Big Ideas in Executive Coaching

Research recently completed with coaching buyers (Denton, 2016) indicated a clear need for value and results from coaching. They really want to see measurable outcomes and, on the surface, this seems a reasonable and laudable expectation. In contrast whilst coaching research suggests that executive coaching works, the measurement of the effectiveness and ‘return’ from coaching is, as suggested by Clutterbuck and Megginson (2011), difficult to pin down.

The most startling research outcome was the suggestion that whilst buyers wanted ‘results’ they were often reluctant to commit to desired outcomes to the coach or coachee in the triangulated relationship between the three parties. As a business, we are currently carrying out further research in this arena. Our early research indicates that 66% of coachees had no clear expectations, framework or accountability set by the coaching buyer of manager whilst 86% cited ‘results’ as a key measurable!! (For more details on the latest research findings please get in touch directly at

Big Ideas

In their meta-analysis of the effects of coaching on individual outcomes, Theeboom et al (2013), cite Grant et al (2010) who suggest that coaching is a demonstrably useful tool in development but also look to Bono et al (2009) as a reason to start to examine empirical outcomes. Bono et al (2009) and Bozer and Sarros (2012) having expressed real skepticism as to the financial returns derived from coaching. This being particularly relevant in the ‘return on investment’ debate when research carried out by Bono et al (2009) indicated that, at that time, amongst a cohort of 428 coaches hourly charging rates were averaging $237. This figure will, in the intervening seven years, have grown significantly.

Theeboom et al (2013) are guarded about the use of a formulaic approach focusing on ROI. They argue that financial gains, outcomes and/or quantitative results may well be measurable but this is not the whole answer. This solely metric approach discounts several coaching specific factors such as team input, environment or other uncontrolled factors, not least the unique relational element of each intervention. They also assert that the recognised formula for calculating ROI i.e. benefits minus costs divided by cost x 100 is too blunt an instrument to measure coaching efficacy on many levels. Their broader meta-analysis explores in detail such areas as wellbeing, health, coping, work/career balance and goal directed self-regulation.

These assertions are certainly borne out in my own practice – often results can be directly related to financial outcomes but frequently are not. My own, recently completed, research indicates that both buyers and coachees alike value coaching and can see distinct advantages in utilising it, particularly in executive transition. They also indicate an understanding of the unique relational nuances that come into play in all coaching interventions – it is these relational elements that make up the bigger picture of Coaching ROI.

Various factors from Theeboom’s research lean towards areas directly related to the effectiveness of transiting executives. They look at aspects such as job satisfaction and attitudes to work, specifically citing the reframing of work experiences. The way organisational constraints put boundaries and barriers in place to making changes and how coaching could help individuals re-frame this to their advantage (Wrzesniewski and Dutton, 2001).

My own coaching practice experience very much resonates with these areas of:

  • Reframing attitudes to work
  • Working within organisational barriers (real or imagined)
  • Setting stretch goals

Whilst some of these could be framed with empirical goals and, if needed, financial results, this is not the whole picture. The tendency to look for ROI is, in my view, way too narrow a measure when looking at coaching efficacy. Both buyers and coachees referred directly to the value in relationship and support provided by external coaches and, in many cases relating to my own coaching, to the stretch and challenge it provided often way beyond any initial expectations.

Theeboom et al’s (2013, p.12) meta-analysis concluded that coaching:

“has significant positive effects on performance and skills, well-being, coping, work attitudes and goal directed self-regulation.”

Perhaps, as coaches, we should be more insistent on framing and contracting across the tri-partite relationship of all external interventions so that ROI can be stated as an expectation at the outset and then, confidently, measured as an outcome. Holding ourselves, our coachees and, as importantly, the stakeholder to account!


Bono, J.E., Purvanova, R.K., Towler, A.J. and Peterson, D. B. (2009). A survey of executive coaching practices. Personnel Psychology, 62, 361–404.

Bozer, G., and Sarros, J. C. (2012). Examining the effectiveness of executive coaching on coaches’ performance in the Israeli context. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 10, 14–32.

Clutterbuck, D. and Megginson, D. (2011). Coach Maturity: An Emerging Concept. Chapter 31 in The Handbook of Knowledge Based Coaching, Wildflower, L. and Brenna, D. San Francisco: Wiley.

Denton, A. (2016). Warwick University Research Paper. What benefits can executive coaching bring to newly appointed/promoted executives in their first months in a new role? CE964-20 Research Project.

Grant, A. M., Cavanagh, M.J., Parker, H.M. and Passmore, J. (2010). The State of Play in Coaching today: A comprehensive review of the field in Hodgkinson, G.P, and Ford, J.K. (2010) Chapter 4 in International Review of Industrial and Organisational Psychology 2010 Volume 25. San Francisco: Wiley.

Theeboom, T., Beersma, B. and van Vianen, A.E.M. (2014) Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organisational context. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9:1, 1-18, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2013.837499

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. (2001). Crafting a job: Employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26, 179–201.