Budgeting for an Executive Coach

As a healthcare executive leader, you likely have a track record of strong performance and career success. Given that, you may ask yourself, “Why would I want to invest in an executive coach?” Though it might sound cliché, it’s true: What got you this far, won’t get you where you want to go next as a leader.

In healthcare, it’s a time of massive change requiring leaders capable of driving transformational change and not getting stuck in a cycle of outdated leadership styles.

The days of hierarchical leadership, micromanaging or command and control leadership styles are long gone.  Yet, some leaders fall back on what they believe has worked with them in the past. Executive coaching can help you continue to grow as a leader in parallel to the increasing complex demands of the environment. Consider that even the most accomplished athletes take time in the “off season” to work on the parts of their game where they are but always seeking to advance their abilities or crafts. It’s these adjustments and new ways of doing things that create the growth and progress they are seeking. Great leaders do the same and in healthcare stronger leaders are needed now more than ever.

Chances are your board members come from industries outside of healthcare and understand the value of investing in transformational leadership coaching with a deep emphasis in self-awareness. That investment becomes increasingly crucial as healthcare grows more turbulent and complex, requiring you to behave and operate in entirely new ways. Many industries utilize external executive coaches starting at the CEO and then work their way through the team(s) and then the organization.

If you’re reading this post, you likely understand this well. You know you should prioritize your growth as a leader (and the growth of leaders you manage) but funding that development tends to generate lots of questions. If you are a high supportive and giving type of leader, you might feel like “investing” in yourself will be perceived as a sign of weaker leadership. In fact, that investment is one of the best things you can do for the organization: to become even better and achieve greater impact as a leader.

How much should you budget for executive coaching? As with all things, it depends on what you’re buying. A short-lived mentoring engagement, conference or training will produce very different results from true executive coaching. In either case, the price tag will reflect results.

Before we dive into key considerations, allow me to answer a frequent question:

Whose decision is it?

I’m often asked who makes decisions when it comes to executive coaching. In my experience, the Chief Executive Officer makes those decisions about 90% of the time.

While CEOs often hold decision power, the strongest partnerships tend to be between the Chief Human Resources Officer/CEO and Coach, ensuring all coaching is well aligned to advance strategic initiatives and cultural imperatives. It’s this partnership that creates significant value to the organization as the coach aligns their coaching approach to the goals of the organization.

Choosing a high-value partner

When choosing an executive coaching firm, you’re trusting that partner to build your leaders into high performers who can drive lasting, meaningful transformation in your organization. The following criteria will help you make a choice you won’t regret.

Experience & Expertise

Your executive coaching firm should have a long track record of success, deep expertise in healthcare, and a strong cadre of satisfied customers among your peers.

It’s also vital that your chosen coaching firm has a strong pool of coaches, versus one or two “stars.” Understand their process for selecting coaches to join their firm, whether employed or contracted professionals.

What credentials do they bring to the table? You’ll want coaches with considerable training, experience and accreditations behind them.

Complexity-Fit Insights

Studies tell us the ways we’ve led and made decisions in healthcare are no longer adequate to navigate today’s complex environment. That means many approaches deemed “best practices” in the past can actually hurt your organization today.

With that in mind, your chosen coaching partner should also understand the dynamics of highly matrixed organizations, competing priorities, and the full spectrum of healthcare delivery components: clinical quality, patient safety, patient experience, consumer/physician/employee engagement, and more.

Just as important: Your executive coaches should fully understand your culture and strategic goals, and help you advance them. 

The Coach-Client Relationship

Your executive coaches should feel like an extension of your team. Their external viewpoint enables deeper, confidential discussions that executive or clinical leaders can’t have with people within their organization or even peers.

It’s vital for leaders to feel safe to confide in a trusted partner who isn’t in charge of their compensation or career trajectory. We often hear from senior leaders that this is one of the key benefits to engaging an external coach while staying in alignment with the goals of the organization.

The coaching contract is between client and coach; details of the coaching conversations shouldn’t be shared with the sponsor or boss. Usually, you want a coach who will help you prepare for those conversations where you will tell your supervisor of your professional goals and the shifts you are looking to make but not give a play-by-play.

The investment in coaching should be with the high performers looking to become even stronger leaders and should be cautiously used for remedial coaching. A person must be actually coachable and wiling to deepen their self-awareness and adjust along the way. It’s important to the return on the investment for the organization to continue to build on the strengths of leaders versus helping someone who has already created a lot of damage and is on the bubble. It’s better to engage a coach on the front end then right as you are planning to send someone out of the organization.

Keep in mind an executive coach is not an advisor. Rather, your coach will support, challenge and hold the client accountable as they grow their leadership muscle and resourcefulness.

Needs/Goals Assessment

Each leader’s needs, goals, personal habits and challenges are unique. It wouldn’t make sense to apply a one-size-fits-all method to every client.

Ask your potential coaching partner to describe their process to assess, identify goals, the best tools and path for each client. The goals of the coaching process should align with performance goals and responsibilities assigned to the person being coached. The goal is to make leaders more effective in driving the results for which they are responsible.

Length of Engagement

You wouldn’t hit the gym for three months and expect to walk out as a weightlifting champ. Similarly, transactional leaders don’t become transformational leaders after a short stint. It takes time to alter behaviors, establish new thinking patterns, and shed bad habits.

Though it might sound counterintuitive, longer coaching engagements are your best chance of accelerating lasting growth.

What level of 1:1 access and support will your coach provide along the way? How often will you connect to ensure progress and discuss new challenges as they arise?

Putting it all together

Once you’ve clarified the factors outlined above and what you hope to get out of the coaching relationship, you’re ready to discuss a budget. A fair price tag is one that reflects the depth and longevity of the transformation you want to see in your career and organization.

A good way of thinking about the depth of the program is by how many in-person sessions and coaching calls you’ll have over the course of the year. Typically, an in-depth coaching engagement lasts at least nine months. More likely, it’s an investment of a year to create the sustained behavioral change needed for those newly acquired leadership competencies. Will you be taking assessments for greater self-awareness? What about feedback from key stakeholders? Another consideration should be your ad hoc access to your coach for those issues that come up in between scheduled times together.

So what’s holding you back?

The question is really simple: What’s at risk if you don’t invest in building stronger transformational leadership qualities in you or your team? It’s about really understanding how the value of coaching benefits you personally and professionally to achieve the goals and outcomes you desire as an executive leader.

Coaching can accelerate that pace and there is no time to lose in this ever-changing world of healthcare. Strong leaders are needed now.

Deena Fischer
About the author

A certified executive coach, Deena Fischer leads business development and operations for MEDI Leadership.

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