Savvy employers are always looking to upgrade their talent pool. Executive coaching – one-on-one sessions tailored-made for executives – have become increasingly popular. Anthony Wong explores the executive coaching scene of Hong Kong which is now being designed to help employers understand the value of coaching and the ways that coaches can fit into their organisations.
Coaching has been on a slow and bumpy ride in Hong Kong. It has been around for 20 years worldwide, but the trend has only taken off here in recent years.
Tony Dickel, president of the Hong Kong International Coaching Community, recalled speaking at a conference on the subject seven years ago, but very few people understood the value of coaching.
But in the past two to three years people’s curiosity on coaching has turned into something more concrete.
“The challenge now is more about: I know I want coaching. How do I find a coach? How can I screen them? What kind of credentials should I be looking for? How should I set up an employment contract with them? How should I manage them? How do I measure the ROI on them?” Dickel says.
If you go back five or six years, people looked at coaching as a way to fix under performing people, which is not really the best way to use coaching.
There are a number of sectors which are using coaches such as the financial industry, retail, luxury, oil and gas and FMCG.
Besides growing in popularity, the way coaching is being viewed has changed as well.
“If you go back five or six years, people looked at coaching as a way to fix under performing people, which is not really the best way to use coaching,” he says.
Coaching should be an ideal way to get the best out of people who are looking to improve their performance by removing the interference that prevents their optimal performance.
He stresses that coaching is not an event, but a process. Quite often the first two to three hours is about setting the goals for the programme or agreeing to the specific challenges that need to be addressed.
Coaches might use psychometric assessments, interviews or other forms of assessments to help clients work out what areas they need to be coached on because often they are unaware of what they want.
The coach helps clients become aware of things such as their mindset, behaviour, relationships, their interaction with the systems and processes of the company, and how all these things may either help or interfere with their goals.
Coaches will help clients keep their attention on the goal every step of the way, even in the midst of whatever interference or emotions that may pop up as they move towards that goal.
At the end of every coaching conversation there will be some kind of action plan that is agreed upon with the client, which the client will do in between sessions.
“So before the next session there will be some kind of field work which is co-created with the client. A coaching conversation never ends without something being agreed upon that is a next step which may be done before the next session,” he says.
Jane Garnett, who had more than a decade of experience working as an executive and organisational coach in a multinational corporation, echoes Dickel’s view on coaching being a process and not an event.
When individuals are in a sticky situation, they will be able to tell themselves ‘what would the coach ask me to think about under these circumstances.
“The purpose of a coach is to help individuals structure their thinking. The coach is not someone who tells the coachee what to do, in fact, he or she works as an external force which inspires the coachee to analyse problems from new perspectives so they are capable of thinking more effectively,” she says.
Although Garnett worked as a coach in the corporation, she seldom provided coaching for staff.
“We hire an external coach for staff because some may not feel comfortable sharing sensitive company details with a person who works in the same organisation,” she says.
Individuals, who are undergoing drastic changes or people being moved to new roles or being relocated, are the ones who often need coaching the most.
Garnett’s role was to present to the individual a bench of coaches that she thought might be suitable. She added it was entirely up to the individual to choose their coach.
“The corporation will discuss the coaching goals with the external coach and the coachee, but what is being discussed during coaching sessions is between the coachee and the coach,” she says.
The impact that coaching brings is to help people ask themselves the right questions and come up with an action plan to overcome challenges.
“When individuals are in a sticky situation, they will be able to tell themselves ‘what would the coach ask me to think about under these circumstances. As a coach I never really know the outcome or the impact I have on coachees, the coaching process is about the coachee, not me,” Garnett says.
If a coach has a significant track record, credentials are less important. For new coaches credentials are more important.
In the Hong Kong market, clients appreciate coaches that have spent some time on the other side of the desk, in the seat of the client.
But according to Dickel that experience of the coach is less important than his or her knowledge of coaching. “It is the process of coaching that does the work, not necessarily the business experience of the coach that does the work. Coaching works best when issues are related to mindset rather than skill set,” he says.
He advises clients to look at the credentials of coaches, but that is not the only criteria in choosing a coach.
“There are many capable coaches in Hong Kong who have coached for a long time, but don’t really have formal credentials from a professional body. If a coach has a significant track record, credentials are less important. For new coaches credentials are more important,” he says.
Asking about the kind of coaching they have been doing and how many hours they have done are also key questions to ask when hiring a coach.
Real estate company CBRE has invested in executive coaching over the past couple of years as part of its leadership/talent development focus as well as to enable business performance.
“We currently partner with a number of expert external coaches to provide tailored coaching programmes for key leaders within the business,” says Alison Cleaver, head of L&D at the company.
“Developing the coaching skills of our people managers has also been a focus and we have run a number of internal coaching L&D initiatives over the past two to three years.
“At CBRE we work with a number of organisations who provide coaching accreditation programs to ensure we apply a best-practice approach to coaching and to upskill our internal coaches within HR & L&D.
Cleaver explains the two key elements the organisation considers when matching people and coaches is the right chemistry between the parties and alignment with the CBRE’s culture and values.
“We need to continue to build coaching capability across the organisation. The main benefit of coaching has been the accelerated development of key individuals to support them in being highly effective leaders.”
On the ROI of coaching, Cleaver says investing in executive coaching has been an engagement driver and people valuing that the organisation is supporting them in terms of a tailored individual development plan.