Executive coaching contracts pick up speed


Executive Coach Greg Mandrake Alan works with agency managers to help them figure out what skills they need to improve. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For Capital Business)
October 30, 2011

Executive coaching isn’t just for corporations. These days, federal agencies are seeking help developing their leaders and they are turning to contractors for expertise.

Bethesda-based Catapult Technology won its latest executive coaching gig earlier this month when the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services unit awarded it a contract worth about $250,000 over three years.

The company, which provides a range of information technology consulting services, will start by working with 30 of the agency’s 1,600 top executives, focusing on helping them establish and improve their leadership skills and goals. Alan said the number of executives receiving assistance could expand, depending on funding.

Greg Mandrake Alan, Catapult’s executive coach, said the company has seen an increase in the number of federal agencies pursuing executive coaching. Catapult has worked with the Transportation Department and the Agriculture Department, among others.

“In the federal government, there has been a push within the last decade to develop people who are in leadership positions,” said Alan, who cited the retirement of baby boomers and increased succession planning as potential drivers of the growth.

More than one-third of BPA Coaching and Consulting’s revenue comes from the federal government, said Bill Pullen, president of the District-based company.

“As baby boomers age and we have a lot of experienced senior leaders retiring from the federal government, there is a need to really accelerate the development of the people coming up the pipeline,” he said. “Coaching is a way to accelerate that development.”

Alan said Catapult’s coaches work one-on-one with agency executives, helping them figure out the skills they need to improve and how to accomplish that. In some instances, executives are fluent in the work they do for an agency but less knowledgeable about how to manage others or how to supervise workers with very different expertise.

Alan promotes coaching as more customized than taking a class because the training is confidential and one-on-one, meaning executives can get what they need out of one-hour sessions, rather than sitting through lengthy classes that might not always be relevant.

Federal executives work under different circumstances than private workers and, particularly in recent years, have had to manage their employees under a cloud of worry about budget cuts and even potential shutdowns, said Susan Braverman, a Bethesda-based executive coach.

“In the last year or so, there’s been an awful lot of anxiety about budgeting and things that are going to be cut or not,” said Braverman, who has particularly worked with executives at the highest general schedule level and those in the senior executive service. “They’re feeling a lot of pressure.”

Poor employee satisfaction can drive federal agencies to contract with coaches, according to Pullen, who said he worked in one agency in which surveys showed that employees didn’t trust their leaders and as a result were less engaged.

Whereas commercial firms want to know how coaching will help their bottom line, the federal government is focused on ‘how is it impacting our mission, our people, our ability to execute on what our agency does,’ ” he said.

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