Leveraging the external coaching investment

{Tulpa, 2010. In Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in Coaching: The Industry Guide (2nd Ed.)}

Sponsors involved in leading an organization’s coaching investment are asking:

How do we lead and manage the significant investment?

How do we ensure it is strategic and each coaching maximizes business performance?

Strategic Framework for Leveraging External Coaching

Key elements for sponsor’s attention

    1. Environment

Performance context. Business story. Inspiring outcomes.

    1. Defining the Coaching Requirements

Key elements. Best practice guidelines for use of external coaches. Selection criteria and process.

    1. Coach Selection and Appointment

Guiding principles. Contracting with the marketplace. Key success factors.

    1. Embedding Best Practice

Performance management. Establishing ongoing governance. Evaluation.

    1. Engagement

Key stakeholders. Platform of learning and dialogue. Partnership and relationships.

    1. Considering External Market Trends

Coaching, other professions. Global integration. Sustainability.

The organization has an important leadership role to play in leveraging the external coaching investment and maximizing returns for all parties involved.

This systemic framework guides you to design and embed an integrated approach so that results are sustainable and make a lasting difference within your organization and beyond.

Key terms:

Performance coaching: focused on the fast-tracking of performance of an individual, group of individuals, or teams, to increase organizational performance.

A dynamic framework, not a point-to-point guide: As you engage with the different elements and review the framework holistically, it will provoke and stimulate the development of your approach.

To drive optimum organizational performance, integrate the use of the framework with your overall organizational development strategy.

1. Environment

Focus on creating the right environment for coaching to succeed. Set high expectations on the financial investment. Set high expectations on anticipated results.

Ensure the sponsor and key ambassadors take time to productively educate all stakeholders on “what does good look like.”

To cultivate this environment and achieve the greatest business impact, we focus on three key areas.

Prepare ‘Readiness Questionnaire’

Do ‘Expectations Review’

Stakeholder’ ‘Vision Cafe’

Performance context:

To help coaches perform at their optimal abilities, debrief and communicate information on the broader business environment and provide the overall organizational performance context.

Do this communicating on an ongoing basis.

Focus and deliver within the broader environment, as well as the individual and team coaching context.

Optimize your contribution to the whole organization.

Business story:

What are our key business drivers; hopes, ambitions, and goals; short- and medium-term business outcomes; organizational and leadership capabilities required to drive the business forward; other characteristics, values, and attributes to success?

How does performance relate to talent?

How do we ensure the requisite managerial leadership to create an environment for people to perform?

What is our current business outcome, and what is required to meet the objectives of our strategic intent; what are our potential, ambitions, and results?

What challenges do we face; what is achievable?

Inspiring outcomes:

Leader tasks are to shape and articulate a compelling business performance context of networking, collaboration, and learning groups, forums, platforms, and media.

Articulate to key stakeholders, including external coaches, strategic goals, performance plans, and how you intend to achieve outcomes; inspire and engage.

To distill the most powerful messaging, engage a diverse range of stakeholders in formulating the story.

Performance outcomes: articulate the overarching short- and long-term performance outcomes for the business.

Environment: What is the larger “playground” and greater operating environment the company is operating in? What is it looking to create and influence?

Competitive strategy: what does the company want to strengthen and develop? What is the brand, and how is it positioned in the marketplace?

Signature strengths: what are the company’s signature strengths, and how will these be leveraged to achieve short- and long-term outcomes?

Measures of “performance”: what does the company expect and value concerning delivery?

Capabilities required to deliver the short- and long-term goals.

Leader’s roles and responsibilities: what are they for delivering all of the above?

2. Defining the Coaching Requirements

Engage stakeholders to think through, articulate, and define your strategic external coaching approach; deliver results to individual and team’s performance agenda, drive the overall organization’s performance agenda, and transfer capability from external coaches to the broader organization.

Key elements

Description – what does the organization mean by external coaching?

When leaders and people in the organization have experienced great coaching, what made it great?

What are the behaviors of these coaches; how do they create the performance impact?

Does coaching refer just to external coaches, or does it include the knowledge transfer that consulting companies bring, e.g., innovation?

Outcome – what is the outcome you expect from every external coaching intervention?

What are the performance outcomes you expect?

What has been in place from external coaching assignments that have had the biggest performance impact on individual or team, e.g., sponsorship, line management involvement?

Organizational Aspirations – what are the stated performance aspirations?

What are the overall performance outcomes the business wants to drive; what capabilities are needed to drive this?

What are the organizational capabilities (leadership, people, values) required to be embedded through development practices?

Accountabilities – clarity and articulation of the organizational approach – micro and macro

What blend of a centralized or decentralized approach to leading and managing your external coaching investment would be best?

Who will hold overall accountability for leading and managing?

What are the roles and deliverables of key stakeholders in every coaching intervention, e.g., coach, client, line manager?

Annual spend – the proportion of the development budget to be spent on external coaching.

What is the right proportion?

What % of this will be on team versus individual coaching?

Which populations will you target with your investment?

External Coaching – Market Trends

What is the latest thinking or practice from the marketplace?

What is the latest research on coaching results?

As a sponsor, consult and engage key stakeholders to create and articulate outputs around these elements.

Make this information readily available to all stakeholders, including coaches, so they can perform at their best and deliver.

Best practice guidelines for use of external coaches:

What is our strategic position taken on external coaching; where will we focus our annual investment?

What do we consider best practice in coaching?

What capabilities are we looking for in selecting external coaches?

Expectations and recommendations for each intervention, e.g., length, deliverables, accountabilities of coach, client, line manager?

Set these benchmarks and promote consistency throughout the business.

Selection criteria and process

Seek to align with your strategic coaching approach, culture, and overall business and people strategies. Look for fit with company values.

Ability to demonstrate strong business acumen;

Willingness to work to organizational agenda, as well as individual or team agenda;

Accredited coach, minimum 3-5 years professional coaching experience, hours;

Coaching qualifications from a credible school or related experience;

Doing ongoing reflective practice, high levels of self-awareness, and commitment to own ongoing personal and professional development;

Certifications in various psychometrics or instruments;

Ability to hold the client safe – boundary management;

Has a learner mindset;

Can clearly articulate own underpinning beliefs, philosophy, approach to coaching and what informs this;

Demonstrates a clear process, with the proven effectiveness of own coaching;

Has breadth and versatility to coach in complex, dynamic environments;

Member of a professional body, with a commitment to ethics and best practice.

What will you measure; how will you evaluate these areas; who will be involved in the selection process; who will be the owner?

3. Coach Selection and Appointment

Guiding principles:

The organizational sponsor should continually reinforce these principles:

To build a partnering ethos based on trust and respect.

To be clear and honest in communication.

To walk the talk and deliver on promises made.

To create a platform of learning.

These support your reputation as a company that takes a professional approach in how they work and engage with external talent, particularly their coaches or providers.

Also, seek these same principles and related behaviors in the coaches, aligned with the selection criteria and the strategic coaching approach.

Contracting with the marketplace:

Give potential coaches or suppliers an indication of the estimated business they would be expected to have if they were selected.

Processes include: Questionnaires, interviews, presentations, live coaching demos, critical reviews or write-ups, observed supervision, and ethics case study.

To manage expectations, be transparent around budget parameters at the outset, and indicate the rate ranges.

When going to market, limit the ratio to no more than 1:5 for the required versus the invited number of coaches.

Key success factors:

Engage key stakeholders, define coaching strategy and approach, establish selection criteria appropriate for the business, and be clear on the estimated volume of business and rates before going to market.

Establish what’s required; do not overdo what’s being called for.

Position the coach review as a development and learning opportunity for coaches.

Bring in expert input to serve on the selection panel.

Use theoretical and practical assessment.

Write a clear brief and communicate upfront what will be measured.

Set realistic timelines and meet all deadlines, including when final decisions will be made and whether there will be follow-up feedback.

Establish in advance several dates when the development days will take place.

Show diversity in the pool.

Adhere to all confidentiality and data protection policies; the coach’s reputation and data provided are sensitive information.

Create a win-win; balance asking and giving at any stage.

4. Embedding Best Practice

Performance management:

Have the mindset or higher expectation that a significant performance shift will happen due to every external coaching intervention.

This will leverage the investment, help to focus the coaching, and ensure all parties involved are committed to doing their part in making the performance shift happen.

As part of the organization’s performance process and system, record and track the performance outcome and behaviors the client is committed to making as a result of the external coaching investment.

Record and track the outcome the client or team is driving to rather than content or detail.

Link outcome to the business and focus outcome on performance to support the end game.

Decide the line manager’s role in supporting and enabling the client or team to make the shifts, tracked and recorded in their performance commitments.

Define key success measures on what is working in practice as a result of the coaching intervention.

For all stakeholders to have similar expectations, seek agreement to proactively use the performance management system to record the performance outcomes the coaching is designed to deliver.

Have key milestones along the coaching intervention.

Proactively encourage tracking and recording of commitments; the organization’s commitment to invest in coaching must be matched by the individual’s and team’s commitment to delivering change due to the investment.

Write performance outcomes in an outcome-focused way to facilitate the progress stakeholders make as they engage in coaching work.

Note: feedback directly related to the client’s performance is outside the external coach’s boundaries and code of ethics.

Establish ongoing governance:

Ensure all accountabilities are clearly understood and communicated; all roles and responsibilities are defined for each stakeholder.

Build upon organizational best practice guidelines established for using external coaches and create easy-to-access “how to” guides for working with their coach. Key areas to include in guides:

List of selected coaches, contact details, geographical location, and summary of each coach’s background, strengths, and style.

Rules of engagement, e.g., budgeting, contracting, review process, confidentialities, cancellation clauses.

Expectations and parameters.

Recommended length of external coaching assignments, who is involved in matching, and how external coaches should exit.

When the final meeting with the client and line manager occurs, the coaching intervention’s expectations and outcomes are transparent.


A systemic approach and performance orientation throughout is essential to ensure the intervention is evaluated, embedded as best practice, and continually enhanced. The focus and design take into consideration and evaluate the following.

    1. the performance impact or changes that are created as a result
    2. the behavioral shifts in clients; how they are behaving differently and contributing more to business results
    3. the contribution of the external coach in enabling the client to make the required performance shift
    4. the contribution of other stakeholders in enabling the client to make the performance shift, e.g., line manager

These help assess factors contributing to and limiting business results. Surveys, interviews, and review meetings at regular intervals develop the organization’s coaching knowledge and the results; help to build the intellectual property around coaching; provide insights into key levers.

5. Engagement

Key stakeholders:

Positioning the coaching investment as a strategic initiative; involving key stakeholders both inside and outside the business as part of the evaluation process, as a source of learning; establishing a partnership ethos throughout by treating the coaches as part of the company, and encouraging several stakeholders across the company to be accountable for the success of the coaching.

It is helpful to communicate to members of lower tiers, even those not going through coaching, why their managers are going through it in terms of their development. This creates a learning environment, inspires leadership through a pull approach, and creates further energy and support for the program.

Platform of learning and dialogue:

The strategic framework model provides a structure to enable and inspire all stakeholders to contribute fully.

The sponsor takes the biggest lead in this area; with an ethos of partnership, a way of working that fosters learning and dialogue among all parties is established and built.

As part of the engagement strategy, building a two-way communication process to provide the opportunity to share experience, information, and learning; to deliver updates on the business performance context; setting up media for continuous dialogue with external coaches in the form of teleconferences, evaluation meetings, education forums, and blog portals, is encouraged.

Partnership and relationships:

Partnership ethos, practiced with all appropriate behaviors, creates strong relationships and advocates for the initiative. This creates goodwill and ripples in the marketplace.

The best companies involve their CEO and executive team as a partner in the program; at the commencement of the coaching and throughout. This commitment drives the coaching as an enabler to deliver business performance.

To summarize, the essential success factors are having continuous dialogue across all stakeholder groups, with clear accountabilities, and building ongoing, trusting relationships aligned to the overall performance agenda.

6. Considering External Market Trends

Coaching must be positioned at the highest levels of the organization, as a board or strategic imperative, to maximize business value and drive performance. This also helps get the right levels of engagement and support so that the benefits of coaching become inherent to the company’s culture over time.

Coaching and other professions:

As coaching evolves into a profession, other industries and professions of consulting, training, learning and development, psychology, counseling, career transition, and executive search add perspectives and learning into what is occurring within the wider talent, or people development, marketplace.

Global integration:

So many factors, so many challenges.


Broader than corporate social responsibility, sustainability looks at social, economic, environmental, and ethical factors.