With the increasing use of professional coaching over the past 30+ years, more and more non-executives are being coached – or want to be. Despite these numbers, many in the C-suite who are not People leaders remain skeptical of the impact coaching can have on their employees, teams, and profitability.
If you are reading this, it’s likely you already understand and have experienced firsthand the potential for coaching conversations to improve personal and business outcomes. Now, you are looking to make the case for bringing coaching or coach training into your organization – or scaling up these programs.
People and L&D teams need ways to frame coaching that demonstrates its value. This requires appealing to logic, through trends and statistics, and to the heart, through stories and personal connection.
Everyone makes decisions based on a different mix of logic and emotion. As we’ve seen through an 80+ year history of commercial advertising, emotions outweigh logic almost every time. Educating decision makers on the business case is often necessary, but will only go so far.
In this article, we offer strategies and tactics to appeal to both sides of the decision making muscle when getting buy-in for coaching at your organization. Here are some strategies and tips to encourage decision makers to incorporate coaching into your strategy.
The Logical Appeal
For results-based decision makers who haven’t had experience with a coach – or who have had a poor experience – try leading with a rational appeal.
Here are some ways coaching can positively impact the bottom line.
Employees Expect Development Opportunities – Or It’ll Cost You
In a market where 87% of millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important, and employee engagement is a $450-500B problem, company leaders have the power to offer opportunities that save money and drive performance.
And there’s plenty of appetite. In our recent coaching conversation, “Scaling Coaching in Organizations,” Jeanne Smith from construction tech startup Procore Technologies shared the results of a recent employee engagement survey. When employees were asked the simple question, “Do you want a coach?,” 72% of them said yes. Employees at all levels are eager for individualized development, and coaching is uniquely tailored to providing this.
It is not yet table stakes for employers to offer coaching as part of a suite of employee benefits, but that day is coming soon. Your organization can stay competitive, attracting and retaining top talents, by offering this support.
TIP: If you have people being coached and others who are not, take a look at your latest engagement survey. Who is leaving and who is staying? Who is engaged and who is not? See if there are correlations between those who get coached and those who are engaged/retained. Or, do what Procore did and ask them directly. Then present those numbers to your leadership along with the statistics above.
Coaching Can Help Address DEI Issues
As we experience a paradigm shift toward holding business leaders accountable for creating opportunities for equity and parity at work, a strong case can be made around coaching as a way to create the conditions for DEI efforts to succeed.
As Arfan Qureshi, Senior Director of Talent and Culture at Campbell's Soup Company, said in our scaling coaching session, “Are we giving our leaders skills to bring more voices in the room? There’s no better way to bring more voices into the room in a non-judgemental way than through coaching questions and through the coaching approach and methodology.”
Further, coaching offers tools to more effectively process and integrate other DEI efforts, such as unconscious bias trainings. By taking a whole-person approach, and encouraging ongoing self-reflection, individuals will be more attuned to their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. This Self as Coach mindset can lead to greater awareness of how they may be unintentionally contributing to a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in the workplace environment, and open up ideas about how to change those dynamics.
Don’t Preach the Process – Show Results Instead
The word ‘coaching’ carries baggage for some. To avoid triggering leaders’ preconceptions – like fears that coaching will bring spirituality into work, or that coaching is prohibitively expensive – you may want to steer clear of coaching language, at least in early conversations.
“Sometimes meeting them where they are means not calling it coaching,” says Qureshi. He also recommends advocates of coaching avoid being too dogmatic. Instead, solve problems with coaching first, then show leadership how it was a coaching approach that solved that problem.
Similarly, Hudson faculty member Jason Miller suggests meeting executives where they are by “anchoring [coaching] to a business strategy and the desired outcomes and results.”
Miller goes on to offer an example where he anchored coaching to one company’s strategy of innovation and operational efficiency.
“We found a way to meet the executives’ needs by showing how creating a coaching culture would actually enable operational efficiency and enable innovation,” says Miller. “So we used the language of executives, and eventually over the years they started using the language of coaching.”
You may also instead try using words like ‘agility’ (e.g. leadership agility), ‘decision making’ and ‘efficiency’ – then suggesting incorporating an outside ‘mindset expert’ or ‘performance improvement professional’ (not ‘coach’) to have some conversations or train your team on their most effective techniques.
Don’t commoditize coaching. Coaching is not a thing to be sold; rather, it is a powerful approach to uncover hidden solutions that support a company’s strategic objectives.
TIP: Speak to the pain your organization is feeling (e.g. high turnover, low engagement, poor communication) and the costs of that pain (e.g. money, time). Then point to coaching conversations as one possible way to ease that pain and create a healthier and more resilient organization.
The Emotional Appeal
A decision maker is unlikely to bring coaching into their organization based on logic alone. This section will cover how to show – rather than tell – how a coaching approach can solve big problems and unlock the true potential in employees and teams.
According to Qureshi from Campbells, for decision makers to support coaching, “they have to want it, need it for themselves, and then want it for others.” That means giving executives the chance to feel a personal transformation through coaching: “They can’t sell something they haven’t bought into themselves.”
Jeanne Smith from Procore reiterates the need for decision-makers to have a personal transformation through coaching to get full buy-in.
“We asked [internal coaches] if there was one thing we should absolutely make sure we do, what is it? And they all said the same thing, which is ‘you have to get your senior leaders engaged in coaching. If not, your program will fail.’ Those were strong words, and consistent words.”
Ask About Their Personal History
Most of us have had a teacher, coach, or mentor who made a permanent impression on us. A good mentor or coach does not do your work for you – they give you the frame of mind and perspective to be your best self. See if you can tie this to the decision maker’s own experience.
Try asking, “Who was your best mentor?” and, “How did they make you better?” A typical response will be something like, “They challenged me, were honest with me, lifted me up when I was down, and kept me humble when I was successful.”
That’s when you need to give them an emotional experience to demonstrate coaching’s impact, so they can see how this will improve employees personally, enhance performance, make for healthier teams, and increase the impact of their work.
Give Them a Taste
Consider strawberry ice cream. You can talk about strawberry ice cream until you’re blue in the face, but until you get a taste, it’s impossible to truly know what the experience is like.
Same with coaching: you must give decision-makers a taste of the real thing. Begin with a focused effort coaching a few executives. Your aim is to coach them through a personal transformation.
Give them a series of sessions with a coach who can help the leader to reflect on what they gained from the experience. Offer this as a trial, saying “let’s try this for a few weeks and then talk about your experience.”
Realistically, this won’t work every time. Some will say, “Our people need this.” Some will say, “This was a waste of time.” But the point remains: if selling leaders with slides and a business case isn’t working, try giving them an experience that opens their minds and creates clarity.
Create Internal Advocates
Another option is to enlist a small cohort of high-leverage individuals to serve as spokespeople for the power and potential of coaching. Make a list of individuals you believe will respond well to coaching, and whose opinions matter to top decision-makers. These may be HRBPs or others who have the ear of decision-makers. They will tell others, word will get around, and it will reach the top.
That’s what happend with Jeanne Smith. Six months into Procore’s initial coaching program, she had a meeting to show proof points and hopefully get approval from senior leaders to increase their investment in coaching: “We were showing data and crossing our fingers we’d get some budget to do this, and something magical happened. Our clients started to stand up one by one to talk about their experience in coaching, saying things like ‘it has changed my leadership’ and ‘it has changed the way I show up at home.’”
That was the moment where senior leaders who were making the decisions recognized the true impact coaching could have. “It was the voices of those that experienced [coaching] that locked it in and accelerated our program.”
Procore is a clear case study of how buy-in from the top leads to stronger people and business results. Their CEO became an advocate for developing a coaching culture at Procore, hiring Smith as Coaching Culture Architect. A few years later, the $3B startup became the gold standard for how a coaching culture can create a competitive advantage for greater engagement, performance, and business outcomes.
Remember to speak to your strategy and appeal to the rational side of business leaders. Avoid using coaching jargon and instead focus on the results coaching approach can achieve. And bring leaders along on this journey. Making a personal impact on a few key individuals can unlock incredible potential that makes better people, better employees, and more impactful and resilient organizations.