How Pinterest, Merck, and Goldman Sachs Leverage Coaching to Support Leaders Through Change

How Pinterest, Merck, and Goldman Sachs Leverage Coaching to Support Leaders Through Change

By | May 11, 2021

Key Takeaways From AIIR’s Session at The Conference Board Executive Coaching Conference

Executive Coaching has the incredible potential to transform leaders, their organizations, and the world around them. As we find ourselves in a time of unprecedented change and competition, it has never been more important to give leaders the right support.

In his virtual session at the 18th Annual Conference Board Executive Coaching Conference, Dr. Jonathan Kirschner, founder and CEO of AIIR, and Megan Marshall, Head of Executive Coaching, led a panel of talent leaders from across industries in a revealing discussion about how some of the world’s top organizations are leveraging coaching to transform culture and leadership, advance race and gender equity, and guide their organizations across the waves of change they faced in the recent past and will face in the future.

The panelists were:

  • Paula Fagundes-Ventura, Global Head of Coaching at Goldman Sachs
  • Stacy Maher, Director of Talent Management at Merck
  • Kristen Hartley, Learning and Development Manager at Pinterest

Only 20% of organizations view coaching as a driver of business strategy — that’s an opportunity

Research has shown benefits coaching can offer leaders (enhanced strategic thinking, operational efficiency, increased levels of engagement, improved relationships and collaboration, and increased productivity and quality of output), as well as the benefits of expanding the application of coaching beyond the executive level.

Yet, a poll of the talent leaders in attendance revealed that 64% of organizations deploy coaching ad hoc — to accelerate the development of a particular leader or to retain a talented individual contributor, for example. Only 46% use programmatic coaching and fewer than 20% view coaching as a driver of business strategy.

What does that mean for your organization? Using coaching as a driver of business strategy presents a distinct competitive advantage.

Each of the talent leaders on the panel comes from an organization at which they have established or helped establish a world-class coaching operation. Here are the three key themes that emerged during the discussion:

1. Increasing access to coaching

Talent leaders are increasing education around coaching and organization-wide access to catch leaders earlier in their careers.

Like many fast-growing companies, Pinterest lacked a comprehensive coaching strategy. And, there was little to no visibility into which leaders were receiving coaching, from whom, and at what cost. As such, there was no way to tell if the coaching being provided was having any impact. Today Pinterest has a well-defined strategy around coaching featuring a robust intake process and measurement, and coaching has become embedded across all levels of the organization and open to all employees.

Goldman Sachs has used both ad hoc and programmatic coaching for years. However, coaching and strategy were seen as separate. Five years ago, Goldman Sachs began employing coaching as an integrated organizational practice and a key driver of talent strategy (i.e., coaching as an enabler of succession planning, pipeline development efforts for diverse leaders, etc.). This was a huge pivot for the company. As a result of the change, coaching is now available more broadly throughout the organization.

2. Combining different types of coaching

Industry-leading talent organizations are intentionally combining different various coaching modalities — for example, combining 1:1 executive coaching with group coaching — to not only give leaders a safe space to work through individual challenges but also to connect them to each other for support, energy, resilience, and context.

Maher said the pandemic has sharpened Merck’s focus on supporting senior leaders in moments of rapid change. The backbone of this effort is cohort-based executive coaching. During the pandemic, it has been important to bring leaders together as much as possible to not only stay aligned on priorities and strategy but also to provide each other support and energy.

Likewise, Pinterest is currently running a cohort-based program for more than 100 senior leaders that runs for 6 months and features a combination of assessment, group coaching, and 1:1 executive coaching. According to Hartley, this approach has been highly impactful.

People have been fatigued, lonely, and stressed, while the company has been experiencing rapid change and growth. That is a lot of pressure. Individual coaching helped leaders get vulnerable and get support. Group coaching helps leaders contextualize their individual experiences, and brings leaders together to support each other. As a result, they have been better prepared to work through challenges and change.

3. Leveraging coaching to drive DE&I

Forward-looking organizations recognize the value of embedding coaching into programs for Black or LatinX leaders as a vehicle for driving equity and inclusion. From the c-suite down, these companies are prioritizing coaching for diverse leaders, intentionally building out a diverse internal cadre of coaches, and forming partnerships with scientific organizations to access cutting-edge research on developing diverse leaders.

At Merck, Maher said CEO Kenneth C. Frazier, who recently announced his retirement, has been a champion of diverse leaders, and has galvanized others to develop the programming that enables Merck’s diverse talent to find their way into the company’s senior ranks. Leadership development and coaching are embedded into programs for Black or LatinX leaders, and Maher has been working in lockstep partnership across the organization to ensure that Merck’s leaders look more like the world they serve.

Similarly, Goldman Sachs provides robust support to their diversity and inclusion team in shaping the talent pipeline, prioritizing coaching for diverse leaders, and importantly, intentionally building out their internal cadre of coaches to ensure not only race, gender, or ethnic diversity, but also diversity of psychological training or business backgrounds. It also has a robust partnership with the Institute of Coaching, which provides its coaches and talent leaders access to cutting-edge research on how to develop diverse talent.

Access the webinar to learn how leaders have responded to the challenges of COVID-19, the advantages to virtual coaching and how to make it a success at your organization, coaching techniques to build resilience, and more!

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