In the interview that follows, CEC alumni Karrie Carlin looks back on over a decade of running an executive coaching practice. Would you like to coach over 350 executives and leaders, and build a firm with six coaches? If so, or even if you would be delighted with a successful solo practice, the Center for Executive Coaching might be a good place to get started, or to kick start your efforts.
Karrie founded Performance Impacts, LLC in 2009 and has worked with large Fortune 100 companies to smaller, family-owned businesses and non-profit organizations. Her expertise includes change integration, organizational development, succession planning, executive coaching, assessment, leadership and team development, and strategic planning. Prior to Performance Impacts, Karrie led the Human Capital consulting practice for MarketSphere Consulting in St. Louis. She also led the Learning and Organizational Effectiveness Consulting Services Team at Edward Jones. Karrie initially began her career as a consultant in the Strategy, Organization and People Practice at Arthur Andersen in Chicago focusing on Fortune 100 companies.
Andrew: I’m here with Karrie Carlin, Center for Executive Coaching graduate. Karrie, thanks for taking the time.
Karrie: Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: Tell us about your practice.
Karrie: I started my practice 11 years ago today. We’ve grown it pretty substantially over the last 11 years. We have coached over 350 executives, maybe many more than that. I try to be a little bit conservative on that number. We focus on the C-Suite roles as well as VP and above. We will coach directors in those types of roles as well. I think that’s really a good niche for us.
It’s been an incredible journey along the way. A lot of learning, and working numerous industries: healthcare, financial services, energy, manufacturing, higher education, and across the board with international companies, Fortune 500, to family owned business as well.
Andrew: That’s great. It seems like you don’t specialize by industry. So, how did you do it?
Karrie: All of our work has been from referrals. When I started the practice 11 years ago, we launched out of the gate with coaching clients immediately from a very, very large healthcare company in the United States. That was from previous work that I’ve done with them leading a large human capital consulting firm. Since then, it literally has been a snowball of referrals.
The niche for us is leadership and executive leadership versus an industry. What we see is that there are absolute commonalities across those leadership roles in numerous industries, while I can see that for some people it makes sense to completely specialize. For us, the wider range has helped to bring a different focus for some organizations. For example, when we work with an energy company we’ve got in our back pocket experiences that have worked in numerous other industries. We can bring that to them. That has been extremely beneficial.
Andrew: There are commonalities in how you did it compared to what I did. I started with non-profits. Within a year, through referrals, I also found that snowball effect. I call it the domino effect. Where were your first clients? Take us through how you really got traction.
Karrie: The first clients were heads of HR in organizations, bringing me in, initially. Now I have a team of six people. Initially clients brought me in to coach leaders, do leadership assessments, conduct 360s, and start at that level through HR. The first client was healthcare. The client was the head of all the operating rooms for this healthcare chain. This individual had a thousand people reporting to him and he is a very seasoned surgeon. He needed help with leadership coaching versus the medical or clinical piece of it. We came in and coached the doctors on leadership skills in that organization.
Then I was brought into another organization to coach their entire executive leadership team all the way to the CEO. This was for a company with 15,000 individuals. The CEO was planning to retire in the next five years. During those five years, my work with him was to get his team ready to take over when he was ready to make the transition.
Andrew: Let’s get specific. Out of 350 possible clients, what is the one that you are most proud of? How did you use coaching to get them from where they were to where they wanted to be?
Karrie: I think the most powerful one, and the one that I think of right now, is an executive vice president of a company. He had a large operational role. I worked with him over a five-year timeframe. The most important result for him, I think, was becoming more self-aware of how his actions were impacting others. When you come from the outside and you can have a very unbiased vantage point, I think that’s an incredible benefit to the organization. So, I was able to be extremely forthright with him. We used examples of where things were working, we pulled out 360 assessments, and we pulled out employee engagement assessments to see areas where he really could improve. Even though he was at such a high level in the organization and very successful, there was a big gap there in relationship building and in building trust across the organization. We worked on that extensively. I think he has made number of strides, and after a 30-year career, transformed how he leads people. The reality was, he wasn’t truly aware of the impact of how his behaviors were impacting others. Once we really got to that, he started to change his approach.
I honestly think that the rigor of working with me monthly for five years is what really helped. We would meet, he had examples, and we had tangible things to work on. He worked on those over the next month. Making sure we had a consistent approach with tactical goals that we could measure was very beneficial.
Andrew: So, the people listening are probably both inspired and maybe a little bit intimated by your success. You have six people. You are doing things that people would dream of. For those who are just starting out what advice would you give them, so they can get on the path of success?
Karrie: So, a number of things. I went through your program and I thought it was wonderful to have a variety of people around you. I think that’s really critical. Constantly build your skill set. I talk with executive and leaders. I read the Wall Street Journal. I listen to numerous radio stations on XM Radio to constantly be apprised about what is happening around the world and what is happening across multiple industries. Continually educate yourself. I’ve done this 20 plus years being in the consulting field. Any organization you go into, you really have to be up to speed on what is going on in that industry, what is happening with the competitors, and be able to understand what it’s like to work in that specific field, in that industry, and with the dynamics that they are facing.
So, for example, energy. In energy, they have rate regulation. Well, now after 10 years, I’ve really had to understand how the regulatory environment works. When you’re in healthcare, you need to understand the different rules and regulations from the FDA, etc. Having some knowledge there is very, very helpful. I think that’s pretty key. And also, constantly upskill yourself. We write blogs. We do research. We collaborate with our individual coaches about what is working well with each of their specific clients: “Here are different tools that I am using. These could be helpful with other clients.”
I think one of the key things that has helped with our success is we really roll up our sleeves and help our clients by giving them tools to use. I just got off calls last week with all of my coaching clients and provided numerous tools to them that say, “Okay, think about this model. How could this model work?” The tools come from a lot of different thought leaders across the world. So, it’s constantly making sure you are upskilling your own knowledge on models that work in leadership and beyond.
For example, last week I just talked through and sent clients information about the organizational change model from William Bridges. We also sent information about job impact analysis and how you can think about your own schedule from Covey’s urgency/ importance matrix. I think having things that are very tangible is what helps you be credible.
Andrew: For a lot of coaches — not the ones that go through our program, but a lot of coaches — I think coaching is asking all these never-ending questions and that’s it. If you’re just good at listening and asking questions, you might be successful. But what you are saying is that you also need to show expertise. You have to show the ability to keep bringing value, even with a wide net in terms of industry. I think that is pretty important.
Karrie: Definitely. I think that is really one of the keys to success.
Andrew: Is there anything else you would advise for people either thinking about getting into coaching or who are making the leap and want to make sure they succeed?
Karrie: I’ve been coaching leaders and executives for over 20 years now. I think those first few years, it can seem as though this can be a very fun world to be in. And it can be. And it’s also very challenging, too. You have to really challenge yourself to help people move the needle to that next phase. You really have to challenge people and get them out of their comfort zone.
And, Andrew, I know we have worked together. You do this, too. You’ve got to ask them the tough questions. You’ve got to challenge their thinking, even at times when it could feel uncomfortable. You have to figure out the right timing to do that, of course. But you have to know when and how to push people and bring up the tough conversations and tough topics.
Andrew: That’s great. Karrie, thanks very much.
Karrie: You are very welcome. It was nice talking with you