coaches for high potentials

Coaches for High-Potential Employees: Buy ‘em or Build ‘em?

Coaching high-potential employees is a bit like parenting; you often learn by doing. Some learn business coaching by the seat-of-their-pants. Some emulate the same coaching practices that were used on them. Some will do anything but the same practices that were used on them.

Unlike parenting, however, you don’t have 18 years to get it right. Fortunately, there are options for introducing excellent coaching to the high-potentials at your organization. You can buy it, or you can build it.

The need for excellence in coaching surfaced in a recent study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) for the members of its working group, the Executive Leadership Development Exchange. This study, Accelerating High-Potential Employees on the Path to Leadership, found a business coaching conundrum: while coaching is an effective developmental practice, managers of high-potential employees just aren’t that effective at doing it.

The case for buying coaching expertise

The expectation that all managers—in addition to managing the people, processes and functions they are charged with—should also be experts at coaching may be difficult to meet. The specific skills involved in working with many different personality-types to bring about behavioral change or build skills can be a challenge to master. For this reason, some organizations look to external coaches, but primarily for executive-level employees, according to Coaching: What Really Works, a previous i4cp study conducted in partnership with the American Management Association (AMA). The lack of standards in credentialing coaches, however, makes the selection of such external coaches a challenge in and of itself.

Securing the services of an external professional coach may be a costly alternative for coaching high-potential employees. Hourly rates can average $320 for executive coaches and $240 for business coaches, according to Sherpa Coaching. Organizations may want to stick with well-recognized firms or consider using external coaches to “coach the coaches” internally. Another option is to send managers to an external development program.

The case for building coaching expertise

The i4cp study on accelerating high-potentials found that high-performance organizations (HPOs)—those that have experienced growth in revenue, market share, profitability and customer satisfaction during the preceding five years—provide a culture of coaching at their firms. This culture is credited with being a success factor in HPO’s hi-po development programs and is significantly correlated to market performance. Two-thirds of HPOs use coaching to accelerate their high-potentials on the journey to leadership readiness.

With internal management development programs, give managers opportunities to practice their coaching skills. Role-playing can be especially helpful for honing skills in listening, probing and giving feedback. This practice can build confidence in managers as well as their ability to gain the trust of the high-potential employees they coach.

Expanding the business coaching pool

In the i4cp/AMA study, coaching strategies included expanding the pool of coaches. The Coaching: What Really Works Playbook suggests that such expansion efforts could include professional external coaches, trained internal coaches and even peer coaches. Regardless of the source of coaches, it is critical to match the right coach and coachee with a professional and personal fit.

Develop a game plan for the careful selection of the right coaches. Screen for relevant qualifications, conduct formal interviews with prospective coaches, and have executives or HR professionals serve as a qualified matchmakers between coach and coachee. This upfront attention is critical, as 65% of those responding to the coaching survey agreed that a top barrier to coaching success was the mismatch between coach and coachee, leading to the termination of coaching assignments.

With options and resources to tap, organizations can bring business coaching skills to their managers. Those managers, in turn, can help to develop the high-potential employees under their supervision.

How does your organization ramp up coaching talent? What recomendations do you have for a successful high-potential employee coaching program?