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How Long Should Executive Coaching Last?

September 21, 2021

Posted by BOLDLY

When it comes to the length of an executive coaching engagement, there are two main schools of thought - the goal based approach, and the retained relationship based approach.

The Development Goal Based Approach

Coaching is inherently goal based. It’s about defining development objectives - whether it’s a new skill, behaviour, or way of thinking that enables a coachee to achieve their career success - and defining a pathway to achieve those objectives. A coach works to explore options and ways of development that are personalised to the coachee, in an on-the-job method of experimentation and reflection. Because coaching is goal based in this way, many experienced coaches believe that an engagement should be for a fixed period of concerted career growth, and should end when the goal is achieved.

This is a professional approach to coaching. Because the industry seeks to demonstrate return on investment, when we define the goal and an expected timeline to deliver it, we can more confidently say whether coaching has had its intended impact. For example, an up-front agreement to 6, 8 or 12 sessions gives the coaching relationship enough time to develop effective rapport, but also creates the expectation of delivering personal development for the coachee within a reasonable period.

The benefit of this approach is that the coachee knows from the beginning of the engagement that they need to maximise each session, and that they will ultimately be sustaining the skills independently in the long term. This means they don’t foster a dependency on the coach, but rather come to count on their own ability to learn and grow in new, first time situations at work.

The Retained Relationship Approach

Alternatively, and particularly in executive coaching engagements, the coachee and their organisation may seek an ongoing coaching relationship. This is aimed at ensuring the relationship matures and depends year on year, and that the coach is ready and assimilated into the leaders way of thinking and company culture to support the leader quickly when challenges arise. This coach also plays the role of confidante when the executive needs a private place to share their true thoughts with complete confidentiality.

This coaching relationship is less goal oriented and more of a facilitated reflective space for the executive. The risk of creating dependency is still important to consider, and bringing a level of accountability to the coaching relationship is essential. The CHRO or board chairman should still have access to the coach, in a transparent and ongoing dialogue with the executive to ensure the relationship is productive. There’s plenty of ex-ceo ‘coaches’ out there who are happy to take long lunches and bestow wisdom from their own experience! But this isn’t coaching - for an essential, ongoing executive coaching relationship, we encourage working with masters qualified coaches with a grounding in psychology and business. It’s essential that this coach has a supervisor of their own, to ensure they have the necessary support and professional oversight to manage the complexity of a long term executive engagement.

Both Work, If You're Working With a Qualified Coach

So, when it comes down to it, MOST engagements should be fixed term, with clear goals and an objective to make the coachee self-sustained in their development goals. However there are cases where ongoing engagements can be suitable, so long as the relationship is supported by contact points of accountability within the organisation and beyond into the coaches supervisory relationship. BOLDLY is here to help you with both! We are the worlds largest marketplace of professional coaches. Reach out to hear how we can help your organisation: