You are your company's best investment
or, how to get your boss to pay for coaching
I’m often asked who benefits from executive coaching. The short answer is: Anyone who is interested in continued growth and development. Executive coaching isn’t just for “executives”. I work with senior leaders, rising leaders, and high-potential individuals. Additionally, I work with many clients outside of the corporate sector including physicians, professors, higher education administrators, attorneys, and nonprofit leaders.
Though some clients prefer to pay for executive/leadership coaching privately, many want to secure company sponsorship (i.e., have their organizations pay for the coaching engagement). It’s a completely reasonable ask—coaching is one of the most impactful ways to spend professional development funds, as it delivers tangible returns for both the individual and the organization.
This week, I’m sharing concrete strategies for how to ask your company to invest in your development. Though I’m discussing this through the lens of investing in coaching, these same strategies can be applied to other professional development opportunities that interest you. Below are some questions, information, and strategies to consider before approaching your supervisor with the request to fund coaching.
Do your research
First, it’s important to know that most organizations—including universities and nonprofits—allocate a set amount of money for professional development opportunities for each employee every year. In my experience, many organizations are willing to invest in coaching for their valued employees. And others are willing to invest once they understand that coaching delivers positive outcomes that impact the success of the organization.
Before going into any negotiation, it is helpful to do your research to obtain both internal and external benchmarks. For example:
Does your organization allocate an annual budget line to professional development? If so, how much is allocated per employee?
Does your organization use external coaches? If so, who typically has access to this type of coaching?
Do your top competitors/peer organizations use external coaches? If so, who typically can access this resource?
Choose your timing wisely
If your company has a strong value around professional growth and development, asking for coaching might be a very easy “yes”. However, if you anticipate resistance, remember that the best time to ask if when you have some leverage or a natural opening. Examples include:
You recently received a promotion: This is a great time to work with a coach. As you transition into a new role with expanded responsibilities, it’s helpful to have feedback and support along the way.
You started at a new organization: Asking for coaching during salary negotiations can be a win-win. First, it signals to the organization that you are serious about succeeding in your role. Second, the organization is able to write off coaching as a business expense, and they don’t have to pay payroll taxes on it (as they would if they gave you an increased salary instead).
Following a performance review: Your annual review is the perfect time to talk about your longer-term goals and professional development needs!
Your organization is having retention issues: When an organization is losing people, it becomes particularly important to retain the people they have. Also, many people are asked to take on additional responsibilities when there’s turnover, and a coach can help you manage all of the moving parts.
When your boss is a fan of coaching: Some bosses have experienced how powerful coaching can be themselves. You never know if how your future boss will feel about coaching, so pitch when you know you have a receptive audience!
When your boss doesn’t have the time to mentor you properly: Taking this off her/his plate might actually come as a huge relief.
Craft your argument
Now that you’re armed with information and plan for when to raise the topic, you can begin to craft your pitch.
Consider the following questions:
How, specifically, will coaching benefit your professional development? What attributes, skills, and mindsets are you looking to develop?
How will coaching benefit your organization? Put bluntly, what’s in it for them? (Consider the positive impact it is likely to have on your supervisor, direct reports, clients, colleagues, and other relevant stakeholders)
What are the espoused values and priorities of your organization (excellence, growth, etc.)? Does the coaching process align with any of their values/priorities?
What do you anticipate your supervisor’s concern/counterargument will be?
What is your solution or plan to address this is?
Talking points to consider
Coaching is a highly effective use of professional development funds: Organizations have traditionally invested professional development dollars in trainings, workshops, and conferences. These experiences are helpful, but they are limited (just think about how often you refer to those notes you took during the last conference you went to).
It makes intuitive sense—talking about riding a bike isn’t the same as actually riding a bike, just like talking about leadership in the abstract sense is completely different than developing leadership skills in real-time. In coaching, we talk about real life situations you’re facing and you get feedback in the moment. I hold you accountable for changes you say you want to make and you can see tangible progress at the end of our time together.
Coaching targets your individual needs: With coaching, you can focus on the areas that are most pressing to you. Since coaching is a client-centered process, the agenda of each session comes from you—the client. As your needs change, so too does the support you will receive. The coaching process recognizes and accounts for the fact that adjustments come with the territory and that being responsive to changing circumstances is essential.
Coaching helps with engagement: Humans naturally crave ongoing development, and they want to work for organizations that encourage their growth as professionals. This is particularly true for Millennials, who site “opportunities to learn and grow” as one of their top three job priorities. By investing in coaching, organizations can cultivate a culture of continuous learning and development, which leads to reduced turnover, higher levels of satisfaction, and ultimately improved performance and profitability. Even if you plan to leave your organization in the near-term, working with a coach can help move you away from a place of resentment or anger and ensure a smoother exit.
You are most comfortable working with an external coach: Sometimes larger organizations have internal coaches, and your boss may try to direct you down this route because it’s either free or subsidized. I have worked as both an internal and external coach, and I have a strong preference for external coaching.
External coaches have zero conflict of interest—they focus solely on the client’s needs without distraction or any biases about company politics. Oftentimes internal coaches have greater limits of confidentiality (for example, some internal coaches will either refuse to discuss your interest in leaving the company or are prohibited from keeping that information confidential). With an external coach, you can be assured that confidentiality will be honored and your needs/priorities come first.
Coaching isn’t that expensive: Yes, coaching costs money, but so does turnover! According to the Society for Human Resource Management, it costs a company 6 to 9 months of an employee's salary to recruit and train that employee’s replacement. A coaching engagement is a fraction of this cost. It’s in your organization’s best interest to keep you, and to keep you happy—plus, they your growth is an added benefit to them.
Here are some final thoughts to approach the conversation strategically:
Focus on value, rather than cost.
Some people find that it’s useful to start by asking for a longer (i.e., 12 month) engagement and then negotiate down to a smaller package, if necessary.
If your organization resists, suggest cost-sharing, where they pay half and you cover the other half out-of-pocket.
If they refuse to cost-share, ask if you can re-evaluate after a designated period of time (ex. 6 months, the start of a new fiscal year, etc.).
Do you have more questions about coaching? Check out my previous post covering everything you wanted to learn about leadership coaching. If it sounds like a good fit for you, please feel free to reach out for a complimentary 30 minute consultation. I absolutely adore the clients I’ve met through this newsletter. The very fact that you subscribe to this indicates that we likely share many of the same values and life experiences. I’d love the opportunity to work with you!
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