A recent Harvard Business Review article estimated that over $1 billion (£534 million) was spent annually on executive coaching in the US. It has become a ‘key initiative’ for many organisations and goes under the guise of business coaching, corporate coaching and executive mentoring. It also seems to work.

A study by Right Management Consultants found that when executives were asked to assign a monetary value to the coaching they had received, 70% valued the return on investment at $100,000 (£53,442) or above.

It’s hardly surprising that ‘the world’s largest career transition and organisational consulting’ group would uncover this statistic. There is, however, a lot of evidence to suggest that this can be a very effective process for executives.

Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t need to be done by consultants. What is necessary is for HR or some skilled intermediaries to act as facilitators in the process, but the real benefit comes when all the participants are from the same organisation.

Inside track

This exercise can be carried out effectively when executives act as mentors to others. Inside large organisations the channels of communication within departments are relatively good. However communication between departments is frequently poor or non-existent.

There seems to be little sense of shared goals or agendas. In my experience, it’s rare for departments to loan people or even share resources.

There will be a whole host of reasons why this can’t be done. Not enough time to train them. Who will pay for them? How will this affect the reporting system? In terms of resources the most popular excuse tends to be, ‘well, if I give up this resource and I can cope with 10 per cent less, then next year I’ll get 15 per cent less’. This happens in many organisations. There is always that ridiculous March rush to spend the budget before the end of the year or risk having it cut next year.

Returning to the coaching process, the benefit of implementing a system within an organisation is that it opens up communication channels in a real, long-lasting way. It gives executives a wider perspective and actually motivates them. There are times when it’s incredibly useful for the manager to take their face out of the puddle to see the pond. The effective mentor lets the executive do just this. As a result the person being mentored feels challenged, motivated and forced to think differently.

To set up the process and to make sure the right people are matched requires a fair bit of administrative work. It is not difficult but takes time, energy and patience to establish who’s interested, who’s suited and to ensure everyone knows what is expected.

But for this to work, there needs to be a team with the authority and commitment to carry it out. It needs to establish guidelines, roles, evaluation and training for all parties concerned.

There will be a number of questions about the scheme. Is it voluntary? What are the expectations? What is the time scale? What is the relationship between mentors and line managers? What training is required? How will it be evaluated? These questions must be answered before it starts and clearly defined roles established for everyone concerned.

This all takes time and there should be an understanding that there will be problems initially. A pilot scheme should be closely monitored and evaluated and then mistakes should be learnt from.

Knowing the skills base

The training involved can be straightforward but mentors need to understand the process and have some sort of skills audit.

The best people to do this are the people in mentoring group. They also need a few days’ skills training analysis carried out internally to see if the skills are already within the organisation. The skills required are quite straightforward to determine; empathy, relationship building, listening, questioning effectively, goal setting and giving feedback.

Then it’s a matter of monitoring and learning. It won’t work for every organisation as there are sometimes power struggles and hidden agendas – the usual office politics. However, the main factor is the determination of one or two individuals with support from people in higher positions.

No different from any other project really.