Leadership, Training

What HR Can Learn from Stakeholder-Centered Coaching

Executive coaching is an established tool in the HR box. It helps executives become better leaders and managers.  In the process, it can improve the performance of teams and entire organizations.


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But in recent years coaching has, if not fallen out of favor, become more difficult to “sell” in the C suite.   The main reason:  It is very difficult to measure results.   In a corporate culture increasingly driven by metrics, that can be a significant downside.  Yes, this limitation often applies to many forms of training.   It seems to matter more when it involves training executives.  Organizational leaders are especially attuned to concrete measures of performance.

There is a coaching methodology built around metrics.  Stakeholder-centered coaching, best known through the work of Marshall Goldsmith, promises and delivers measurable leadership growth.

What Makes Stakeholder-Centered Coaching Different

The stakeholder-centered methodology is unique in a number of keys ways:

  1. It defines a focused leadership growth area important to the executive and to the organization.
  2. It enrolls stakeholders who are then part of the process.  These stakeholders include staff and peers.
  3. It utilizes stakeholders’ suggestions and input for action planning by the executive.
  4. It promotes change by monthly feedback and suggestions from stakeholders.
  5. It measures an executive’s growth as perceived by the stakeholders using a minisurvey instrument.

What the Coaching Process Looks Like

The process starts by asking the executive “how good do you want to be?”  On a scale of effectiveness from  – 3 to  +3, where would you like others to rate you? Without exception, leaders express the desire to be found to be in the area of +3.  Such a metric can, in and of itself, prove decisive in an executive’s decision to participate in the coaching process.

The next step is to identify the areas for change or negative interpersonal patterns that create challenges and roadblocks in an executive’s interactions with others.   These are bad habits or unproductive behaviors that inhibit executives from maximizing their performance and effectiveness.

Once the executive and coach identify the behaviors that need improvement, they’re then in a position to establish one or two concrete development goals.   The key factor in a metric-based coaching model is that executives “go public” to a group of selected stakeholders with these goals and receive ongoing, timely feedback on how they progress toward meeting them.  Executives share the development goals with select stakeholders and ask for honest and continuous feedback. Importantly, executives also ask for and receive “feed forward,” suggestions on actions they can take to better meet their goals.

Executive Accountability

It is this accountability that makes the process so powerful in producing results. Asking for insights on behaviors that need improvement and sharing development goals takes courage.  It also requires humility and discipline.    It sends a strong signal to staff and others that change is a collective endeavor and that every employee has a duty to strive to improve.

This accountability is implemented using deliberate techniques.   Over the usual 12-month coaching period, stakeholders provide monthly feedback to the executive and are surveyed every 4 months or so on how an executive is meeting their development goals.   This is where the scale -3 to +3 comes into play.  Everyone involved in the process has metrics on whether or not an executive is meeting his or her target goals.

Sustainable Change in Executives—And Beyond

Since the process is not a “private” discussion between an executive and coach, but involves key stakeholders, executives are strongly motivated to succeed.   This means changes in interpersonal behaviors that are recognized and appreciated by others.

This “public” dimension is decisive. Stakeholders know that executives are better because they have chosen to make themselves better.   This can have a dramatic change on staff and peer perceptions about an executive’s abilities and character.

Stakeholder-centered coaching changes executives.   It also changes staff.     While an executive has stepped out and worked hard to improve herself, staff has contributed to that improvement.    They have seen the boss have courage, humility, and discipline.  She has asked for and received feedback, thanked others for the feedback, and made a positive change.  Because stakeholders have participated in the coaching, they come to “own” the change along with the executive.

Over time, this changes workplace culture.  Executives and staff think about themselves and one another differently.  They become more willing to identify and constructively confront shortcomings and invest in the time and effort to replace them with more effective processes and behaviors.

95% Success Rate

According to a recent study, 95% of executives using stakeholder-centered coaching improved their effectiveness and performance.   This is an unusually high training success rate.  Combined with the use of metrics, it is the primary reason this type of coaching is becoming more popular.

There are many different types of executive coaching.  Each is effective in its own way.  Stakeholder- centered coaching is well-suited to organizations that want to know just what they’re getting for their coaching investment.   And it’s especially well-suited to executives with the courage, humility, and discipline to acknowledge that they know what they don’t know and want to be held accountable for their work to up their game.

Lynne Gilliland, MS, CPPC, is a consultant with The KonTerra Group.  She has worked with international development groups in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Gilliland has a graduate degree in International Agricultural Development from the University of California at Davis and holds certifications in coaching, MBTI, EQi 2.0, EQi360, and various other 360 feedback assessments.