Developing executives – What’s the coaching business case?

A strong coaching business case for a leadership development  project keeps all parties motivated and driving toward success.

Virtually all of my coaching with business leaders is funded by their firms.  There are three parties to the agreement.  The leader has to deliver the effort to fully work on their development.  The stakeholder has to invest the resources to hire the coach and support the leader and their development effort.  The coach has to deliver a coaching process that is effective.

While the firm is investing in the individual, it is also wanting the coaching investment to result in some “return” to the company, reflected in improved business outcomes.

It helps leaders and their stakeholders to align quickly on the coaching goals if they think about the engagement as an investment and use investment language to describe the return.  For an example, if an executive successfully improves employee engagement on his team, research says that team firm will enjoy higher productivity, and up to 20% higher profitability.

I use a four phased “business case” approach to create the development plan.  The client and stakeholder see the outcome in their terms.   In the client’s mind, “I’ll get to know my team better and we’ll all work better together.”  In the stakeholder’s mind, “Sam’s coaching could increase the productivity of his team, maybe by as much as 20%.”

Here’s a description of my approach:

First Base: Name the development goal

Use assessments and stakeholder interviews to yield a list of potential objectives.  Narrow the list to frame a very short list of general development objectives and guesstimate the outcomes.    No more than five candidates should make it this far.  Through discussion, we narrow the list to one or two that have the most compelling outcomes.

I ask the client to “name” each finalist with a short phrase that is meaningful to them.  We discuss projected outcomes of the finalists and choose the one or two which have the most compelling outcomes.

Trap!  Clients typically want to go straight to problem solving.    It’s easier, more concrete, and it’s what everyone is clamoring for at the time.  It’s important to differentiate between helping a client solve a specific problem (you’re a consultant) and helping them develop into the person that can accomplish what is demanded by their role (you’re a coach).  Help them take the time to envision the future, by exploring who they need to be.

Second Base: Discover with the client “who” they will have to become, to achieve the outcomes they are hoping for.  

 What new skills, concepts, values and beliefs will they possess after the coaching engagement?  I help them explore the personal shifts that must occur for them to grow in the direction they’re seeking.

 Third Base:  Envision what behavior changes will be noticeable if the development is successful

Focusing on behaviors sets them up to measure the success of the coaching.  On their own, clients can ask their key relationships, mentors, and teammates what new behaviors they’re noticing.  In my practice, I ask my clients to come to each coaching session prepared to share the behavioral feedback they’re getting from others and noticing on their own.

Bonus!   By encouraging our clients to gather their own accountability data, we’re setting them up to ultimately transition to self-coaching.  They will be able to “pull” the coaching they need from managers and colleagues and measure if they’re making progress.

Home Base:  Ask, “So what?”   Refine the business impact.

If all goes well, what needles move?  How are things different?

The client will probably take a more personal view.  “I’ll be a stronger leader and a better boss, and I’ll be more promotable.”

The stakeholders will more likely focus on business metrics.  “They will be more productive, more profitable, and uncover best practices for the company.”


There’s no magic about where you start!  Just start…  Unlike baseball, you don’t have to run the bases in order, and you’re seldom done until you’ve visited each base a few times.   Desired outcomes can drive the naming of goals.  Goals drive the who’s… and the behaviors… behaviors drive outcomes and milestones…  milestones drive actions and accountability…

What’s important is that you explore all the bases.  Give yourself time to put it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes.

As you move through the coaching, refresh the business case continuously and validate your investment decision.

 Drop me a note if you’d like a copy of a Microsoft Word template I use to discuss and refine the business case and create an action plan for the next steps of the development plan.