BSG From the Boardroom

A curated selection of executive opportunities, industry highlights, and unique insights in executive search.

    Unpacking the Coaching Value Proposition in private-equity backed Middle Market Companies


    There’s been a lot written and discussed around coaching of the sports variety.  Talk radio, TV, newspaper columns, even dedicated cable TV channels.  However, there’s been a lot less written about other types of coaching.  There was quite the zeitgeist in “personal coaching” in the 90’s and the early years of the new millennium that resulted in some media attention across the “self-help” spectrum.  This personal coaching was most often focused on improving “you” and helping one to seek out and find their individual manifest destiny.  But a third type of coaching, neither sports nor personal--coaching in the business context—has gotten far less fanfare.  And in the instances when it receives mention at all, this type of coaching has, for whatever reason, evolved with a notable stigma. 

    Unlike sports or personal coaching, which is often seen as a positive addition to development, executive or team coaching in businesses is intrinsically understood as a “remedial” function of coaching.  It often seems to be associated with a sentiment that “well, maybe if we try some coaching, we can fix the problem.”  This framework presupposes that there is a said “problem.” 

    Through BSG’s experience, our perspective is that we find this entirely shortsighted.  Why should the default setting in the corporate context be “coaching is only for the damaged or broken”? Why shouldn’t it be along the lines of, “Hey, let’s imitate what seems to work in the high performance world of sports, and assign coaches instead to those who demonstrate the highest ability, talent, and skills, and—in doing so—perhaps we can help them improve even further.” This is akin to the Marcus Buckingham mantra, “focus on improving your strengths,” vs. remediating your weaknesses (https://www.marcusbuckingham.com/rwtb/business-case-for-strengths/).  

    The typical NFL football team averages 15 coaches. And that’s for a team on the field for any given play of only 11.   A pro tennis player has a lead coach, a strength coach, a sports psychology coach, and often several other specialist coaches. That’s a ratio of 3 or 4 coaches to 1 athlete.    An Olympic athlete has an arsenal of coaches on which they can draw.   Let’s breed more “Olympic corporate athletes & teams.”  One has to wonder what might happen to business growth & productivity if we did.  Eric Schmidt, the vaunted former Google CEO and now Chair, confessed the value of coaching for him and his Google mandate with great candor in this video interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVfeezxmYcA.

    So here’s our take on coaching in the corporate context.  We can only encourage BSG’s clients, and all others who are looking for the very highest performance from their individual business athletes, as well as the teams on which they play in the quest for making good on OKRs and associated KPIs (https://www.whatmatters.com/,  https://www.investopedia.com/terms/k/kpi.asp)

    Disclaimers & Contextualization:

    • Note that as we mostly specialize in private equity-backed, middle market growth equity businesses, our take is certainly born from our experiences working with these clients as a majority of our diet.
    • There are lots of nuances when you look at coaching for
    • Coaching requires an investment. Of both time, and money.  And it’s usually more time and money than private equity investor/sponsors, boards of directors, or even corporate “athletes” are aware. 
    Here are Our Top 10 Key Talking Points:
    1. When should individual executive coaching be considered?
      • We believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This could be in any of the following scenarios
        • a new executive hire being onboarded into their new organization
        • existing high performance executives looking to break through to the next level of learning & performance
        • existing executives who are being tasked with new skills required as the company moves from one stage of growth to another
    2. What are popular focuses of individual executive coaching?
      • Individual executive coaching most often has 4 possible coaching focuses. Coaching executives in relation to:
        • Themselves. Famous psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl has been credited with the following: “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
        • North – Their superior(s)
        • East & West – Peer(s)
        • South – Subordinates
    3. What are some great self-help management coaching works for managers and leaders
    4. What about business TEAM coaching? How is it different and what are its unique requirements vis-a-vis individual executive coaching?
      • Coaching the TEAM has the intrinsic goal of making the “whole greater than the sum of its parts.”
      • Team coaching often fuses together collective objectives instead of individual ones, and relates to team, functional, business unit or company goals.
      • Great books like “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” are the seed corn for this sort of team coaching (links in bibliography below)
    5. And what are key table stakes for high potential corporate athletes, whether being coached individually or as a team?
      • Willingness to accept coaching is the first and most important. One might call this the “attitude” variable. 
      • If a candidate has very low EI/EQ (emotional intelligence), while some strides can be made, they’ll quickly hit a ceiling long before desired performance goals are achieved.
      • Commitment of time. Coaching time needs to be prioritized and not subordinated to other urgent business priorities, or no progress is likely to be made.
    6. What are costs involved, both in time and money?
      • Time: for individuals, this is often at minimum a monthly coaching commitment of a few hours, or a weekly commitment if working on something specific and urgent.  For teams, this often involves at least a kick-off multi-day retreat for the team and coach/facilitator, and then a recurring cadence of team meetings and one-on-ones over a period of usually no less than 6 months and often a year or longer.
    7. Are there coaching “tools” that can help map areas of existing strength and future growth?
      • There are a raft of such tools. From personality profiling at the lightest level (think DISC or Myers-Briggs MBTI), to deeper tools like Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, Hogan psychometric instruments, and more.
    8. Are there coaching certifications?
      • The ICF (International Coaching Federation) is the recognized standards body and certification entity. More at https://coachfederation.org/
      • However, there are many coaches, both team coaches and individual executive coaches who may have a PhD in clinical psychology in addition to or in surrogate for an ICF certification.
    9. How does one start the process of selecting a coach who is most likely to be a strong fit?
      • Like almost every professional advisor, it’s important to explore several candidates to get a better understanding of what feels like a good fit. Key indicators? 
        • Trust—do you feel you can establish a nonjudgmental trust relationship with them?
        • Vulnerability—do you feel you can be vulnerable with them, or are you going to feel like you always have to put up your “best side”?
        • Location. If it is important to the executive to have in person/face to face meetings, establish whether coaching sessions will all be in person, hybrid of in person and phone/video, or via virtual means only.  There is no “right answer” to this question.  It’s whatever the executive or team seeking coaching feels is most valuable.  Note that often coaches will travel to “players.”  Therefore, it is not a good idea to simply look for those who are local.  Find the best coach first, and then figure out the logistics of meeting cadence and virtual/in-person medium second.
    10. What are content & reading resources are valuable to explore when thinking about coaching?


    -by Clark Waterfall on Nov 22, 2019 10:20:55 AM


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