Why Executive Coaching Goals and Plans Aren’t the Same Thing

Erin Biehl
Erin Biehl
Sep 07 2023
6 min read
Why Executive Coaching Goals and Plans Aren’t the Same Thing

Executive coaching goals and plans are two separate but vital activities that are part of any program aimed at enhancing the skills of your top people. Like many L&D/HR concepts, there is some confusion out there about the terminology. Understanding exactly how these initiatives are distinct – but depend on each other – will make organizing an executive coaching course simpler and more effective. 

The Difference Between Executive Coaching Goals and Plans

Try Googling “executive coaching goals” and you’ll actually find lots of information about non-goals. Instead, you’ll see lists of courses and skills. Many of them are correct in that they describe the focus of executive coaching programs. But those are not goals. 

Goals are the “end state” of a process, in this case, an executive coaching program. The goal is what you want to achieve, and not how you get there – which is where executive coaching plans come in. 

Upskilling an executive is accomplished through a set of activities that form a coaching plan. Many L&D professionals work according to an executive coaching plan template that often goes like this:

  • Meeting between coach and executive (and HR) to set out the process and see if the two main parties have “chemistry”
  • Reviewing challenges, discussing skills, and setting goals (see below)
  • Coaching sessions and feedback
  • Course conclusion and goal evaluation

Examples of Coaching Goals

There are a wide number of courses that a coach might offer, and the more, the better. This is because every person has their own combination of strengths and weaknesses, and it is personalized development that allows them to build skills in the most efficient way. Here are a few coaching courses and their related goals, stated here as key performance indicators (KPIs):  

Leadership development – dealing with ambiguity

Goal: Decisions that increase productivity

Communications – the art of feedback

Goal: Increased engagement

Management – hiring talent

Goal: Increased promotion rates

Setting Executive Coaching Goals

Executives are in a unique position when it comes to goal-setting. The standard process for workers is more of a negotiation where: 

  • The organization looks at what skills it needs
  • The employee and HR discuss how the employee’s career development plan fits with those needs and sets goals to determine successful development

In contrast, an executive has more of an influence over what they want to develop. This is often accomplished by meeting with a coach. Here, a major part of the plan is the coach enabling the executive to analyze the challenges they face and what skills would help. This is done by the coach asking the executive questions as a means of self-guidance. 

Professional Goals for Employees vs. Executives

Another issue that HR needs to consider is that the metrics that apply to employees often aren’t optimal for executives. (To this end, before an engagement, the HR team should discuss what goals to set and how they should be measured with the executive coach.) This is because when it comes to regular workers:

  • Both coaching plans and goals are made after considering business objectives, current skills “inventory”, and the career path of the employee (as part of a skills gap analysis)
  • Engagements can last for many months so that the worker’s schedule is not noticeably disrupted, leading to a long period between course start and evaluation
  • Because L&D programs can include large numbers of employees, HR needs a way to understand various employee experiences and so use comprehensive models like Kirkpatrick or CIRO
  • Metrics are taken over time to assess employee growth and to ensure that skills are not forgotten
  • Different stakeholders, such as managers, coworkers, and customers might be a part of the evaluation process

But neither executives nor the organization have the luxury of applying these methods. Chances are that, because there is so much riding on their skills, the executive will want to see results relatively quickly. Part of this requirement means that the executive coaching plan should be limited in time. For instance, a Growthspace one-on-one coaching program lasts up to ten weeks. Within that schedule, the coaching program must achieve a noticeable result.  

Measuring Executive Coaching Goals Made Simple 

Along with this rush for results comes a need for an easy evaluation method. Aside from the CEO, executives don’t really have the managers who are usually the ones assessing the performance of employees. So the executive coach needs to be a bit creative when it comes to evaluation. Here are some possibilities:

The Executive Team

If the executive is part of a corporate coaching initiative that works with executives (and sometimes the whole team), then each executive can assess their peers. This is logical because these are the people who see the results of an executive’s behavior, both in terms of organizational impact and in their own interaction. For a corporate coach, the team is a convenient source for evaluation; they understand the process because they are a part of it. 

Board Members and Clients

Active board members who are in frequent contact with an executive in a coaching program can make an effective witness to changed behavior. Similarly, although a client might not see an executive’s performance with regards to their team, they can still be a good judge of progress related to interactions that are external to the organization. 

But these choices beg the question – do such people have the time for the surveys, interviews, and meetings that are often part of employee evaluation? The answer is obviously no. Another requirement for executive coaching goal evaluation is its format, which needs to be as straightforward as possible. That’s why Growthspace has created a simple but insightful assessment method that is particularly suitable to executives, as follows:

On a one-to-five scale, assessors are asked:

  • How much did the program impact the selected KPI?
  • How did the program perform with regards to the challenge, overall performance, and motivation?
  • Would you recommend this program to other executives?

By keeping the evaluation method short, participants are more likely to complete it. In addition, using numbers allows the results to be computed, uploaded, and compared. This makes it easier to assess a large number of coaches and their programs for future engagements. 

Of course, if HR wants to know more about why the executive coaching plan succeeded or failed, then they can interview the stakeholders. But it’s always a good idea to focus on quantitative evaluations for the above reasons.  

Erin Biehl
Erin Biehl
Over the past 20 years, Erin Biehl has led teams in the education, hospitality, and technology sectors, excelling in customer success and as a Learning & Development manager. In her L&D role, she designed a leadership framework and developed a comprehensive L&D program for a global company from scratch. Certified as both a DISC and change management facilitator, Erin merges her professional expertise with her academic background, holding a degree in education. Beyond work, her enthusiasm for teaching shines through as a group fitness instructor, specializing in barre and dance classes. Also, a proud mom to her son and two lovable pups, Erin relishes her family life in the beautiful state of Maine

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