The first point that we have to consider is an obvious one: does coaching actually ‘work’? And doesn’t that depend on what we mean by ‘work’?
For most people in the corporate environment, having something ‘work’ means seeing an increase in performance, or retention, or engagement, or job satisfaction.
For coaching, it means solving a problem that you were trying to solve. However, engaging a coach to solve a problem is a remedial focus, and that’s not what coaching is designed for.
Coaching is a generative approach, and a misalignment of purpose will affect your results.
According to a survey by the ILM (2011), 95% of respondents said that coaching benefits the organisation. However, only 39% of respondents said that they undertake evaluation of coaching interventions.
Without hard evidence, we’re implementing coaching because it’s cool and fashionable, and sometimes even because the corporate sponsor wants to move into coaching themselves, so the coaching programme is an opportunity for them to get free training.
There’s little objective data on this. Deviney (1994) researched line management coaches and found that there was no change in the employees’ rating of their managers’ skills after the coaching. And Duijts (2008) researched coaching as a means to reduce stress-related absence. After the coaching, there was no change in self-reported sickness absence.
Be cautious when looking for proof that coaching delivers the results you’re looking for, because it isn’t the only learning intervention available.
Coaching is generative
‘Coaching’ might also be used to describe one-to-one training, mentoring, or even counselling. But coaching is not a remedial learning method, and while solution-focused coaching presumes that there is a solution, the coach doesn’t impose one.
The client must find their own solution; a generative process.
Furthermore, coaching does not solve performance management problems – managers do! Coaches are often used as surrogate managers, which doesn’t solve the problem, it just moves it somewhere else. And the coach can’t stay on the payroll forever.
Measure results, not expectations
When you plant a tree in your garden, you have an idea of how that tree might grow, but in reality it will grow where it wants to grow, based on its environment and how you treat it.
The label might say that it can grow to a certain height, but what are you going to do if it doesn’t reach that, or surpasses it? What is far more important is knowing that it is growing, so that you know that you’re caring for it properly.
That’s why we measure; for feedback, not for prediction.
Fundamentally, coaching is most effective when you use it for the purpose it was designed, as a generative, developmental learning method.
When you want to give people opportunities to be challenged, to learn and to develop through high quality feedback, you know that there will be a measurable result. So figuring out how to measure that is far more important.
Through measurement, you can check that the coaching process is delivering the outcomes that you had hoped for. If you link that measurement back to the reasons that you started the process, you are able to demonstrate that coaching ‘worked’ in relation to the event or situation that led you down that path.
Design for results, not candidates
This may be the most surprising point – don’t let the candidate choose the coach. Don’t provide a pool of coaches, known in the industry as a ‘beauty parade’.
Select the coach who you believe has the ability to get the results you’re looking for. The relationship between coach and candidate will develop from there.
Think of it this way; do you allow your child to choose their teachers at school? If not, then why not? At best, you choose the school based on results, the school chooses the teachers, and the students adapt to those teachers.
Choose the coach based on the relationship that you want the candidate to have with them, because the candidates don’t have the same criteria for making that selection. Coaching delivers change, and change can be very uncomfortable.
Managers cannot be coaches
One of the most valuable resources that a coach has is the freedom to allow a client to fail. A manager doesn’t have that resource, and often a manager is more attached to results than their team.
We learn nothing from success, we only learn from failure. So within the generative coaching process, failure is one of the client’s most valuable experiences. It takes a very confident and trusting manager to allow that to happen.
Vary the learning
Coaching isn’t going to fix all of your development problems, it is one of a number of learning methods at your disposal.
Coaching providers like to quote research that indicates that coaching adds value to classroom training, so remember that classroom training, or elearning, or mentoring also add value to coaching.
Business as usual
Coaching needs to be a ‘business as usual’ activity, not something that candidates can separate from their normal working life.
Firstly, you’re delivering coaching because of the impact it will have on the candidate’s performance, and, secondly, one of the most valuable steps in creating sustainable personal change is sharing that change with others.
If someone is making changes at work, it’s even more important that their colleagues can support them and give them daily feedback.
And finally, the single most effective way to increase overall engagement in a coaching programme is to deselect people who choose not to engage with it.
It’s easy to confuse equality of opportunity with the idea that we can’t leave anyone behind.
Some people don’t want a promotion, or a career, or development. They’re either happy with what they’re doing, or they’ve already made their own plans to do something else.
These people won’t always vote with their feet, especially if they feel under pressure to accept development opportunities.
When people don’t book sessions, or fail to turn up for sessions that they have booked, remove them from the process. It’s not a punishment, simply a way to respect the choice that they have freely made.
And it sends an important message to everyone else, that coaching is a choice, and not mandatory. People who commit to it will get benefits from that commitment, and people who won’t or can’t commit at that time might have another opportunity later on.
To make sure your corporate coaching programmes work, first define what you mean by ‘work’, then create measurement criteria and deselect candidates who don’t engage with the process.
If it’s not for them, that’s fine. You want to focus your coaching intervention where it will deliver the best results.