to improve and what are they doing about it?

How do you match a coach and an executive? Do you interview with an executive in mind?

We don't interview a coach with an executive in mind. We qualify a pool of coaches then look for a match between the coach and the executive. We know the executives fairly well and can recommend one of the qualified coaches. We set up an initial conversation between the executive and the coach. It is usually evident in the first meeting if the coach is a good match.