Alan's Corner: How do you conduct performance coaching?
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Alan’s Corner: How do you conduct performance coaching?

Alan’s Corner: How do you conduct performance coaching?

Performance coaching can improve team collaboration, lead to happier employees and identify areas for improvement – for employees and the overall business


A company acquired a new business and appointed one of its own senior executives to lead the new team. Let’s call
him John. John had a tremendous track record of success after 16 years as CFO in the parent company.

He was keen to make an impact quite quickly, after all, his personal reputation depended on it. However, after eight months in the new role, the walls started to crumble in the new company. Sales went backwards, margin slipped and there was an exodus of key people. 

Now I know acquisitions can be rife with disruption and uncertainty. After all, change is not easy. But because of the scale of the bad news, the board became very concerned. It became very clear to me in my ‘discovery’ that John was working on many of the right things to get the new business into shape. 

From a pure commercial perspective, all of his initiatives were bang on. However, I felt that he completely missed the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of the new teams. There were too many negative sentiments about his style of management, his complete lack of empathy and respect. This negative perception of John was impacting his ability to influence and get things done and therefore was having a massive effect on the transition. 

John was facing a catastrophic failure, which would have been a terrible shame for him and the business. To prevent that, I proposed that the company invest in John’s development and be given a performance coach to work with him one-to-one. After eight weeks, I saw visible improvements in John and in the new team. They started to pull together and the business stabilised. 

Executive development 

Performance coaching is a relatively new form of executive development. It is a professional and facilitated process where a qualified person supports and challenges a coachee to improve performance. It helps the coachee to gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve development objectives and it unlocks their potential. It also supports coachees to change their attitude, their thinking and their perspectives. 

The process usually starts with discovering the coachee’s current challenges. These are usually identified with an emotional quotient survey (EQS). This is a well-researched and structured methodology – completed by the coachee themselves – that effectively identifies the gap between current and ideal thinking. Through a series of meetings, a coach will carefully and sensitively bring the learner on a path of behavioural change to improve performance.

EI versus IQ

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is an oft overlooked competency that in its absence, can cause an executive untold career failure. It’s even said that most deals are 50 per cent emotion and 50 per cent economics.  But far too often, emphasis is put on technical skills and industry knowledge as the be all and end all. EI is referred to as the ability to recognise, evaluate and regulate your own emotions, the emotions of those around you and of groups of people. 

One of the key differences between EI and IQ is that IQ will generally stay the same throughout a lifetime, but EI can change and be improved, especially when an individual works with a coach. Some people may still view IQ as a superior type of intelligence, but in fact IQ and EI complement each other. However, in the long run, EI trumps IQ. 

The aforementioned case study shows how ‘John’ was brilliant technically, but blind to his own shortcomings in managing people. 

In a modern world, that just won’t cut it anymore. To think that you can get on and succeed without an appropriate level of emotional intelligence
is futile.

Things to know about executive performance coaching 

Regulation: This is an unregulated industry and there are many former athletes, lawyers, business academics, and consultants putting themselves out there as professional coaches. Check that your coach is a professional and well experienced.  

Chemistry trumps accreditation: Although accreditation is important, what’s even more important is the need to ensure good chemistry between you and your coach. After all you’re likely to share some of your innermost and private thoughts and concerns with them.  

Coaching versus mentoring: A mentor advises the individual on what they think is the best course of action is. A coach will never tell the individual what to do as their style is to facilitate thinking but be non-directive. 

Honesty is key: As you work through the process, there may be times when the coach should challenge your thinking and/or behaviours. Be open to that.

The Last Word

While there may still be a stigma attached to seeing a therapist, there isn’t for working with a coach. But there is a vast difference between performance coaching and therapy. 

The work of a therapist is almost exclusively focused on the past while performance coaching is always forward focused, dipping only temporarily into the past, for more clarity and understanding.  

The case study outlined above is one such scenario where coaching proved to be an ideal intervention. But don’t see coaching just as a remedial thing for when things go wrong. In fact, many organisations now have a culture of engaging coaches to work with their senior and high-potential executives. 

Alan O’Neill is the managing director of Kara, change consultant and speaker


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