I often get asked, ‘Does executive coaching really work?’
Research carried out over a number of years and in different contexts suggests that it does. The research covers a lot of common ground when discussing the benefits and results of coaching, albeit to varying degrees.
Clutterbuck and Megginson (2011) set the context for the measurement of coaching stating, “Efficacy itself is difficult to pin down.” They are right, in that all executive coaching is, by its very nature unique and, largely, qualitative. The client is unique, as is the coach and as is the context in which the coaching takes place. Quantitative can be delivered but, again, these are contextual. Our own clients have delivered double-digit sales growth, 20% increases in profits, business growth from £5.9M to £7.2M and they are happy to attribute some or all of this success to the tremendous assistance provided by executive coaching.
Research tells us that coaching works, but disagrees to the extent and measurement of this success. As O’Neil (2000) puts it, the first of four essential ingredients for successful executive coaching is “having a results orientation to the leader’s problem.” This where a lot of coaching interventions, in my view, go wrong – they don’t set out to deliver key results and can often be characterised as ‘fixing’ and ‘fluffy’ – this needs to change if executive coaching is going to be more widely accepted, particularly in the UK market. Our great clients are the ones who say what good will look like.
These cornerstones of results, partnership in the coachee’s journey, engagement in specific leadership challenges and linking team behaviours to bottom-line goals are, in some senses, a frame around which the effectiveness of executive coaching can be built. They also provide a firm foundation we always try to build with our clients. Sherman (2004) highlights not only the results that come from the coaching but the importance of the context and relationships between all the parties in the coaching contract. He particularly highlights the triangulation of relationships, the tensions that arise and the need to define roles and accountability for each participant in the coach/coachee/client tripartite norms that occur in most external coaching. This triangulation between coach, coachee and stakeholder is, in my view, a basis for great coaching and, potentially, amazing results.
Evers, Brouwers and Tomic, (2006) suggest that further elements of mindfulness and how the executive functions also come into play. They postulated that analysing a group of coachees and a control group of non-coachees within a management population demonstrated a qualitative improvement in performance in the former group. These findings are also confirmed by Thach (2002) in her extensive survey of 281 executive participants in a six-month coaching programme suggesting results could be improved, over non coaching, by as much as 60%. This is borne out by our own coaching experience and the feedback from our clients.
The measurement of the effectiveness of executive coaching is, in some senses, the Holy Grail for coaching. Lots of research has been completed telling us it works but more work needs to be done. As a business we are engaged in a constant round of feedback with our clients and, at another level, are also working on some university sponsored research into the efficacy of coaching in specific contexts.
We would love to hear from any interested parties and, in particular, from those who have their own research evidence to share.
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Clutterbuck, D. and Megginson, D. (2011). Coach Maturity: Am Emerging Concept. Chapter 31 in The Handbook of Knowledge Based Coaching, Wildflower, L. and Brenna, D. San Francisco: Wiley.
Evers, W. J. G., Brouwers, A. Tomic, W. (2006) A quasi-experimental study on management coaching effectiveness. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Volume 58(3) Pages 174-182.
Feldman, D. and Lankau, M. (2005). Executive Coaching: A Review and Agenda for Future Research. Journal of Management, Volume 31 Number 6, December 2005 Pages 829-848.
Levenson, A. (2009). Measuring and maximizing the business impact of executive coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, Volume 61(2), Jun 2009, 103-121.
O’Neil, M. B. (2000). Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart. San Francisco: Wiley.
Sherman, S. and Freas, A. (2004). The Wild West of Executive Coaching. Executive Coaching Network, published in the Harvard Business Review, www.hbr.org November 2004.
Thach, E. C. (2002) The impact of executive coaching and 360 feedback on leadership effectiveness. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Volume 23 Issue: 4, pp.205 – 214.