Published On: Sun, May 26th, 2013

The need for Executive Coaching in Pakistan

 In Pakistan, selecting the right coach is a bigger challenge as very few trained coaches exist.– Illustration from Spider Magazine (File)

Coaching was and is in some cases still seen as a phenomenon associated with sports. “Only sportsmen need coaching “is what a young executive commented when advised to seek help of a coach to improve relationship with co-workers.  Even if one looks at today’s champion sportsmen, most of them employ professional coaches. Now, if you think of sportsmen like Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, and many sports men and women who occupy the top positions in the world, one would question, why do they need coaches? They are already at the top and earning top dollars. Well, coaches are not only there to help sportsmen in their early days but also to help them improve further throughout their career – basically to help them realize their full potential.

This brings me to Executive Coaching. Executive coaching in Pakistan is in its infancy.  While in the West, coaching began to take root within corporate mainstream a little over 20 years ago, much of its work during those days was seen as predominantly remedial. It was all about “fixing” the more unattractive personality traits of senior executives. David. B Peterson, a leading coach and a senior vice president of leadership consultancy says: Coaching was mainly directed at talented but abrasive executives who were likely to be fired if something did not change.

Some Pakistani managers when proposed for coaching, initially ask is “what’s wrong with me”? So if one can relate to the question asked by a Pakistani manager today, one can assume we are about 20 years behind in coaching. But learning from the West, the growth of coaching industry in Pakistan can be accelerated at a much higher pace today, provided we have qualified coaches in the business and the corporate sector does not compromise on quality of the coach.

In my Unilever days as the Sales Director, I was assigned a foreign coach, but the objective of coaching was not made clear. What I could gather at that time was that we as the leadership team were going through a very stressful period, and the coach was trying to get insights from key players and reporting back to the head of the business. This lack of clarity and my suspicions completely killed the relationship; the coach was seen as a “snitch” rather than a Business Improvement Coach by some of us. So the clarity of coaching is a must from the first instance.

And whereas coaching was once viewed by many as a tool to help correct underperformance, today it is becoming much more widely used in supporting top producers. In fact, in a 2004 survey by Right Management Consultants (Philadelphia), 86 per cent of companies said they used coaching to sharpen the skills of individuals who have been identified as future organizational leaders.

In Pakistan, executive coaching is mostly limited to the Multinational Companies who are exposed to such practices from their exposure to various other markets. Coaching, still in most of the cases is initiated by the HR function in the company. So the ownership is with HR, whereas it should be initiated by the leadership team or even better, by the manager himself. The objective of bringing in a coach into the organisation should be very clear. In Pakistan, the understanding between, Training, Mentoring and Coaching is still not very clear.

All these three management “Help Tools” have a different role to play, therefore first and foremost understanding them is very important.

The quality of employees and their development through training and education are major factors in determining long-term profitability of any business. If you hire and keep good employees, it is good policy to invest in the development of their skills, so they can increase their productivity. Therefore training is to do more with specific skill improvement, like Sales Training, Appraisal techniques, Leadership skills.

Training often is considered for new employees only. This is a mistake because ongoing training for current employees helps them adjust to rapidly changing job requirements. These employees are groomed for future roles and responsibilities within the organization.

Mentorship refers to a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. However, true mentoring is more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help. It is about an ongoing relationship of learning, dialogue, and challenge.

“Mentoring” is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is: “Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé).”

Executive coaching is designed to help facilitate professional and personal development to the point of individual growth and improved performance. Coaches need to have a strong understanding of individual differences in a work place as well as the ability to adapt their coaching style or strategies. It is suggested that those coaches who are unable to acknowledge these differences will do more harm than good. Many executive coaches have a specific area of expertise: sports; business or psychology. Regardless of specific area of focus, coaches still need to be aware of motivational needs and cultural differences.

Executive coaches work their clients towards specific professional goals. These include career transition, interpersonal and professional communication, performance management, organizational effectiveness, managing career and personal changes, developing executive presence, enhancing strategic thinking, dealing effectively with conflict, and building an effective team within an organisation. An industrial organizational psychologist is one example of executive coaching.

I hope the above gives some clarity on various aspects of Business/Management “Help” tools. As I mentioned in my comment at the beginning of this write up that in Pakistan Coaching is in its infancy, so let me further define this subject.

In various definitions, coaching is:

A) A goal directed, result orientated, systematic process in which one person facilitates sustained change in another individual or group through fostering the self directed learning and personal growth of a coachee.  – Anthony Grant & Michael Cavangh
B) Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them learn rather than teaching them. – Sir John Whitmore
C) A set of Behaviors on the part of the Coach (Consultant) that helps the client develop a new way of seeing, feeling about and behaving in situations that are defined by the client as problematic. – Edgar Schein

The road to coaching runs two ways:
Although both the organisation and the executive must be committed to coaching for it to be successful, the idea to engage a coach can originate from either HR and leadership development professionals or from executives themselves. In the past, it has more often sprung from the organisational side.

Coaching is effective for executives who can say, “I want to get over there, but I’m not sure how to do it,” says James Hunt, an associate professor of management at Babson College and coauthor of The Coaching Manager (Sage Publications, 2002). “Coaching works best when you know what you want to get done.” Perhaps, in spite of your outstanding track record, you haven’t yet gained the full interpersonal dexterity required of senior managers—for example, you’re not yet a black belt in the art of influence, which is so important in the modern networked organisation. Honing such a skill might be an appropriate goal for a coaching assignment.

But simply having a clear purpose won’t guarantee coaching value, says Michael Goldberg. “You have to be open to feedback and willing to create positive change. If not, coaching may not be the answer.”

There are certain times when executives are most likely to benefit from coaching. Executives should seek coaching “when they feel that a change in behavior — either for themselves or their team members — can make a significant difference in the long-term success of the organisation,” says Marshall Goldsmith, a high-profile executive coach and author of eighteen books, including The Leader of the Future (Jossey-Bass, 1996).

Coaching can provide benefits not available elsewhere:
“One of the big benefits of a coach is that they aren’t tied to the organisation, your friends, or anyone else,” says Washington, DC-based executive coach Linda Finkle. “They are tied to you only, so they support what you want and where you want to go.
“Even our families, who want the best for us, can’t be unbiased or totally objective. What you do or do not do impacts them, whether it’s positive or negative. A coach is not impacted by your decisions, your wins or losses, or anything else.”

Selecting the Right Coach:
Selecting the right coach is always an issue around the world. In the West the concept being more developed, the choices exist, but in Pakistan, selecting the right coach is a bigger challenge as very few trained coaches exist. Many are refugees, or even rejects who have been spat out of the corporate system. Some are laden with coaching accreditations and qualifications, but do not possess the business expertise to really understand the environment in which they find themselves. This becomes extremely relevant while coaching a top leadership person. With others having years of business and professional management experience but are trained in a manner where they try out the old models and techniques which have failed to deliver in the past. As in case of Pakistan, it is easy for some multinationals to hire foreign coaches, but these foreign coaches lack in the knowledge of ethical and cultural diversities which exist in Pakistan and therefore cannot achieve the empathy required to relate to a coachee.

Business coaches are not a very cheap proposition. According to Harvard Business Review a top business coach in the US earns up to US$15,000/- an hour. It is therefore a small wonder that companies are paying far greater attention in hiring the right the right business coach.  In Britain it is estimated that 40 per cent of the CEO’s now undergo coaching. In Pakistan, a top coach earns somewhere between US$500+ for an hourly session, some go for as low as US$100 – are they really coaches?

The top trainers, mentors or coaches will never compromise on their professional service fee. However, there are some so-called trainers who will cut their fee to get assignments. Companies that truly believe in investment will never compromise on the quality of the trainers, coach or mentors. They consider this as a major investment for the future. Companies or HR managers who choose to impress their bosses with the amount of money saved by hiring cheap or not so qualified trainers devalue the investment being made in their most important resource: their people.

Companies who value their investment in people have devised a screening process, whereby they never allow their junior managers to hire as these managers are more attuned and more focused in keeping cost of training low rather than on quality. These companies have short-listed the best training houses and individuals who impart professional knowledge of the subject. Depending on their needs they hire these professionals to impart specific training, coaching and mentoring needs of the company. They never compromise on quality vs. price, because if they are fulfilling the training need of the future or current leaders of the organization, price should never be the deciding factor.

Applying Coaching to Pakistan’s Corporate World:
As in the rest of the world, the corporate sector in Pakistan operates on two platforms, the multinational and the local platforms. The multinationals are more organised with a clear corporate structure and strong learning and development culture. The other is the local company or entrepreneur. Some of the local companies are again well structured like the banks, while the others remain one-man shows. Still the least priority sectors in these organizations are the learning and development functions with minimum budgets. Training is given on more motivation basis rather than a well defined training and development need of the organization or the person.

Companies which have strong learning and development culture with uncompromising attitude towards defining and carrying out training programs have also acted as the providers of trained managers to the corporate sectors in Pakistan. I strongly believe that coaching in Pakistan can greatly contribute towards the development of professional management in the country. The onus is on the corporate sector to ensure selection of proper coaches who have a combination of business knowledge and a track record of a successful coach.

The writer is a Certified Business Coach from the Behavioral Coaching Institute and is currently heading the Pepsi Cola bottling operation in Iran.
References: HBR / Mentoring and Coaching

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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