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Coaching Effectiveness

May 24, 2015

As the industry picked up momentum and many new coaches hung up shingles and got into the market, HR and organizations adopted coaching almost as if it were a “Silver Bullet” that would solve their problems. However, the organic and protracted timeframes of impact, inconsistent results and inconsistent coaching quality ensured that the euphoria quickly waned. Today, HR professionals are wary of selecting coaches and a lot is being written and debated about the effectiveness of coaching.

I requested Shelley Winter ( and who is the Global Head of Coaching for YSC to write a guest blog for me on the subject. She makes a compelling case as well as offers a few suggestions that can help you maximize your coaching investment. Read on:

The Quest to find an Effective Executive Coach

For decades, the training and development industry has grappled with methods to demonstrate a return on investment. Coaching providers now find themselves in a similar predicament to prove their worth.  The coaching industry, recently estimated to be over $2 billion annually (ICF, 2012) is increasingly used as an intervention for behaviour change or leadership development.  Whilst the growth in the use of coaching suggests that it is valued by users, Executives and HR buyers of coaching services, quite rightly want to see the value of their spend.  Alongside this growth in demand, there is an influx of coaching practitioners striving to expand their client group.  Coaching is a highly desirable second or third career path for business professionals and is unregulated both in terms of the required training and the use the title ‘Coach’.    This presents an unusual dilemma for a growth industry in which supply is higher than demand.  The coaching buyer can therefore afford to be selective in their choice of coach, but how do they unearth the effective coaches from the ineffective.

Beware of financial ROI claims

Given the financial investment and the pressure for HR colleagues to demonstrate the commercial worth of their interventions it is unsurprising that coaches point to financial gains for the individuals.   Coaches using Kirkpatrick’s model to calculate a financial return on investment (ROI) to claim significantly high financial ROI’s ranging from 340% to 5000%.   However, the very reasons that coaching is used as an intervention are the same reasons this kind of measurement is difficult and debatable.   Coaching is bespoke, dynamic and works with the complexities of human change.  It also integrates the rapidly changing context that Leaders are required to navigate.  There are many mediating variables between individual behaviour and business results.  Calculating a financial ROI therefore involves multiple extrapolations and often biased inferences to arrive at a result.  Buyers should therefore be wary of such claims and ask for further detail on their calculations.   Whilst calculating a definitive financial ROI is tenuous, there are other avenues coaches can use to demonstrate value, measure effectiveness, and document change.

Understand the link between business objectives and individual goals

Executive and leadership coaching serve two purposes – the organisations need for strong leadership and individual leaders need for accelerated growth.  Coaches walk the line of these two forces for change. Effective coaches explicitly link the two to measure their impact.  An ‘objective setting’ meeting at the outset of coaching, involving the line manager, coach, coachee and where applicable coaching sponsor is key to aligning goals and establishing the potential business value of individual behaviour change.   Socratic questioning to clarify and probe thinking is not just a powerful coaching technique, it can help to define the value of behaviour change.  For example, a common goal in executive coaching is to increase influencing skills.  Using repetitive socratic questioning such as asking “what would that enable?” to establish the links  between behaviour change and business outcomes is an easy and enlightening method. In this way, the coach is also progressing the thinking of the line manager and instilling accountability for change with all the involved parties.

Determine whether they are a Coaching or a Mentor

Many coaches use their past careers as an Executive or their previous industry experience to tout their credibility.  The risk with matching a Coaches experience too closely to the client challenge is the tendency for the coach to do more mentoring than coaching.  It is hard not to give advice when you have ‘been there and done that’.  Effective coaching does not rely tips, techniques or expertise as the centre focus.  Coaching uses questioning and supportive challenge to equip individuals with their own resources to apply to future challenges.  This is the key difference between coaching and mentoring.  Mentoring is the sharing of knowledge and expertise for an individual to apply to their own context. Coaching develops personal resources such as insight, confidence, resilience, emotional management and self-directed learning. These resources create the conditions to see new possibilities and evolve as a leader.  These deeper changes can be generalised and therefore outlast the coaching engagement.   An effective coach can should be able to articulate and where possible measure, deeper levels of change.

Integrate existing HR platforms with the coaching engagement

The complexities of psychological change not withstanding, existing HR platforms such as 360 degree feedback or personal development plans serve as simple tools for measuring individual change that are often overlooked.  Although 360 feedback is not a new tool, when asking the right behavioural questions a report can highlight discrepancies between an individual’s self-perceptions and colleague or customer experiences of the individual.  These discrepancies cause internal discomfort for people which forms a powerful motivator for change – to shift behaviour and close the perception gap of our ‘ideal self’.  Development plans are often seen as a ‘tick-box’ process but they are a pragmatic tool to facilitate conversations around behaviour goals and measurements of change.   Like other behaviour changes we try to make in life, such as weight loss – giving the behaviour in question focus is a compelling motivator for change and creates an inherent feedback loop.  Using your own organisation’s platforms is a quick way to demonstrate effectiveness to share with business colleagues.

Question the silver bullet

Finally, coaching can be seen as the ‘silver bullet’ that will address all leadership challenges and development needs.  A coach who is confident of their ability to take on any client should be viewed with caution.  An effective coach will seek to understand the challenges the leader faces and the needs of the organisation before committing to coaching.  This is both to determine whether another intervention might be more suitable and to determine whether the individual is ready to be coached.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2015 1:14 pm

    Very well written! I particularly liked the differences you mentioned between coaching and mentoring. I also feel that it is important to make the employees realize the benefits of coaching, making them understand what all it can do to them will definitely motivate them to give their best inputs.

  2. May 24, 2015 6:43 pm

    Very lucid and informative. Thanks for sharing.

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