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Framework for the Strategic Executive Coaching Process
This article describes the process component of executive coaching by breaking it down into five key steps. The exact determination of dividing lines between the individual steps is less important than the approach to issues that arise during the process as a whole.

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Step One: Careful Contracting
It takes skill to create a trusting environment in which open dialogue can occur and underlying issues can be brought to light. A great deal of honest communication and feedback will set the parameters of the executive coaching process.

In addition to information that responds to the questions above, the objectives of the "contracting dialogue" should include the following:

1. Identified success factors for a specific executive's (or team's) current and potential role
2. Agreement on confidentiality boundaries
3. Identification of specific expected business results (that is, what business results differentiate an adequate performer from a top performer in this particular role?)
4. Confirmation that the "chemistry" is right to build trust and rapport.

Addressing these and other questions will help to define the organizational and individual expectations and support the business objectives. It is imperative that a contracting meeting for the purpose of defining expectations take place before the individual coaching begins. Those attending should typically include a senior-level human resources representative, the executive coach, and the executive receiving coaching.

At the conclusion of step one, the following points must be accomplished:

1. Business context defined
2. Strategic issues defined
3. Leader profile and job success defined
4. Clear roles and responsibilities determined
5. Agreement regarding who is "the client"
6. Milestones and timelines clarified
7. Confidentiality boundaries established
8. Outcomes and expected results agreed on; and
9. Financial terms signed off.

Step Two: Comprehensive Assessment
The second step in the executive coaching process is an assessment of each individual executive. Through interviews and formal assessment tools, gaps between the current and expected performance of each executive are identified to measure how the coaching client stacks up against the business context, expected leadership attributes, and expected business results.

The preferred assessment is done through face-to-face interviews with key stakeholders, such as direct reports, peers, bosses, and customers, and by shadowing the executive during his or her daily life. The main advantage of the face-to-face approach is that it enables the coach to probe the client, and thus provide feedback that is both quantitative and qualitative. The ultimate value of the assessment process is that the results clearly illustrate areas of strength as well as those requiring attention. This paints a clear picture for the executive in terms of strengths and development opportunities, and thus focuses and informs the process.

Step Three: Feedback Dialogue and Action Planning
Feedback Dialogue. The first order of business in an effective feedback session is to revisit the agreed-on objectives and to review the ground rules. Properly preparing executives for feedback is key to ensuring their willingness to listen, accept, open up, and move into action planning. Sessions should occur outside the normal office environment to ensure a more relaxed experience, free of interruptions or ready escape routes. A neutral site helps the executive manage feedback that may contradict his or her current self-perceptions. The coach must facilitate the feedback flow process; help the executive understand the data; and moderate any negative reactions.

During the feedback dialogue session, the coach will continue to refer to the business requirements, leader attributes, and expected business results and compare them to current performance. The aim is to work within a framework that directs feedback toward the key objectives of the business.

The feedback session typically follows these stages:

1. Reaffirm ground rules and establish rapport
2. Review coaching objectives and business context
3. Describe how to interpret results
4. Give the executive opportunity to review results
5. Discuss surprises or frustrations
6. Highlight strengths
7. Identify developmental needs
8. Agree on areas for improvement; and
9. Begin developmental planning process.

Action Planning. The action plan must focus on behaviors that conČtribute to specific business outcomes. A typical action plan includes:

1. Strengths and why they are important in the executive's current role
2. Developmental areas
3. Action steps required or interventions needed in areas requiring improvement, as well as leveraging strengths
4. The type of coaching style that will best suit the development process
5. Active learning or experiential learning suggestions
6. Ways in which direct reports, bosses, peers, and others can help
7. A process for following up with key stakeholders; and
8. Key milestones.

Once the action plan is complete, key stakeholders are invited to validate it. These stakeholders typically comprise the same group involved in the initial assessment interviews. By sharing the action plan with those who were initially interviewed, the executive can be assured that the planned improvements are consistent with expectations. The other benefit of closed-loop validation is that it involves those most likely to benefit from positive change in the executive's behavior. As a result, this process fosters their commitment to help the executive develop.

Step Four: Active Learning
Once the key stakeholders agree with the action plan, a variety of development strategies are implemented. The executive coach guides and reinČforces the development strategies, which can include techniques such as action learning, role play, case study, simulation, video feedback, shadowing, and journaling (in other words, writing down the work carried out by the executive). Special developmental courses and team activities are often recommended to support the executive coaching process.

The coaching process is usually supported by a series of monthly meetings between the coach, executive, and key stakeholders. These dialogues help to ensure that the milestones are being met, the ground rules are being followed, and the coaching process continues to be focused on the organization's business needs.

Step Five: Reviewing and Sustaining Success
Approximately six months after the feedback session, an initial assessment is conducted to determine the impact of the process on the individual and the organization. The results of the assessment give credit for progress and address areas in which changes are still required or bring attention to necessary mid-course corrections. The results of the assessment are shared with key stakeholders to further the development of the executive and ensure alignment to organizational goals.

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Source: Marshall Goldsmith and Laurence Lyons, Coaching for Leadership: The Practice of Leadership Coaching from the World's Greatest Coaches, Pfeiffer Publishing. You can obtain this fine book here

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