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A Model of Executive Coaching: Steps & Processes
My name is Sari van Poelje, I’m the director of Intact Academy and of Team Agility. Within Intact Academy, we have coaching programmes, from beginner to advanced, from executive coach to team coach to supervisor to business coach. In Team Agility, we help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate time to market. This is more important than ever in the world today. And I’m very happy to be able to do that for my clients, startups, family, businesses, and multinationals.
In this series of vlogs, I want to talk about executive coaching. I’ve been an executive coach for more than 35 years. In the last vlog, we talked about what executive coaching is and the levels of executive coaching. In this one, I want to talk about what steps you take in executive coaching. There are many models and books about executive coaching. Some of them are good, a lot of them are bad. I’ve synthesized a five step model of executive coaching. The model doesn’t mean executive coaching is a linear process, because in actual fact, executive coaching is a deeply human process. And that means it’s iterative, repetitive, and sometimes you fall back into earlier stages.
What I’m going to present to you is not one dimensional or even two dimensional, it’s actually three dimensional. You can think of it as strands of DNA moving in and out, where the process of personal development can be at a different pace than a process of professional development. But in the end, you want people to know who they are as they are performing in a role. This personal and professional development weaves in and out all the time.
5 Step Executive Coaching Model
Start with contact, then you go to contract, then systemic assessment because it’s not just about me and the client, it’s about me, the client and the context. Then we go to intervention and evaluation. Each step is not only a moment in time, it’s a process that goes throughout the whole encounter in coaching. I usually contract for 10 sessions where people can decide they’re done at the fifth session, most people do transformative change within 10, maximum 15 sessions.
As an executive coach, you have a sell by date. You should not become part of the furniture. Because when you become part of the furniture, you’re part of the problem. An executive coach intervention is short, sharp, focused. If they come back after three years, which they often do, and say, Five years ago, you really helped me. I’ve got a different problem now, that’s fine. But I tend to be very contractual about how long I stay.
Step 1: CONTACT
You start contact from the moment you pick up the phone or when they email. Contact happens during the entire process of executive coaching. Obviously, the way you have contact changes over time, as you get to know each other better, and you start to discern what is yours and what is theirs. What is transference or counter transference? We’ll talk about that later.
Step 2: CONTRACT
Contracting is a step, but it’s also a process. Contracting takes place after the contact, but it’s something you do all the time. In executive coaching, you have a contract for all the sessions. But you’ve also got a contract per session. And even per moment. People will say, Oh, I understand that, can we go on to the next layer of the problem. Even then, these small session contracts, or even moment by moment contracts, agreements of what you’re doing together, they have to be in relationship to the bigger contract you made. And maybe even above that, the existential contract you have between the executive coach and the client, which is: I’m here also for your general safety and well being.
Step 3: SYSTEMIC ASSESSMENT (CONTEXT)
The assessment part is also a step and a process. In systemic assessment, you work as a coach, as a consultant, with the information you have at that moment. You have to accept that every time you work with a client, you have imperfect data. You will never know everything. You haven’t lived their life. They know more than you do about what’s going on. And that’s fine.
Within systemic assessment, after contact and contract, you revise what you do with a client all the time. So this assessment is a step. But it’s also a process that goes on throughout the executive coaching. The end result should be that you know what’s going on at the behavioural, relational and existential level.
Step 4: INTERVENTION
From the moment I meet someone, when they pick up the phone and say they have a problem, the way I react is an intervention.
I remember one executive came into my office, and he was speaking on the phone, still carrying his briefcase, and he kind of nodded at me, but he was still talking to someone else. And I remember saying to him, after he put down the phone, which took quite a while: Is this how you usually come in?
And he said, Yeah, I’m always busy. I’m always busy.
I said, So when do you rest?
Oh, I am special. I only sleep four hours a night.
And I said, So when do you eat?
Oh, I eat when my wife or my secretary puts food in front of me. I’m doing an organisational change, can you help me?
I remember saying to this grey-looking, 30 year old, From what you’re telling me, and the way you look, I’d really love to help you with your organisational change. But the contract I want to make with you is that for the first three sessions, we work on your biorhythms. Because if you don’t sleep properly, eat properly, and rest properly you’ll get ill, and organisational change will be the last thing on your mind. So will you accept this?
Luckily he agreed. He has a fantastic career, he’s thriving, and he’s much healthier than he was before.
I’m telling you this anecdote, because the idea of doing an intervention only after you know everything is a fallacy and a myth. You will never know everything you have to be working in the moment with your assessments and your interventions.
Step 5: EVALUATION & TERMINATION
The same thing goes for the last step in this super simple model, and that’s evaluation. Evaluation and goodbyes are just as important as hellos in executive coaching, as in life. People tend to spend more time thinking about how to say hello, then how to say goodbye.
In executive coaching it’s really important to help clients evaluate and to say goodbye. A lot of the executives I have, in my coaching practice at least, do not say goodbye very well. They don’t say goodbye very well to their people, to their roles, to their work every day when they come home. And so this step within the executive coaching is a didactic step as are all the steps. I model what I hope that they will learn.
Evaluation and termination is not just a step, it’s a process. You do it every time a client comes in, every time a client leaves.
In the next vlogs we’re going to be talking about each of these steps in turn, because it’s really important to understand what to do as an executive coach during the process of coaching.
Think about what you do and what steps you take during your executive coaching processes.