As organizations seek to maximize every development dollar in their budgets, executive coaching can often be overlooked because of a steep price tag and cumbersome time commitments.

Indeed, a recent report by the Conference Board found higher costs for coaching engagements, especially at the top of the house: “A significant change in coaching rates highlighted in this study is the increase of hourly rates paid for the coaches to the highest levels of leadership (CEO and direct reports).”

It can actually cost between $15,000 and $75,000 annually for [external] coaching per employee, depending on the quality of the coach, said Ben Brooks during a recent EmployeeCycle podcast with CEO Bruce Marable.

“It can be very expensive,” said Brooks, the CEO and founder of Pilot Coaching. which works with companies to “leverage modern technology and democratize coaching to help people be happier at work.”

Internal coaching programs may save a company money, but they have their own challenges, he said.

“When people try to coach internally, it’s fraught because of conflicting priorities and agendas,” Brooks said. “Third party is key. That way, employees feel invested in, valued and seen and recognized by their organization.”

Coaching programs are on the rise just as mentoring programs are going out of style, said Brooks, “and if you Google why [mentoring programs] fail, there’s like a million results.”

Brooks also sees coaching as filling another void for organizations: “There’s a lot of tools out there to maximize performance, but a lot less to maximize potential,” he said, adding that proper coaching can help HR leaders answer the question: “How do we stretch employees and grow them to be more?”

But given a company’s financial restraints, it doesn’t always make sense to pay for coaching for every worker, so Brooks recommends prioritizing which ones will receive it.

“You want to be focusing on your best, and there’s so much time HR spends on the worst,” Brooks said. “Focus on the people you want to take a bet on, and not just rolling out a communist-style program that anyone can do.”

Getting Buy-In

When it comes to selling the idea of starting up a coaching program at your organization, Brooks said, there’s got to be a business rationale for the move. To that end, HR leaders can sell such programs as a way to guard against presenteeism, or a lack of engagement in their workers.

“You want to be looking to make sure employees are being very alert and aware,” Brooks said, “and not just phoning it in like it’s [the 1993 Bill Murray movie] Groundhog Day.

As an example of an effective use of coaching, Brooks cites workers at a high-growth company where the growth has slowed. “It’s really for whatever [employee performance issues] HR is dealing with,” he said.

Bolstering the business case for leadership buy-in, Brooks said, is that coaching programs can also serve as a supplement or substitute for a company’s high-potential program, thereby saving precious resources for other purposes.

“Nothing helps make an HR person more successful than having something tangible and visible that other people value,” Brooks said. “You just have to have the courage to say ‘Let’s make this happen.’ “

Measuring the ROI

When it comes to determining whether a coaching program is delivering on its mission, Brooks said, the simplest way is to ask the people using it: Did it make a difference over time?

“The goal is to not have explosive progress,” he said, “but more of an incremental gain over time, rather than like a crash diet.”

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