Executive coaching is often used in times of organisational change to help executives develop the psychological and behavioural skills needed to focus on reaching their goals while dealing with the turbulence of organisational change. In the first international study of its kind, the Coaching Psychology Unit at Sydney University partnered with business psychologists YSC to explore the impact of executive coaching during a period of organisational change on 31 executives and managers from Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM).
The case study: SKM
SKM operates in 17 countries across Asia Pacific, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, deploying some 7000 people in 54 offices. Having started in 1964, the business has grown significantly in the last 10-12 years. SKM has also undergone a number of major changes in recent times.
In October 2011, a new CEO assumed responsibility for the business following a 15-year tenure by the previous leader. In addition, a new business-operating model was introduced in July 2011, with a stronger focus on collaboration across the business.. Additionally, during 2011 and 2012 the business was in the process of exploring the possibility of a transformational merger to assist it in fulfilling its ambitious growth targets – problems familiar to many HR professionals.
Because of this background, the coaching program focused on enhancing and developing leadership capability, with the aim of equipping participants to lead themselves, their staff and their business units more effectively.
The coaching program was delivered by YSC, a global firm of business psychologists. The program comprised four 90-minute, one-to-one coaching sessions. It drew on the evidence-based solution-focused cognitive behavioural coaching (SF-CBC) approach developed by the Coaching Psychology Unit.
Coachees completed a preparation sheet prior to each session, outlining their progress, noting any challenges and detailing their goals for the session. Coachees were also asked to make notes about personal insights and any agreed action steps during the sessions.
Following the fourth session, a four (or five) way meeting occurred with the coach, coachee, their manager and/or internal sponsor and their mentor. The objective of the final session was to review and celebrate progress, ensure alignment between the key coaching themes and the provision of support with the aim of maintaining behavioural change over the longer term.
All initial sessions were completed face to face. Subsequent sessions were completed face-to-face where the coach and coachee were based in the same city. All other sessions were completed over the telephone. In total, 62 per cent of sessions were completed in person.
Participants identified two goals that they wanted to work on over a period of three to four months. It was emphasised that these goals should be personally meaningful and aligned with business needs. The program also looked at other important issues related to leadership development and change management, such as solution-focused thinking, change readiness, leadership self-efficacy, resilience, and depression, stress and anxiety.
We asked participants two open-ended questions:
- What specific benefit (if any) has the coaching had on your leadership abilities?
- What specific benefit (if any) has the coaching had on other areas of your life?
Participation was associated with significant increases in goal attainment (an average of 80.97 per cent increase in goal progression), as well as enhanced solution focused thinking, greater ability to deal with change, increased leadership self-efficacy and resilience, and decreases in depression.
In relation to the impact in the workplace there were six key areas of positive change:
- Enhanced sense of self-awareness and increased clarity of thought.
- Stronger personal leadership skills.
- Greater awareness of career possibilities.
- Better communication within the organisation in general.
- Higher levels of confidence and trust in the team.
Positive impact on personal areas of life
The research also found that the coaching had an impact on other areas of the participants’ lives. Participants experienced much better work/life balance, better relationships with family, and feeling less stress and more positive about themselves and life in general.
Participants also reported having experienced a greater sense of purpose in life and an increased awareness of personal values.
Evidence based HR practice
This study shows the importance of ensuring that the coaching goals are business-relevant and personally meaningful; embedding the coaching process into the organisation by involving a range of internal stakeholders including mentors, managers, sponsors and HR business partners; and ensuring the provision of support mechanisms with the aim of maintaining behavioural change long-term.
In the current business climate of global uncertainty and organisational turbulence, it is reassuring to know that well-designed evidence-based executive coaching programs can deliver clear benefits, enhance executives’ ability to deal with change, develop resilience, and positively impact on their personal lives.