Case Study: The Role of HR in Executive Coaching

By Beth A. Klahre September 12, 2022
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Case Study: The Role of HR in Executive Coaching

​After more than two years of upheaval and change, it may be time to institute executive coaching in your organization. In these arrangements, it can be helpful to have HR, the executive and coach work together to get the most out of the relationship. While the coach and executive need to have confidential chats, HR's involvement makes sure the coaching is aligned with business needs.

Kimberlee Williams, president of the Center for Strategy Realization and a certified executive coach, has worked in this space for 25 years as an executive advisor to multinational Fortune 100 companies and government agencies. Her work has focused on successfully delivering maximum business value by initiating and implementing major organizational change.

Williams sees HR as a neutral third party, checking in with the coach and the executive along the way. She encourages participants to think through the triad model in advance, not leaving each person to work out roles and define expected outcomes independently. Keys to achieving a successful outcome from a coaching engagement include having processes in place; pre-defined roles for the coach, the client and HR; and guidelines and principles established in advance.

"A coaching relationship is really a business relationship initiated by the organization, frequently facilitated by HR," Williams said. "Despite the high bar of confidentiality between the client and coach, both the business and HR expect to know how it is going, especially when the contract is initiated by HR. HR also needs to be part of shaping and identifying requirements and expected outcomes. Intentions need to be clearly identified so everyone involved gets what they need."

New Skills for an Expert Director

At Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. (HE&R), coaching employees has been in the fabric of the company for over 20 years as part of striving to have the right people in the right positions while maximizing each individual's strongest skill set. When Vikki Hultquist, general manager of attractions and entertainment, approached Andrew Helmer, vice president of HR, about a coach for her direct report Anthony "Tony" Rossi, managing director of maintenance, there was immediate agreement.

Rossi is an industry-recognized expert who has extensive knowledge of technical solutions for attractions and other maintenance required within the company's Hersheypark amusement park in Pennsylvania. What he needed was an unbiased third party to guide him through HE&R's strategy, structure and people processes.

"Tony is an excellent leader in the maintenance department, and we wanted to support him with additional resources around talent management," Helmer said. "He was stretching into new areas and developing a long-term plan for the department around people management."

Paul Kreider of Kreider & Associates, who has worked with HE&R for more than 20 years and is known to many of the HE&R team members as Coach K, was an easy choice for Helmer.

Kreider started his 25-year coaching career as a classroom facilitator teaching organizational development, where he was often asked for advice on employee relations issues and frequently provided leadership advice. Over time, he recognized that he excelled in the transformational side of HR and began to leverage what he learned through his experiences as an executive coach.

When he started coaching Rossi, Kreider held listening sessions with all full-time team members, including unionized positions. Next, he held more-detailed sessions with the maintenance management team to gain feedback on ways to improve the department's structure, leadership and functionality. Kreider asked open-ended questions, listened to responses, and took the feedback and opportunities that he identified back to leadership. He used that real-time employee feedback to ensure that he was on the right track.

The trio of Kreider, Rossi and Hultquist held weekly sessions with Rossi's directors to talk about aligning the strategy, structure and people process with growing business needs.

"Paul always followed up with who owned what action items and where we should push harder. We were a triangle of effectiveness," Hultquist said.

During this time, Rossi, a hands-on problem solver, empowered his maintenance management team to execute day-to-day needs so he could focus on the strategic initiatives. He admitted that at first he did not know what to expect. The coaching process proved to be both easy and extremely challenging.

"Through this coaching experience, I have a new and rewarding outlook for my position on our team," Rossi said. "I realize there is much more to my position. I have learned to concentrate on developing my team members and help them look inside themselves to find their individual strengths. Now I present challenges to the team and encourage them to work together to develop solutions."

Keep Communication Flowing

Keeping all parts of the trio in the communications loop was important to the success of the engagement. Kreider and Hultquist had daily discussions to ensure continued alignment with the goal. They also took the opportunity to review topics that came up in the weekly meetings with Rossi's directors. Helmer and Kreider held monthly recap meetings to discuss progress.

Williams agreed with this frequent approach to communications. "A coach should check in with HR periodically—for example, once every six weeks in a six-month engagement," she said. "Discussions should include the plan and the goals, the action items, and [the] level of commitment. Talk about how the process is going and how coachable the individual has become."

She cautioned, however, that these discussions run the risk that a coach conveys too many details to the HR partner.

Helmer said he made sure his discussions with Kreider were focused on the purpose of the engagement rather than on the conversations he had with Rossi. "Tony needed to have a relationship of trust with Paul, one that allowed discussions about anything," Helmer said. "That being said, Paul and I have an understanding that anything that is an ethical, moral or legal issue had to be raised with me."

Kreider said he provided brief reports on progress, never sharing any confidential information. "The trickiest part was to make sure HR knew what was going on, while maintaining confidentiality with the coachee," he said.

All parties agreed that this coaching engagement was highly successful.

"Tony has become more comfortable being uncomfortable. He has transitioned to more of a coach, empowering his team and allowing them to learn while developing their own style. Now, Tony has time for future planning. This process helped Tony see how to achieve wins again and again," Hultquist said.

Helmer agreed. "Tony clearly thinks on the mechanical, hands-on plane. He is simply wired that way. And now he is thinking about the development of his younger team members. Tony's future lies in the growth of his team and his legacy within the company," he said.

Rossi is grateful for his experience and the investment his company has made in him. "Coach K helped us assemble a talented team while showing us the way to forge a plan that will ensure our success," Rossi said. "He has taught me that my knowledge and experience are of more value when I share it with the team rather than jumping in and fixing an issue on my own. My role now is to help forge the future growth of the team and to empower them to find their own solutions. I learned that not everyone has to agree. Different opinions and outlooks are what create unique and creative solutions."

Kreider added, "We all have strengths. We are all becoming more of who we already are. It is a personal journey of leadership for all of us."

Beth A. Klahre is a freelance writer from coastal North Carolina with previous leadership experience in global HR operations.

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