Simon Osborne

Executive Coaching – The Management Personal Trainer

by Simon Osborne

Today's business leaders face a business environment like none before. Within the business, employees are expecting a much greater role in making decisions about their working environment. Customers and suppliers continue to demand more and more for less. The broader business environment is such that margins are tighter, competition is greater and change is occurring at an ever-increasing rate.

Coaching is a management tool that is increasingly being used by major corporations around the world. Internationally companies such as Xerox, GMH and Dun and Bradstreet are using it extensively. In Australia companies like Lion Nathan and Coles make considerable use of executive coaching programs and research in the United States has found that the return on investment on coaching programs is almost six times the cost.1

Why is coaching so effective?

Traditionally skill development has tended to focus on training programs and seminars – or on the manager's own interest in reading and seeking new ideas from the latest journals and management books.

However, in the current demanding business climate, many managers find that taking a whole day or more away from the office for training is not practical and many of the seminars and training programs provide only some of the information and skills that he or she requires. No matter how good the program is, there always seems to be something else that would have completed the picture.

Coaching provides an ideal way to meet the individual's specific development needs.

The benefits of training programs are also sometimes difficult to sustain on return to work. Managers return to the "real world" and are confronted with the challenges and the day-to-day obstacles that prevent the application of the new skills. Or there are issues that arise when managers return to work and are faced with new or unexpected situations.

A coaching program enables sustained learning over the long term.

If you think of the skill set needed to be effective in business these days as a jigsaw puzzle, a traditional training program puts the puzzle together for you and, at the end of the day, the trainer walks away with the solution. Everyone gets to work through every part of the puzzle at the same speed. When you get back to the workplace, you are left to reconstruct the puzzle from memory and without support On the other hand, coaching is the most effective way to put the puzzle together because you do it in small bursts, with support from the coach at every step when you need it - and there are frequent opportunities to discuss the solution and try some more.

There is now quantitative research from the Manchester Consulting Group in the US that has measured the benefits from coaching.2 In the Manchester research the use of coaching delivered measurable improvements in productivity, customer service, cost reduction and profitability.

For the companies involved, 53% reported an increase in productivity, 39% an increase in customer service and 23% said that there had been an improvement in the effectiveness of cost reduction programs.

The executives themselves reported substantial improvement in job satisfaction (61% of participants), teamwork (67%) and conflict reduction (52%) as well as improved working relationships with clients (37%).

How does coaching work?

Coaching programs draw their effectiveness from the establishment of a relationship between the coach and the participant and the opportunity for the participant to set the content of the program.

Because the coaching program starts with an assessment of the needs of the participant, there is always a clear focus on the outcomes of the program that the participant needs.

With those goals in mind, the coach uses skills in questioning, listening and analysis to assist the executive to arrive at solutions to problems and to develop new perspectives on their management style.

It is critical to understand that a coach does not apply the traditional consulting model in which the issues are analysed and then a solution is provided to the client by the consultant in a report or presentation. The coaching process recognises the knowledge and capacities of the client and the coach provides the process whereby the client can develop his or her own solution - and then remains involved to support implementation.

Clearly, anyone who has been successful in business and has reached a management or executive position has demonstrated that they have considerable knowledge and skills. The coach is a partner who helps to draw that knowledge out and provide added focus.

Additionally, the coach is external to the organisation. The coach has no 'axe to grind', no corporate agenda and no personal stake in seeking a specific outcome. The coach is impartial. He or she has a breadth of experience in other organisations and a range of business environments. An effective coach can provide a window into an objective analysis of your environment.

Fundamentally, coaching more than any other skill development or organisation development process has the capacity to support business improvement, because it supports those who are the drivers of the business and provides a clear focus for their own development.

End Notes:

  2. The Manchester Review 2001, Volume 6, Number 1

Copyright © Simon Osborne

About the Author
Simon Osborne

Simon Osborne is a Melbourne-based consultant. He is Director of Practical Workplace Strategies and helps organisations develop leadership skills, manage the process of change and link the skill development of people to business strategy, including through management and executive coaching. He can be contacted on +61 3 9809 4521 and by email on

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