What HR Wants From an Executive Coach

I’m co-posting on the topic of executive coaching with Mary Jo Asmus, an executive coach, leadership blogging friend, and former HR executive.

Mary Jo came up with this idea as a way to bridge the expectation gap and improve collaboration between HR and external coaches.

You’ll find the co-post “What an Executive Coach Wants from HR” over at Mary Jo’s blog.

Here’s mine, from the limited perspective of just one corporate “buyer” of executive coaching services:

What HR Wants From an Executive Coach

1. Results… and sooner than later!
Executive coaches are a big investment, and especially during these tough economic times when budgets are tight, we need to make tough trade-off decisions as to where we spend our limited professional services dollars. Our Board of Directors are holding our executives accountable for making the numbers every quarter, and they in turn are holding HR accountable for helping them get those results. If we’re going to spend $10,000-$30,000 on an executive coach, we need to see a substantial ROI ASAP. That means measurable objectives need to be established right at the beginning, and a process for evaluating progress and results.

2. Competence.
The ideal executive coach has a combination of executive experience and professional coaching credentials. Our executives need practical advice from someone who has walked in their shoes and understands executive politics. While we prefer professional coaching certification or training, from International Coach Federation (ICF) or some other credible organization, experience and track record is looked at as well.

3. Value.
We realize the best coaches can command top fees. There is a reason for this – it’s a scarce skill set and the good ones can consistently produce results for their clients.
However, budget dollars are tight. In fact, when it comes to corporate spending, things may never return to where they were. So while we understand the concept of “you get what you pay for”, we also reserve the right to shop for the best fees and negotiate. It’s like buying a car – we’d prefer not to pay sticker, we want quality over brand name, and don’t want a lot of un-needed options.
We’d also like the option of paying an hourly fee, vs. a fixed 6-12 month price. That way, unlike a cell phone plan, either side can walk away at any time, with no long-term commitment or penalties.

4. Help us make an informed buying decision.
Provide us with a nice 2 page package that describes your background, coaching model, references, process, and pricing. That will help us easily narrow down our options and pass along our recommendations to our executive clients. Be willing and available for a 30-60 minute initial screening and chemistry phone call or meeting.

5. Involvement.
When we connect you to a client, we want to be involved as a part of a three-way partnership. HR can provide valuable upfront background and context, be involved in development goal setting, help answer questions and possibly remove obstacles, and be an ongoing resource for the executive. Keep in mind that unless the executive is paying for the coach with their own Visa card, the company is paying the coach, and HR often represents the company’s interest. The degree of involvement should not depend on whose budget the coaching fees are being paid from.

6. Focus on leadership behaviors and business results, unless otherwise agreed to upfront.
A disturbing number of executive coaches are contracted initially to address workplace behavioral issues and end up crossing the line into personal therapy. We realize it’s often important to “peel back the layers” to get at the underlying issues, but the best coaches know where to draw the line and make a referral – even if they have the expertise.

7. Chemistry with the executive client.
We want our clients to make their own choice when it comes to a coach. We’ll give them at least 3 choices, as opposed to over-relying on the same executive coach. We’ll do our best to minimize the political pressure of feeling the need to work with the coach that the CEO favors.

8. Client and company confidentiality.
We’ll want a signed NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and expect it to be honored. When working with our company and executives, we expect and respect the highest degree of confidentiality and discretion. While this may seem like a given, unfortunately, it’s not always the case. In fact, it’s often issues of internal confidentiality that cause the most problems – which we often need to step in and clean up.

9. Access and convenience.
While phone coaching is getting more popular and can be very effective, many of our executives still prefer face-to-face coaching. Being located in the same area as the executive, while not something a coach can control, is something we look for. Being willing and able to travel to the client helps as well.

We’d love to hear from other HR pros or executive coaches – sharing these expectations can only only help improve the process. What do you look for? Please post a comment on either blog.