Measuring Leadership Coaches and their Impact

Measuring Leadership Coaches and their Impact

Today, there’s a tremendous amount of discussion on measuring the impact of agile coaches and their coaching effectively. 

The coaches referred to in this discussion would include—

  • Leadership coaches

  • Organizational coaches

  • Change Management coaches

  • And, most importantly for this discussion, Enterprise-level Agile coaches

These are people who often coach up to leadership and across the organization. It’s a different sort of coaching that requires different skills, competencies, and experience than other forms of coaching (Scrum Masters, Team-level, RTE, etc.) in agile contexts.

While often the organization and coaches try to tie success downward at the team level towards execution performance and delivery impact, I believe these are red herring measures for these sorts of coaches.

So, the critical question becomes, how should we measure the effectiveness of this sort of coach?

I’m glad you asked!

I will not give you a specific, industry-wide recommendation or standard. Mostly because there isn’t one. Instead, I will share what’s been important to me when I’ve been in a senior leadership role engaging agile coaches of my own.

  1. Skin in the Game with me – this is the co-creation and partnership dynamic. The coach makes me feel we’re in it together, aligned, and solving problems. I know; I largely own the actions and outcomes, but I want to look to the left or right and see my coach beside me.

  2.  Trusted partner & council – I have a wise, experienced, and nuanced partner to depend upon. And they’ll give me radical candor along our journey. But most importantly, I feel I can trust them to have sound and useful judgement.

  3.  Empathy or having walked in my shoes – this is one of those table stakes points. I need my coach to see the world thru my eyes as part of coaching. In fact, expand this point to be fully Emotionally Intelligent in their coaching.

  4.  System thinkers – As a leader, I struggle with balancing tactical and strategic thinking. I’m looking for my coach to be my radar system for the systems that I’m in and to help me see the bigger picture.

  5.  Leading by example & walking their talk – I’m not looking for “yes people” or folks who like to tell me what to do. Instead, I’m looking for role models who walk their talk every day. Who show vulnerability, courage, humility, and service to their client.

Of course, I need my coach to have agile experience and skills. But that being said, the above five attributes are the most valuable to me as a leader. While they are hard to measure quantitively, I know them (and feel them) when they’re present. And they directly impact the results the coach is co-creating with me.

I also want to explore the other side of the coin so that you gain some dimensional awareness.

Of course, there’s a lot I’m leaving out. And much of that is up to you to identify for yourself. But I would be remiss if I didn’t explore what these coaches are not—

  1. Short-term consultants – they are not short-term consultants who are clearly in it for the money. They are quite willing to explain your shortfalls but unwilling to get in the game with you to sort things out. And, if they do, it’s only to gain more money and then leave before the results emerge.

  2. Professional coaches – with all respect, I don’t need someone to ask me questions continuously and never advise me on my options or take a courageous position and tell me what to do. I sometimes call this death by a thousand questions, but with no skin in the game.

  3.  Purists – for a long time, I’ve realized that there are two kinds of coaches in the agile community, purists and pragmatists. For example, purists tell me to do Scrum by the book, while pragmatists guide me to leverage Scrum and an agile mindset to deliver value-based results. I much prefer the latter.

  4.  Talkers, but not Doers – I think this speaks for itself. And I mean this in the extreme, these coaches avoid doing anything tactical at all costs.

  5.  Where’s the Beef – many coaches have an academic or learned knowledge of what they’re coaching, but they have little to no direct experience. Coaching competency must be grounded in real-world experience.

Hopefully, the two dimensions I’ve set up here allow you to see how I ultimately measure enterprise-level or seasoned agile coaches. While your factors will certainly vary, I hope some of mine will influence yours.

I have a friend, Josh Anderson, who years ago questioned the value proposition of Scrum Masters. The sad truth was that he had only seen mediocre Scrum Masters in practice and thought the value proposition was low to nil.

Then he found a real, high-performance, skilled and competent Scrum Master and saw the difference in his teams and organizational results. This realization permanently flipped his thinking on their value, and he’s now a strong proponent.

I wish you that same epiphany regarding finding and partnering with your agile coaches! 

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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