Bringing Science to the Art of Coaching

Interest in helping leaders to become better coaches is at an all time high. Surveys show that employees want a great deal more coaching than they receive and there are signs that corporate America is finally trying to respond in two ways: first, they are training managers to be better coaches and second, they are using external coaches. With all this investment, what can be done to insure that it pays off with the highest possible return? There is great inconsistency in the quality and effectiveness of coaches, and the field is attracting more people at a rapid rate.

To expand and improve the art of coaching triggers a series of extremely important questions for which we’ve not had good answers. Yet, the future success of coaching may lie in our chris hsu kilometre ability to find answers to these basic questions. The purpose of this paper is to highlight how many of these questions may be addressed in large part by:

  • Applying research from a variety of allied disciplines
  • Applying lessons learned from other successful initiatives that are closely related to coaching
  • Using research conducted in business and public service organizations

The questions are:

  1. To what degree does coaching really pay off? Or, is this just one more in a long line of management fads?
  2. How can we increase the effectiveness of each coaching session?
  3. How can the process of coaching be made more consistent?
  4. What is the appropriate goal for coaching, and how much change can we expect?
  5. What is it about the coaches’ personality or behavior that makes the most positive impact?

In the book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, Pfeffer and Sutton show how companies can improve performance and overcome their competition through evidence-based management. They point out that a very small percent of what managers do is based on any solid data. This analysis appears to have been spawned by the research on medicine from Dr. David Eddy who suggested that in 1985 only 15% of what physicians did had any scientific evidence to support it, and that now that number has risen to somewhere between only 20 to 25%.

Let’s face it. The practice of coaching in our industry is relatively new. Until recently, most coaching happened somewhat informally. Before that, some organizations offered more formal coaching to those leaders who needed “fixing.” It is not surprising, therefore, that corporations and large public agencies have not made much investment in pushing the state of this art into a more scientific realm. As the practice of coaching continues to grow, more and more organizations are attempting to measure the benefits of coaching and calibrate their return on investment. This leads to a heightened interest in improving the process and making results more predictable.

The good news is that there are related disciplines that have conducted extremely relevant research. Corporate coaching practice may benefit from the application of these related disciplines in which greater budgets exist for such research, and where the consequences of success and failure are so enormous. This paper attempts to reach out and tap into that relevant research that addresses our key questions and issues.

Our research within corporations and public agencies provides useful answers to this first question. Analysis chris hsu kilometre of hundreds of thousands of 360-degree feedback instruments sheds light on the effectiveness of coaching.

When we study leaders who are most effective at coaching, we can see some clear correlations between a leader’s coaching effectiveness and its impact on his or her direct reports. Consistently, our data show strong correlations between a leader’s coaching effectiveness and measures of employee commitment and engagement.

Much has been written on the importance and impact of having highly committed and engaged employees. Studies have shown that an increase in employee satisfaction typically leads to an increase in customer satisfaction, which ultimately impacts the bottom line of the organization. So how do leaders impact employee satisfaction? It appears that one very strong lever that leaders can use is to improve how well they coach and develop their employees.

In a competitive job environment, many organizations focus on attracting and retaining talent. We know that one of the best predictors of people leaving an organization is their indication that they frequently think about quitting. (The only other more powerful predictor of turnover is when people actually announce their intention to leave.)

When we correlate coaching effectiveness with intention to stay, we find that effective coaching more than doubles the likelihood that people won’t even consider leaving the organization.

In our research, we also found that the results produced by the highest performing coaches were correlated with the following outcomes: • Greater willingness to “go the extra mile” for the organization.

  • Increased levels of employees reporting that the company is “a good place to work.”
  • Increased employee satisfaction with decisions impacting their work.
  • Increased feelings of being valued as an employee by the organization.
  • More than double the number of employees who were inspired to “put forth a great deal of effort every day.”
  • Increased employee’s perception that his/her supervisor was doing a good job.

While this is just a sampling of hard data that confirms the impact of coaching, we hope such data convinces every leader that this is not a current fad lacking serious business consequences. Coaching is not something that should be perceived of as merely “nice to do.”

On this topic we turn to research from the world of counseling and therapy. As we do, however, let’s be extremely clear that we are not suggesting that a manager who conducts a career discussion with an employee is performing the same role as a trained therapist. The differences are huge.


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