One on One

Article excerpt

WHEN ONE OF YOUR COMPANY'S BEST AND BRIGHTEST FALLS SHORT OF THE MARK, WHAT DO YOU DO? EXECUTIVE COACHING MAY BE THE KEY TO SALVAGING A STAR PLAYER WHOSE CARRER IS IN TROUBLE.

Jim Wilson is senior vice-president of sales for a major manufacturing company. Wilson is well liked by male friends and colleagues, but he has a habit of making sexist comments. One of his remarks just got him and the company into hot water with a major customer. Now people are asking whether the company can afford to keep an "insensitive guy" like Wilson around in the organization. Frank Fernandez has been with his company's MIS division for 15 years. In that time he's almost single-handedly built the MIS function into what it is today: a powerhouse operation that serves the needs of 12 corporate divisions. Now he's senior vice-president of MIS, but lately, his performance isn't up to par. His division has missed some major project deadlines, he's dragging his feet on a new technology plan, and last week three of his senior subordinates quit in disgust. The word is that Fernandez is a grizzled veteran who can't keep up with change and that his days are numbered.

Jackie Stevens is a talented, fast-track sales manager in her company who has always been viewed as the heir apparent to her boss, Bill Wong, the regional vice-president of sales and marketing. With Wong's retirement just months away, Stevens's bosses are concerned. She's clearly a sales "superstar," but she doesn't seem to have the management skills necessary to head a regional sales organization. She has a quick temper--and a reputation for treating people brutally. In fact, she recently was seen browbeating a subordinate in public. A waste of management talent

In the past, a lot of organizations ignored or downplayed disruptive, insensitive, or inappropriate behavior by key executives.

When companies did take action, it generally took the form of a visit to the "corporate woodshed," where the employee received a pep talk. In some cases, the person might be eased into retirement--or given an empty title and an out-of-the-way office. In other words, his or her career was effectively put on ice.

Nowadays, companies can't afford those options. For one thing, it's too expensive to keep a nonfunctioning executive on the payroll, even bivouacked in a back office. Second, it's hard and legally risky to ignore problematic or inappropriate behavior in the workplace these days. Also, it's a horrible waste of executive or management talent.

So why not simply give the boot to somebody whose behavior at work is abrasive, insensitive, or inappropriate? At times, companies should. But giving somebody a severance package and showing her or him the door can be an expensive proposition. And it can open a company up to legal action.

So what else can you do with a valuable executive who's not performing up to standards?

Executive coaching may be the answer. It's an intensive, short-term process that helps executives address behavior and issues that are impeding their own job effectiveness. A successful coaching effort helps executives overcome the obstacles that are holding them back, so they can quickly resume their productive careers in their organizations.

Contrary to what some people think, executive coaching isn't a weekend sensitivity-training program offered to senior executives amid the pines and plush surroundings of the Adirondacks.

It isn't an adventure-learning kind of experience in which the executive team climbs cliffs and rappels off embankments--while becoming more aware of the nuances of team performance, group process, and collaboration.

It isn't psychotherapy, either. And it isn't some new treatment for overworked or chemical-dependent executives, offered courtesy of the firm's employee-assistance program.

Executive coaching is a program in which a leadership coach works intensively for a relatively brief time (usually a period of months) with a company executive. …