The Rise of Executive Coaching

We are proud to officially announce that Annole Steyn has joined Chorus Executive as Head of Coaching & Consulting.  Annole is an Organisational Development and Leadership Coaching expert. She has more than 25 years’ experience providing strategic guidance on global human capital management, organisation design & development and transitional change initiatives. 

According to a study conducted by Hay Group, between 25 and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using executive coaches.  Harvard Business Review recently sited that annual spend on coaching in the US has reached $1 billion, with major corporations such as IBM, GE and Goldman Sachs investing heavily in this area. 

We spoke with Annole about the increasing demand for coaching.  

“Companies succeed when they view their people as an investment that contribute to the bottom line and understand that their people underpin the strategy of the business.  So coaching becomes part of that investment in people.  It draws out the best parts of an individual while also identifying their areas that need improvement,” Annole said.

The objective of coaching is not to solve the problems of the individual.  Rather, a coach will provide guidance so that the individual can find the solution themselves.  “A coach gives people the tools and awareness to solve their own roadblocks and often acts as a sounding board. And it’s a great feeling when you see that lightbulb come on inside a person,” Annole said.  “You see them break through something that was holding them back or finally understand something about themselves they were previously unaware of. It’s very satisfying.”

One critical factor for the success of a coach is their ability to build rapport.  According to Annole, rapport creates trust – the basis of any productive relationship. 

“People tend to enjoy talking about themselves, provided they feel they are being heard.  As a coach, I am genuinely interested in people so I truly listen in order to fully understand the individual and their circumstances,” Annole said.  It is an art form critical to effective coaching and as Annole explains, often she will have to ask the hard questions and discuss issues that the executive might not necessarily want to discuss with his/her peers or seniors. 

Coaching is often seen as a way to correct leadership behavioural problems and while this is often true, it is also frequently used to sharpen leadership skills or develop a person’s existing skills into that of a leader, so it is an incredible tool in succession planning. 

A study published in Public Personnel Management Journal found that while managerial training programs increased productivity by 22.4%, executive coaching increased productivity by 88%. 

In Annole’s experience, she has seen dramatic increases in productivity for businesses whose leadership teams undergo coaching.  “There was one company I worked with where each executive was leading their own department successfully but as a leadership team, they could not work cohesively around the strategy.” Annole found this company’s leadership team was entirely made up of Alpha personalities that constantly competed against each other.  She used a game to understand their behavioural profiles. “The game they played really demonstrated how counter-productive their behaviour was. They realised they were not listening to each other at all. After twelve coaching sessions, they each learned self-awareness and how to deal with different personalities. Their understanding of each other was unlocked.  Within six months, their productivity had increased by 76%.  It was a great result!” Annole said.

In instances of an executive’s underperformance, the obvious objective of the company is to lift their performance.  According to Annole, the most common obstacle in improving an executive’s performance is getting them to understand and accept that there is indeed an issue.  “The individual’s perception of their own performance needs to be held in comparison to the perception of the business in order for the individual to understand there is an inconsistency.  Most people believe they are performing well,” Annole explained. “Most of the time, their skills are fine but it is their behaviour that is effecting their performance.  And this is often learned behaviour so it can be changed, depending on the willingness of the individual.”

Annole believes that companies tend to hire people for their technical skills and fire them for their behavioural skills.  What coaching offers is an opportunity for that person to improve their behavioural skills through greater awareness of self, role, peers, environment and organisation.

Whether the objective is to improve performance, sharpen existing skills, smooth the transition of a promotion or ensure solid succession planning, executive coaching is fast becoming a core part of business strategy.  Gary Ranker, who is often described as the father of the coaching industry, once said, “A person at a high-peak performance level, such as an Olympic runner, has a coach, so why should it be different for a CEO?  As long as you wish to stay in the game in what is a very competitive environment, the coach’s role is integral to your success.”