Many organizations, large and small, are seeing the benefits of investing in executive coaching for leadership growth. As I explained in a previous post, providing coaching opportunities to your high performers can help them take on more responsibility, reach their full potential, and become the future leaders of your company. However, few companies are truly realizing the full possible return on their investments in coaching.
Too often, companies invest in, or sponsor, leaders for coaching and then step away, leaving them without any input, feedback, or support. Of course, maintaining the trust and confidentiality between the Leader and their Coach is paramount, and there is huge value in this one-on-one, Leader-Coach partnership. However, there is even more value to be realized through the appropriate involvement and participation of a Sponsor. In the most successful initiatives, everybody, including the Coach, Leader, and Sponsor, are engaged and working together toward the same desired outcomes.
What is Sponsor Engagement?
Sponsor engagement refers to the participation of someone within the company at key points in the coaching engagement. Often, the Sponsor is the Leader’s direct manager or an HR strategic partner who has insight into the Leader’s potential and leadership goals. At the outset, the Sponsor can provide insight, perspective and input into the outcomes of the coaching engagement and can help align goals with the organization’s larger objectives. By articulating the desired results and setting goals at the start of any coaching engagement, organizations can measure progress, determine the ROI of their investment, and provide additional support outside of the coaching sessions.
Ongoing Sponsor support is crucial to getting the most out of the coaching experience. By knowing their leader’s overarching objective and areas for critical focus, a supportive Sponsor can provide opportunities for their Leader to implement new behaviours in their day-to-day work. They can also bring their own insight and perspective, and give real-time feedback that can be incorporated into future coaching sessions.
Maintaining Confidentiality and Trust Between Leaders and Coaches
Typically Sponsors tend to keep their distance out of respect for the confidentiality required between Coach and Leader for a successful coaching relationship. While it’s true a Leader must feel comfortable with their Coach and trust that what they discuss will remain confidential, it is possible for the Sponsor to play a meaningful and appropriate role in the process. A skilled coach knows how to manage multiple stakeholders and how to facilitate outcomes-focused conversations between Sponsor and Leader, seeking input and perspective when needed while still maintaining the Leader’s trust and confidence.
Getting this balance right means setting up a clear coaching contract at the beginning of any engagement. Everyone needs to understand their role, responsibilities, and how and when input will be helpful. On-going check-ins can be facilitated to keep communication open and honest and ensure everyone is driving toward the same objectives. Today, even the International Coaching Federation’s Code of Ethics recognizes the importance of a sponsor, and acknowledges they can play a direct role in a coaching engagement.
Putting Leaders on the Best Path to Success
Determining the results of coaching can be tricky and often it is difficult to pinpoint what went wrong if the leader doesn’t achieve the results you expect. By taking an active role in the coaching process, Sponsors can help leaders set objectives that position them for the best chance of success, track the performance of the leader over time, and provide additional support when possible.
My Challenge to You – Clearly Define your Desired Outcomes
Like any strategic decision, you need to understand what you are looking to gain when sponsoring a leader for coaching. Here are some questions to help you define these desired outcomes.
- What opportunities are available to the leader?
- What challenges are currently holding them back from these opportunities?
- What support does the leader require to overcome these challenges?
- How do these opportunities align with the larger business objectives?
By understanding the desired outcomes from the start, you’ll be in the best position to help the coach and leader achieve them.
Jennifer Collins is CEO and Managing Director of Hazell and Collins Associates (HCA). Learn more about HCA’s Leadership Strategy and Coaching Services.