To Coach or Not to Coach - That IS the Question!


I doubt Shakespeare would have been a fan of coaching. Rather than plotting revenge, can you imagine Hamlet, instead, receiving counsel to make peace in the aftermath of a hostile takeover? 

On the other hand, whoever said, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” would likely have been a Marshall Goldsmith fanboy extraordinaire. After all, throwing potentially good money after bad is almost as popular in corporate practice as having too many meetings. No disrespect intended to Marshall, BTW. I’m a fanboy too.

These tongue-in-cheek musings highlight one of the perennial challenges in talent management—knowing if, for whom, and when coaching is likely to make good business (i.e., financial) sense. 

The goal of this installment of the Monthly Muse is to highlight a useful heuristic to help address, and better inform, the process of identifying those who might benefit most from coaching.

The Law of Thirds

It really sounds like a “thing”, doesn’t it? A simple Google search, however, reveals the closest match as the “Rule of Thirds”, specific to framing images in photography. Metaphorically close, I suppose, but no cigar.

My earliest memory of the law of thirds was as a post-doctoral fellow when one of my mentors explained how general clinical populations, divided into thirds based on symptom acuity, impacted effect sizes in clinical outcome research trials differently. 

  • On the high end, the upper third is sometimes referred to as the “walking well”. Their challenges are relatively minor and/or circumstantial—the type that tend to get better over time with or without intervention. In other words, no matter what they receive or don’t receive, they usually improve. Think “good seed under variable conditions”. Quality intervention serves to expedite growth.

  • At the other end of the spectrum is the lower third. In stark contrast to the upper third, challenges here tend to be complex and systemic—the type that tend not to get appreciably better over time, even with intensive intervention. In other words, no matter what is received, and even with substantial cost and effort, improvement is disproportionately marginal at best. Think “bad seed and/or hopelessly challenging environment”. Productive growth is unlikely.

  • Then, there’s the middle third, where targeted, individualized intervention can have a dramatic impact on determining whether things improve, stagnate, or even decline.  In other words, the type of support someone receives, when they receive it, and how much they receive can significantly affect the outcome. This is why the middle third drives effect sizes, while the other two tend to artificially inflate (upper third) or deflate (lower third) impact. Think “variable seed and environmental conditions”. Focused assessment and tailored intervention can serve to make or break the possibility of growth.

The parallels with executive coaching are obvious. The challenge, however, for employers considering coaching services is how to “ball-park” which third an executive might fall within to better inform the most cost-effective options.

The Coaching Potential Assessment

In order to help address that challenge, Anderson-Squires, LLC has developed a brief, web-based questionnaire called the Coaching Potential Assessment (CPA) that can be used as a first step for executives and their managers considering coaching. The questionnaire is completed independently by both parties, addressing the following topic areas:

  • Who initiated the idea of coaching?

  • Primary reason(s) for coaching

  • Current performance

  • Leadership potential

  • Desire for coaching

  • Coaching expectancies

  • Specific competencies targeted

In combination with a few additional “secret sauce” factors mixed in, results are calculated to yield an overall “Coaching Potential” score (1-10), which can serve to inform specific options. Generally speaking: 

  • Scores of 4 and below suggest low coaching potential and poor ROI. In most circumstances, executives in this range are not typically recommended for further assessment or coaching

  • Scores between 5 and 7 suggest the possibility of potential for coaching, which requires further assessment to evaluate (see stage 1 “Assessment” below) 

  • Finally scores of 8 or above suggest a higher and more definitive coaching potential and associated ROI and are typically considered immediately appropriate for stages 1, 2 and 3 below.

Executive Assessment and Coaching

Coaching services and associated engagements that we offer fall into one of 3 (shocker, I know) categories or stages:

Stage 1. ASSESSMENT (All potential candidates. Typically 1-2 months). Includes:

  • Comprehensive personality assessment and debrief to assess core personality, motivating values, competency-based potential and development needs, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence

  • Culture assessment to identify preferred cultural characteristics and motivators (accelerators) and less valued characteristics and punishers (decelerators)

  • Comprehensive, web-based and standardized 360 evaluation to provide an objective, data-driven assessment of existing leadership strengths and development needs

  • Multiple, stage-based debriefs with the executive to increase awareness

  • Summary report and recommendations for assessment stage candidates and/or moving forward to Stage 2 for coaching clients

Stage 2. GOAL PLANNING (All coaching clients. Typically 4-6 weeks)

  • Utilizing assessment results to inform the development of a comprehensive, leadership development plan

  • Alignment meetings with executive, manager, and other key stakeholders to refine and ratify the plan

Stage 3. FOCUSED COACHING (Typically 3-6 months)

  • Address identified leadership competencies/promote growth

  • Procurement of additional supports/resources as necessary to achieve goals

  • Stakeholder update meetings (typically every 4-6 weeks, as desired)

  • Wrap-up and transition facilitation

In closing, while dysfunction almost always makes for interesting plot lines, such drama is best left to the writer's pen. With just a few ounces of effort, your business can take a huge step forward in making better decisions about when to invest in developing talent, and when to allocate resources elsewhere.

We’d love to help you do that.

If you’d like to learn more, give us a shout. You can schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation at your leisure anytime HERE.

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