Someone to Watch Over Me

There are four Primary reasons why people use executive coaches, according to a survey conducted by the Washington-based International Coach Federation - for advice, inspiration, friendship and a guardian angel.

"An executive coach is like having a personal fitness trainer working for your career advancement and improvement," says Laura Berman Fortgang, president of LBF InterCoach Inc. in Montclair, N.J., and author of Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of America's #1 Career Coach (Warner Books Inc., 1998).

For the most part, IT leaders want coaches with a proven track record in their profession to provide practical, actionable advice.

Actionable Advice

Tom Roach decided to use a coach after undergoing a 360-review process by his staff, peers and management. "I found that my perceived strengths were not necessarily my true strengths," says the vice president of IT in charge of worldwide film distribution at Los Angeles-based 20th Century Fox.

Roach hired Susan Cramm, president of Laguna, Calif.-based Valuedance, a coaching firm for IT executives. After four years at the company, Roach had transitioned to a new position in which his peers also reported to him.

"Susan helped me build relationships with my peers, and pretty soon a tough situation began going much more smoothly," says Roach.

Cramm, a former CIO at Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell Corp. and chief financial officer at a division of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo. Inc., began coaching IT executives after she made her own life-changing choice.

"At the end of 1997, I learned my mother was terminally ill. I resigned my CFO position to spend time with her," Cramm recalls.

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Executive Coaching Basics

• How much do executive coaches cost? Coaches charge by the hour, by the month or by the project. Expect to pay the equivalent of a management consultant's fee. Rates run $150 to $375 per hour.

• How long does a coaching relationship last? Most coaches ask for a commitment of six months.

• How is the coaching delivered? In general, most executive coaching is delivered over the telephone in half-hour or hour-long conversations several times a month. CIOs, however, seem to prefer face-to-face consultations of about an hour and a half once or twice per month.

• Where can I find a qualified coach? Most people meet their coaches through personal referrals. The International Coach Federation (ICF) sponsors a referral service. Visit its Web site at www.coachfederation.org or call (888) 236-2622.

• What kind of people hire coaches? Most are professional people whose average age is 41 and who have college or advanced degrees.

• What are the results of working with a coach? According to the ICF, clients report the following outcomes as a result of working with a coach:

• Self-awareness 67.6%

• Setting better goals 62.4%

• More balanced life 60.5%

• Lower stress levels 57.1%

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She began coaching when she met Justin Yaros, who had just taken a job as vice president and CIO at 20th Century Fox.

"I first heard about executive coaching at a conference when I learned that top IT leaders used executive coaching religiously," says Yaros, now CIO at Sony Picture Corp. in Los Angeles. "I was a new CIO at the time, and I knew I needed some help in defining my role in the organization."

Choosing a Coach

A mutual friend matched Yaros and Cramm in 1997. They have since worked together, on and off. Cramm assisted Yaros in creating the mission and core values for the Fox IT organization, a leadership development program and a personal career plan.

"It's impossible to know to what degree executive coaching attributed to it, but after only nine months on the job, I was promoted from vice president and CIO to senior vice president and CIO," says Yaros. "That kind of speedy promotion is rare."

Ultimately, the coaching experience paid off for the entire IT organization, Yaros says.

Yaros discussed with Cramm his ideas for decentralizing the department, which provided increased opportunities for high-potential employees. Cramm then helped him create the process for validating, planning and selling the change to management.

"I had nobody else with whom I could discuss my idea and its implications," says Yaros. "I couldn't ask my subordinates for an objective opinion, because the decision would affect them. I couldn't discuss it with my boss until I thought through the implications. Working with a coach allowed me to take the germ of an idea and grow it in a safe form."

Another idea he developed became a project with Fox's human resources department to create the Emerging Leaders Program. It's based on coaching principles he learned with Cramm.

"I use a mentoring model," says Cramm. "I consider myself a practitioner, and my focus is helping IT executives add value to the business through technology and leadership skills."

"Make sure your coach is contributing to your current job performance," Cramm advises.

At the beginning of each assignment, she gives her clients a statement that outlines the specific objectives they will work toward. The work statement also provides a tool for measuring the success of the coaching experience.

"Susan and I decided on a set of traits that I had to work on as an executive, and she has given me a road map on how to be successful," says Roach.

"Look for rapport," says Fortgang. "Look for instant comfort level. This has to be someone you will look forward to speaking with on a regular basis."

Vitiello is a freelance writer in East Brunswick, N.J.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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