Category Archives: Executive Coaching

A More Effective Way to Look at Succession Planning

Time marches on, and with it go corporate leaders. Everybody retires at one time or another, and to maintain solvency in the leadership ranks, companies must know in advance how they’re going to deal with these departures. The traditional way of addressing this is with succession planning.

It’s important to have a plan in place to make the changing of the guard for executive management positions smooth and uncontroversial. The plan itself, however, is not as important as what the plan mandates: development of personnel who are ready, willing and able to assume top spots such as chief executive, chief of operations, chief financial officer, chief technology officer and others.

Succession planning – or succession development?

A lot of companies are big on planning but not so great on development. Where succession planning is concerned, this is often simply a problem with how the process is viewed. Planning is a system with so many aspects, it can seem to go on forever and grow to the point where nobody really understands the plan anymore. Development is quite different.

If you think “succession development,” then you’ll be starting out on the track that will lead you to the results you want. Common sense tells you that in leadership succession, the goal is to prepare future leaders, not to plan. You already know what’s going to happen – new leaders will replace retiring leaders or those who leave for other reasons. The key is to make the “plan” simple and concise while focusing the majority of efforts on developing these future leaders.

Where will your future leaders come from?

Aside from executives you may hire from without, all your future leaders will come from within your own ranks. Assume it’s your CFO position that’s in question. Your succession development activity will launch around questions such as:

    • Who in our company has demonstrated a desire to remain with us long-term?
    • Among these, where are they on the management ladder at this point?
    • Which potential candidates regularly show critical management skills such as personal responsibility, leadership, team-building, delegation, etc., – or, in which candidates could these skills be developed with proper guidance?
    • Which candidates’ resumes show a solid background in finance – both academically and in the work history?
    • Will the candidate(s) we target be able to pass the scrutiny of those who will select the new CFO? That is, will there be any conflicts between the candidate and the selection committee members?

Personnel fitting these and other crucial criteria may be found in a number of departments, performing under a variety of job titles. The current leadership team must know their employees well enough to be able to determine three things:

  1. Who could possibly be a good fit as CFO
  2. What these individuals need to add to their skill sets in order to be successful in this position
  3. How long this development will take

If your CFO is slated for retirement in three years and one of your candidates would need more than three years to acquire the skills necessary for that position, that candidate is not a candidate. This is where the actual planning comes in. Company leadership must be able to “groom” candidates in time for them to replace retiring executives. In some cases, you may have 10 years to work with, so your candidate pool will be larger. In other cases, you may have less than a year, which is why ongoing succession development is so important.

At the end of the day, the most successful companies are those that make leadership development an integral part of their operations. Nothing can take the place of preparation, especially when it concerns the replacement of current leaders with new leaders for the future.

What to Expect from an Executive Coach

A rising athlete relies on a good coach to provide the insight and direction that lead to greater skills. In the same way, smart business leaders tap into the proven expertise of executive coaches to help them develop the leadership and personal power needed to rise to the top of their fields. What’s it like to work with an executive coach? Why are these coaches so beneficial?

Most of us have watched sports coaches in action. In nearly every case, we know that the coach’s athlete or team is much better at the sport than the coach. Think John Madden, Tommy Lasorda, Phil Jackson. None of these epic coaches could possibly match up against their world-class players. So what good are they?

The answer is simple: They have specific knowledge about the game that the players don’t have, and they can see things the players can’t. This is exactly why an executive coach is so valuable to the career paths of individuals in leadership roles who wish to grow at a rate that would be impossible on their own. Let’s take a look at some of the elements of a well-rounded executive coaching program.

Time frame and objective

Unlike with athlete coaching, which can last an entire career, executive coaching programs usually last for nine months to a year. If the coaches are seasoned high-performers, this is sufficient time for the executive client to learn necessary skills, un-learn bad habits and embed the new knowledge through practice and analysis. Coaching or training programs lasting weeks or just a few months are normally less thorough and less effective.

What are the expected outcomes of an executive coaching program?
Whether in sports or in business, no coach worth his or her salt would launch a program without first establishing the goals and objectives to be met through coaching. Working with their clients’ unique situations and understanding their specific needs, executive coaches aim for desired outcomes such as:

• Versatility in all aspects of the executive’s job performance
• The ability to develop and communicate a shared vision throughout an organization
• Solid leadership proficiency
• Skills in generating followership and building teams
• Becoming a strong influencer
• Learning how to develop individuals and bring out the best in them
• The ability to manage conflicts with an eye on ideal resolutions

Each of these skills and abilities is critical for today’s executive. It would be nice if a person could just read that list, decide that they will acquire each skill and then go out and acquire them. Unfortunately, the development of these abilities requires practice and guidance, and that’s where an executive coach and his or her methodologies come into play.

A solid executive coaching program consists of many elements designed to empower the executive in a variety of areas. Here are a few of them.

Necessary tools

Coaches share with their clients the right information and tools needed to acquire specific skill sets now and in the future. An executive coach sees the bigger picture and knows what the client will need to learn in order to succeed.

Leadership observation

While the definition of leadership is simple to understand, acquiring this trait doesn’t happen automatically. Executive coaches watch their clients in work settings, looking closely at how the clients’ actions and decisions affect the team and/or the business as a whole. Coaches then share their observations with their clients and define where leadership is strong and where changes are necessary.

Simulations

When a tennis player has a match with a practice partner, the coach is able to watch every aspect of the player’s performance and determine where slight – but possibly costly – errors are being made. It’s the same with the executive coach, who puts the client into roles and circumstances typical in the executive’s work life in order to monitor how the executive manages them.

Meeting analysis

All great leaders in business are masters of the meeting. With the right abilities, an executive can run a meeting that imparts information and garners feedback in the most effective and time-efficient manner. Executive coaches observe their clients’ skill at handling meetings and then provide analysis of what was done well and where improvement is called for.

Best Practices: Enhancing the Manager/Direct Report Relationship

We have noticed a trending in the last 5 years between managers and their direct reports that concerns us a great deal. Managers have become less accessible, conduct fewer staff meetings, schedule infrequent one-on-ones and communicate downward less and less. We believe this growing trend is being driven by three particular things: managers being asked to manage and be individual contributors, more matrixed organizations that require significant cross functional collaboration and thus a greater time allotment and managers not being acknowledged or rewarded enough for developing their people.

This is not an attempt to bash managers but rather an explanation for what has distracted them away from best practices for the manager/direct report relationship. Managers are literally in the middle between the demands being placed on them by their leaders and the responsibility of managing a team.

So what outcomes do we see due to this dilemma? In our coaching and team development work we see less “bench strength” being developed in organizations, fewer career path discussions taking place and diminishing morale as people begin to feel more like worker bees than employees who are making a contribution that has an impact on the organization.  The only way managers can get back to enhancing their relationships with their team members is too make a greater commitment to making development a priority.

Carve out the time on your calendar and don’t cancel time with your people/ team unless the building is burning down or you have a million dollar deal on the table! The ultimate “you are not important’ message gets sent to your reports when you cancel meetings with them on a regular basis or don’t schedule them at all.  While it may seem harmless at the moment that you decide to cancel a one-on-one when you certainly have other important things you need to accomplish, the consequences are further reaching than it might appear at first glance.

Our list below of best practices, while not comprehensive, is certainly a good start back on the road to building that very important manager/direct report relationship.

Mentoring

  • Carve out time on a weekly basis 30-60 minutes, to meet for coaching/mentoring.  This is your highest priority.  Don’t ever cancel unless someone is sick.
  • Together, with your employee, identify strengths and skill gaps.
  • Together create a development plan.
  • Encourage, navigate, help them win.
  • Provide constructive feedback on a regular basis.
  • Ask questions.  (“Tell me what motivates you?” “How can we make our team meetings more effective?”)

Motivating

  • Tell them what they’re doing well.
  • Provide them with challenges and responsibility in line with their ability.
  • Give recognition for initiative and personal responsibilities taken on.
  • Provide learning opportunities.
  • Create opportunities for the employee to provide leadership by helping others overcome a challenge.

Communication

  • Find out what they need from you to be successful.
  • Let people know what you expect from them.
  • Tell people when they’ve hit a home run and when they have missed.
  • Keep your people informed of the big picture.
  • Err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Be a truth teller who communicates with compassion.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

  • Let people know what they are responsible for.
  • Be clear about what their role is in the organization.
  • Communicate what you see as their highest priorities.
  • Identify the business results they need to generate to be successful.

Recognition

  • Acknowledging effort beyond normal day to day responsibilities.
  • Recognizing team collaboration over individual effort.
  • Finding out how your people like to be recognized.

Our experience tells us that with a little time and effort spent developing your employees, employee retention will be at an all-time high, morale will increase and you will develop a loyal following as your people learn that you are invested in their success.