Executive Coaching--With Returns a CFO Could Love
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – DEAR ANNIE: In your Jan. 8 column, you mentioned a great Website for locating and comparing executive coaches, but I have one further question. Is there any proof that these coaching programs produce quantifiable results? I am a division head at a medium-sized company that has brought lots of smart people up through the ranks, from technical into managerial positions. I believe that some of them could be much better managers if they just had some formal training. But we're watching expenses, and I need to be able to justify spending (or, as I see it, investing) the money. Can you help? ROCKET MAN

DEAR MAN: I hope so. Your question is one that lots of people have wished they had an answer to, but quantifying the benefits of any kind of education--especially this kind--is tricky. Despite extensive asking around, I could find almost no one who was willing even to try. However, Manchester (www.manchesterUS.com), a big global purveyor of executive-coaching services, decided a few months ago to survey its customers on just what they had gotten out of their investment in Manchester's programs. Now, you might say that asking a coaching firm whether coaching really works is a distinctly fox-and-chicken-coop kind of deal, but let's bear in mind that the answers come from the customers. (If the survey results had not been great, they would no doubt not be available at all, but that's okay.)

Here's what the poll says: The respondents were executives from large (mostly FORTUNE 1,000) companies who had participated in either "change oriented" coaching, aimed at improving certain behaviors or skills, or "growth oriented" coaching, designed to sharpen overall job performance. The programs lasted from six months to a year. About 60% of the executives were ages 40 to 49--a prime age bracket for career retooling. Half held positions of vice president or higher, and a third earned $200,000 or more per year. Asked for a conservative estimate of the monetary payoff from the coaching they got, these managers described an average return of more than $100,000, or about six times what the coaching had cost their companies. Almost three in ten (28%) claimed they had learned enough to boost quantifiable job performance--whether in sales, productivity, or profits--by $500,000 to $1 million since they took the training. They also reported better relationships with direct reports (77%), bosses (71%), peers (63%), and clients (37%), and cited a marked increase in job satisfaction (61%) and "organizational commitment" (44%), meaning they are less likely to quit than they were before.

Pretty cool. But I'd be remiss not to mention that you do want to carefully check out any coach's credentials and experience before you sign up your people. (At Manchester and other reputable firms, coaches are MBAs or Ph.D.s with an average of 20 years' experience at line management, management training, or both.) There's nothing stopping anyone at all from calling himself or herself an executive coach, and if you hire somebody whose qualifications are dubious--well, as they say in fine print on the diet ads, your actual results may vary.

DEAR ANNIE: Recently my senior boss appointed a middle boss, to whom I now report directly. This new person knows nothing about my, or anyone else's, area of expertise. I have heard him say things in meetings that have made all other senior-level people at the table stare at one another in disbelief. I can't complain to the senior boss without being seen as difficult, not a team player, etc. How should I handle this situation? NO SOUR GRAPES

DEAR NSG: Anybody who's in the habit of saying things in meetings that are greeted by incredulous stares from other higher-ups is probably going to trip over his own ineptitude, and perhaps sooner rather than later. Just hang in there, do your best work, and maintain a discreet silence on the topic of your boss's shortcomings. And, hey, let me know how this turns out. You are, how shall I say, not the only reader with this problem, and I'd be interested to hear how long it takes your senior boss to remedy his mistake.

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