The Effectiveness of Coaching – what it is and why does it matter?" Discussion with the IOC.
Updated: Jul 31
No matter how hard you focus on reading the most up to date research and how much time you spend catching up with top industry news – sometimes the best conversations are inspired by sharing your thoughts with others and discussing things that you’re all very passionate about.
The topic of coaching effectiveness is one that certainly can be described as “hot” to many audiences – coaches themselves, organizations who want to see their employees grow, or the coaching clients whose professional or personal functioning development is at the core of the coaching process.
Let us begin with defining the concept of coaching effectiveness to make sure we have the same understanding. The effectiveness of coaching can be defined as the extent to which coaches positively influence learning, growth and performance of their clients through the application of coaching knowledge, skills and competencies. Coaching effectiveness is an incredibly important concept as it defines whether the approach to helping professionals grow and learn across every area in their professional and personal lives works – or not. Given that within the past few decades coaching has become an over 4.5-billion-dollar industry (with nearly half of it in the U.S. alone) it is paramount to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach.
Coaching brings about positive results and many benefits to the clients. The benefits can altogether be put in the following 5 areas of one’s personal and professional functioning, growth, development and behavior: (1) behavior/personality change (examples: more hope, courage or higher level of selfconfidence), (2) individual performance, skills & learning outcomes (examples: better time management or more effective goal attainment), (3) well-being (examples: more balanced life, better relationships, enhanced resilience), (4) work attitude, engagement & motivation (coaching helps individuals link the organizational goals with their professional goals, which increases one’s motivation and engagement), (5) personal growth & development (examples: better emotional regulation, defining one’s vision or finding one’s life purpose).
It has been challenging to evaluate the effectiveness of coaching precisely due to lack of tools and sufficiently robust methodology. Recently published Cube of Coaching Effectiveness seems to be filling this gap for organizations, coaches, and clients alike. The model posits that there are three factors that allow to evaluate the effectiveness of coaching: tracking individual performance of the client, wellbeing level of the client and the coaching relationship. All three of which can be measured in a relatively easy way! Let’s take a look.
Performance can be evaluated through 360 questionnaires or through individual assessment of the professional goals or KPIs. Well-being can be evaluated with a Flourishing Scale, for example, or other validated questionnaires. In order to evaluate the coaching relationship, the Cube of Coaching Effectiveness framework suggests taking a close look at a few coaching skills that may help the client in the coaching process – like the ability to uncover the client’s strengths, listening with full attention or being able to put the client’s experience as the focus of the coaching session, to mention a few examples.
The framework accentuates that the coaching process needs to be a process where both the coach and the client want to succeed, work together to meet coaching objectives and create the change and transformation that would allow the client to thrive.
The Cube framework has been received very enthusiastically by the coaches who joined the Discussion Group of the Institute of Coaching fellows. Some of the reasons that make the Cube appealing is its simplicity in application as well as simple and direct implications for the coaches that would allow them to improve their own coaching practice. The discussion inspired by the topic of coaching effectiveness touched incredibly important topics: (1) ethical implications for the coach who works with clients but is given specific KPIs to be reached, (2) well-being of teams whose leaders who receive coaching, (3) the link between coaching, development of leaders and organization's measurable outcomes. And those are just a few examples.
Questions pertaining to profession’s ethics are often difficult to answer - although there are ethical guidelines that help coaches in challenging moments, there are also situations in which one must make one’s own decision following one’s own ethical standards and high morals.
Imagine that as a coach you are hired by an organization to support an employee during his/her transition to become a leader of a team or a director of a department. Such a specific scenario typically has certain goals associated with it. Said roles (team lead or department director) have set responsibilities, KPIs and expectations that need to be met. Most likely than not, such would be the expectation of the organization - that the employee succeeds in the role and meets the requirements that have been laid out for the role. Imagine now, that while – as a coach – you start working with a client and realize that some of the personal development goals and some of the learning goals do not quite align with the expectations of the organizations. Ongoing dialogue is essential to recognize and acknowledge the shift in the evaluation of value received from the coaching relationship – both on the client’s end as well as the organization’s end. Such ongoing dialogue would also allow to highlight all possible scenarios where a conflict of interest could potentially arise. And – what may be an ultimate solution, but a plausible one as well – every party should respect the right to terminate the coaching relationship, if the conflict of interest gets in the way of providing excellent coaching.
What about the concept of well-being of teams? How can coaching of a leader or executive be measured in terms of its “effectiveness”? Is the well-being of teams being considered and measured in such case?
The Cube framework does not measure team well-being itself, or any team-level indices for that matter. However, one point that needs to be highlighted here. Part of the team’s functioning, wellbeing and performance is captured through the evaluation of “performance” of the leader. In some organizations, the aspect of team well-being has been embedded in the role of a leader or manager. It has become common to perform pulse checks as a way of tracking well-being of teams and these pulse checks do reflect on the leaders and managers as well! Research has provided positive empirical evidence that as an approach coaching may be efficient in enhancing the well-being and performance of managers AND their teams.
Speaking of leaders. How can the Cube model explain the mechanism in which coaching of a leader, a manager or an executive can have an impact on the outcomes of an organization? How can one draw any implications that would go beyond individuals and teams and their respective role-related outcomes, tasks and responsibilities? A-ha! Scientific research does provide us with a link between executive coaching and business results at a company level. Recently published study integrates ideas from leadership, human resource management, strategic management, change management, and organizational design to show a few incredibly important links that allow to conclude that coaching does impact business results. It occurs through two channels – (1) coaching positively impacts growth, learning and development and (2) helps improve internal processes and coordination of processes. Both of which directly impact business results.
To finish up allow me to share one of the messages I received from coaches:
~ Your thoughtful formulation and models clearly bridged the research-practice "divide".
I would love to send a very special “Thank You” to Emily Terrani and Kevin Dunal for inviting me to join the discussion with the Institute of Coaching.