Investing in coaching and striving to build a coaching culture is important, but engaged manager support will ensure that a company reaps a real return on investment.
What does engaged manager support of coaching look like?
Coaching is most valuable when there is someone who is responsible for monitoring the coaching engagement at key intervals to ensure that the Coach and Coachee are working toward defined outcomes. This role is often referred to as the coaching Sponsor.
The involvement of a Sponsor is not intended to monitor or control the conversations between the Coach and the Coachee. It’s important that there is trust and confidentiality between the Coach and the Coachee, and thus a trained Coach will never divulge any details of the conversation to the Sponsor (nor even will they usually speak privately with a Sponsor). Rather, the Sponsor is there for support and feedback to the Coachee. Their role is to help the Coachee apply what they’re learning “in real life.”
The Sponsor could (and often should) be the Coachee’s line manager. It’s usually the person who is invested in paying for the coaching and also has a vested interest in the outcomes.
The Sponsor role is a very effective way to support coaching when the Sponsor:
- Is in a position to understand and assess the Coachee’s strengths, areas for potential gains and leadership goals.
- Can ensure that the outcomes identified for the coaching are robust and well informed by the context of the Coachee’s role and responsibilities.
- Is able to provide valuable insights to the Coach and Coachee, including real-time feedback that can be incorporated into coaching.
- Provides additional support to the Coachee to help provide the tools and resources to meet coaching goals.
- Advocates for the Coachee, recommending them for opportunities and using their influence to give the Coachee access to new ways to apply what they’re learning.
- Ensures that the goals for coaching align with the organization’s goals as well as the areas identified for the Coachee that need critical focus.
Respects the confidentiality between the Coach and Coachee so that the coaching relationship can be successful.
When the Sponsor is able to work with the Coach and Coachee to articulate and support the desired outcomes, there is a real opportunity to measure progress and the actual ROI for executive coaching. The Sponsor can provide very important and meaningful contributions to help Coach and Coachee with input that can set objectives that position the Coachee for success.
Here are five ways an effective Sponsor can support the success of coaching:
- Help to clearly define coaching objectives at the outset: What will success for this coaching be at the end of the coaching engagement? We recommend those goals include things that will be different by the end of the coaching engagement and things that need to have had a good plan developed for them to continue to be implemented after the coaching engagement. Offer to attend the first coaching session (or, part of it) to share with both the Coach and Coachee what outcomes are expected. This might be specific work results or skills acquired and implemented. The most effective Sponsors are able to provide very good feedback and communicate expectations clearly.
- Recognize and celebrate changes and successes: Sponsors have the opportunity to really encourage Coachees. When you notice the Coachee is making progress, acknowledge their effort. This is critical because aside from the Coach and Coachee, the Sponsor is the only other person who will know the coaching objectives. Unbiased feedback from the Sponsor can also be very helpful for the Coach.
- Check-in periodically with the Coachee: When a Sponsor checks with a Coachee to see how the coaching is going, it underscores that the coaching experience is valuable and important to the Sponsor (and the organization). It also ensures that the coaching sessions stay on track. Without being intrusive into confidential matters, effective Sponsors can demonstrate that they are engaged managers who really care by demonstrating interest and offering encouragement. Consider open-ended questions that aren’t overly intrusive (remembering the confidentiality and trust that are important to the coaching relationship!). These might be questions like: How are things going with your coach? What has been valuable for you? Are there any barriers for you right now? How can I help make things more successful for you?
- Identify tangible ways to support the Coachee’s success: As a manager or HR professional, the Sponsor has an opportunity to provide real support for the success of the Coachee. Ask the Coach and Coachee what they need and then find ways to offer support. This might be helping to facilitate opportunities for the Coachee to work on coaching objectives (for example, having the opportunity to lead a meeting, present to a client or take a workshop to build capacity in some way).
- Make sure the coaching engagement ends with a debriefing: Meet with the Coach and Coachee when the coaching engagement concludes. This is an opportunity to have an exit discussion about ways the coaching has benefited the Coachee and how the Coachee has grown. The Sponsor can offer thoughtful feedback about specific instances they have noticed, as can the Coach. It’s also an opportunity to identify next steps to continue the learning and growth that has been underway.
What benefits would your organization realize by having engaged manager support for coaching? What challenges or opportunities are leaders facing in your organization that could benefit from coaching? What steps can you take to support coaching and make it more successful?