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EXECUTIVE COACHING ACHIEVING SUSTAINED BEHAVIORAL CHANGE Things do not change: We change -Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Executive coaching is the one-to-one development of an organizational leader,1 and as such, its central focus and chief priority is change. It is change, at both the organizational and individual level, that brings about survival and success. At the organizational level, continuous change is vital to maintaining relevancy and a competitive advantage. Strategic organizations constantly seek out ways to change, or in the words of IBM’s newest CEO, Virginia Rometty, to “never stop reinventing itself.” The same is true at the individual level. Humans are wired to grow, and it is through adaptation and change that we survive. When we are not growing and changing we will feel stifled, bored and without purpose.

change is so much easier said than done. Anyone who has tired to eliminate a bad habit or modify an unwanted behavior is aware of change’s dubious nature. An illuminating example of this was revealed in a classic research study about New Year’s resolutions. In this study, 200 people who committed to self change via a New Year’s resolution were tracked for two years. While 77% were able to keep their resolution for over a week, only 19% were successful in maintaining their pledges at by year two. 2 This research sheds light on how it is possible to feel impassioned and motivated to change at one moment, and then a few weeks later regress back to square one. The disheartening truth is that there is much less correlation than we would hope for between our interest in change and achieving enduring change.

One of the greatest challenges from a coaching perspective is the fact that


Underhill, B., McAnally, K., and Koriath, J. (2007). Executive Coaching For Results. BK Publishers, p. 8.


Norcross, J., and Vangarelli, D. (1989). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1, 127-134.

© 2011 AIIR Consulting, LLC

This executive brief examines five essential ingredients required to achieve sustained behavioral change in an AIIR® 3 executive coaching engagement. (see Exhibit 1.)

of strategies to establish a change trajectory and help the coachee stay the course. Some of these strategies involve helping the coachee:


• Identify and refine their development goals

For coaching to deliver sustained results, a process must be in place that is clearly understood at the outset. This process should be supported by established scientific research and theoretical underpinnings. A process has a beginning and an end that is reached over time. To successfully reach that destination, a coaching process must account for the fact that behavioral change is not a linear process, but rather a sequence of wins and backslides. While a coach cannot directly cause change nor determine its velocity, the coach can draw upon a variety

• Leverage feedback from important stakeholders • Experiment with new behaviors • Take ownership for progress and setbacks through regular check-ins and monitoring goal achievement. These strategies increase the amount of opportunities for supporting a change effort, and they are most effectively implemented when used repeatedly within the framework of a process.

Exhibit 1: The AIIR® coaching method


The AIIR® coaching method is a systematic coaching process designed to achieve sustained behavior change. The process unfolds over four phases: Assessment - Insight - Implementation - Reinforcement.

© 2011 AIIR Consulting, LLC

II. VALID ASSESSMENT Assessment is a critical part of an executive coaching engagement. Often times the purported reason for engaging an executive coach turns out to be an incomplete picture of what is really occurring. Without a comprehensive assessment, we only know how to answer some of the "what," with little to no understanding about the "why." Assessment provides the coach and coachee a common language for what the change initiative should target and why. Assessment findings also function as the compass for a coaching initiative, and it is therefore imperative that an assessment process yields valid findings. As summed up by Robert Hogan, Ph.D., an international authority on assessment, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”4

A single interview, one psychometric selfreport assessment, or a fact-finding meeting with a coachee’s manager are each insufficient means for assessment, despite the frequent utilization of these standalone methods. Robust and valid assessment findings are achieved through a multi-modal approach that utilizes established instruments and seeks convergent validity from multiple data inputs (i.e. 360° assessments, performance reviews, psychometric assessments). (See Exhibit 2.) At this level of rich data, a valid assessment profile is established, and the findings are more capable of achieving buy-in while withstanding the varying degrees of resistance commonly encountered during the early stages of a change initiative.

Exhibit 2: Convergent Validity


Hogan, R., and Warrenfeltz, R. (2011). Educating the Modern Manger. Hogan Assessment Systems, Inc.

© 2011 AIIR Consulting, LLC



Assessment provides insight, but that is not enough for action. Insight evolves into action when a coachee makes personal meaning of his or her coaching objectives. Personal meaning occurs when a coachee takes the information that they have learned and actively accepts it through integrating it into their own self concept. To do this, a coach must help the coachee reflect and make meaning of their assessment data, developmental history, career background, future aspirations, and current behavior. The more these dots are connected, the more powerful the meaning making, and hence, the more probable the change is to occur.

Often times a client will remark that they have tried to change through attending a management class, reading a targeted management book, or simply setting their own personal goals and trying to find ways to keep themselves accountable. Executive coaching is different because it requires the involvement of another person and it is therefore an interpersonal journey. The activities demanded on this journey involve taking risks to step outside of one’s comfort zone, to be honest about shortcomings, and to make oneself vulnerable before another- all for the greater gain of growth and development.

IV. REINFORCEMENT The successful athlete knows that despite their functional expertise and years of results, the most important and determining factor in their future success is practice. Just as a golfer must constantly practice their putt and drive, so too must a coachee continuously revisit and refine the changes they have committed to. It is through the practice and revisiting of the behaviors we seek to change that such desired behaviors are reinforced and are more deeply ingrained. Therefore, without a reinforcement process built into a coaching engagement, there is a high probability that a coachee will revert to their default behaviors.

Š 2011 AIIR Consulting, LLC

This kind of journey requires a high level of trust, and to achieve this, a coach must always be attuned to the relationship. In practice, this means the coach must have an awareness about any threats to the relationship and be explicit about the boundaries of confidentiality established before an engagement is launched. Coaches who are not trained or competent in this kind of relationship management are more likely to become a liability than a benefit to the coachee and his or her sponsoring organization.

About AIIR Consulting, LLC

Leading the new era in business psychology

Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. is a consultant and business leader, serving as the founder and CEO of AIIR Consulting, LLC.

About AIIR Consulting, LLC AIIR Consulting, LLC is a business psychology consulting firm dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and performance of leaders and their organizations. By utilizing its telepresence based technology, AIIR Consulting redefines the limits of traditional consulting by making development available anytime and anywhere. AIIR Consulting’s services include executive coaching, talent assessment, and leadership development solutions.

AIIR Consulting, LLC Paoli Executive Green II 43 Leopard Road, Suite 303 Paoli, PA 19301 Phone: +1 800 268 5041 Phone: +1 484 224 9069

Š 2011 AIIR Consulting, LLC

Five Principles of AIIR Executive Coaching  
Five Principles of AIIR Executive Coaching  

This executive brief walks through five foundational coaching principles that maximize the probability for behavior change to be sustained o...