by Chris Johnson
We are passionate about helping individuals and teams unleash their talents and believe coaching is an important part of that story. This article aims to bring together a range of studies and research to examine the real impact and benefits of coaching and avoid ‘anecdotal-science’.
“With the exception of one study, executive coaching has been found to be more effective than management and leadership training for example, as well as other types of self-development interventions. It is important, therefore, that both the coach and central services, like HR and Learning and Development, collaborate to find ways of better integrating coaching with their more formal development activities.”Oxford Review Special Report 2018
It is this integration of coaching, formal development activities and other elements of your learning eco-system that we are advocates of. The question is ‘what part do you want coaching to play?’ We, therefore, wanted to examine the tangible and intangible impacts of coaching, how it contributes to blended learning and its ability to provide a return on your investment.
A vital component of any coaching programme, whether it is for an individual client or associates within an organisation, is clarifying where you would like to see a difference in the workplace. For some, this will be a change in a tangible measure/s, e.g. staff retention, productivity or profitability. For others, those benefits are more intangible, e.g. improved relationships, teamwork or conflict resolution.
In a survey of 100 executives from Fortune 1000 companies published in The Manchester Review, they outlined the frequency of impact across different tangible benefits from executive coaching.
These results closely align with the International Coach Federation’s 2009 report, where the most cited tangible benefits were:
Context plays a big role. There is evidence to suggest that a coachees ability to work on strategic versus tactical themes delivers a higher return on investment. This brings us back to clearly defining:
This is one of reason we have always focused on tangible and intangible impacts in the goal alignment process:
This gives coachees the space to focus on the business and honour their own growth as a person.
The table below outlines some of the common intangible benefits from executive coaching.
Again, this corresponds to the ICFs findings:
Interestingly we frequently observe the ‘intangible’ benefits driving the ‘tangible’ results. The improved relationship with a leader transforms individual productivity. An increase in team creativity and problem-solving enhances a current product.
One way to do this is expectation mapping. Outlining what you would expect to see and hear as a result of the coaching and how they contribute to your bigger goals. In effect a radar system that provides a signal as to whether the programme or individual, is on or off track. This also helps explain why “long-term coaching has been shown to be significantly more effective than short-term coaching”; the intangible benefits need time to take effect.
“Long-term coaching has been shown to be significantly more effective than short-term coaching.”Oxford Review Special Report 2018
One area we are passionate about, that supports this, is our coaching goal management process which creates clarity and increases internal coachee support throughout the coaching (and beyond). By bringing coachees, their managers and mentors together it creates clarity on the areas being worked on and the internal support required to facilitate them. Our most recent programme saw 100% of managers actively involved in the process (as reported by the coachees). Doubly rewarding was seeing 80% of the company’s internal mentors regularly interacting with their mentees between coaching sessions.
We did not hit them sticks or harsh words. Both managers and mentors showed up because they felt like a valued part of the process. Intangibly it created alignment, more honest dialogue, improved relationships and increased teamwork. Tangibly it increased productivity by having a third party hold some of the process and preparation around an individual’s personal development.
We started the article with the insight that coaching alone is more effective than traditional leadership training and development. However, what about the blend? What happens when coaching is added to a training programme? A study in Personnel Management Today outlined a fourfold difference in productivity between:
The impact of a blended approach is also spoken to in the work of Robert Brinkerhoff in his book ‘Telling Training’s Story’. Traditionally, the greatest proportion of investment in learning and development is made in the perceived star of the show – face-to-face training (Design, development and delivery). His research showed that investing 75% of resources in pre and post-training activities led to a 70% increase in the achievement of sustained new behaviours.
Our belief is that coaching is an essential part of the learning and development mix because of its ability to respond to the individual needs of a person. It is a tailored approach. We are now seeing more clients move away from the traditional approach of training supported by coaching to coaching being supported by regular short-form workshops and even coaching as the sole long-term intervention.
So what about the return on investment in relation to coaching? We are aware of a number of articles that highlight a return on investment 6, 7 or even 8 times the initial cost. The difficulty is finding independent research across multiple clients and organisations employing coaching. We recognise ourselves the irony of providing coaching services and talking about how great coaching is. This is why the Oxford Review’s work across “110 peer-reviewed journal articles” was of such interest.
“With the exception of one study, executive coaching has been found to be more effective than management and leadership training for example, as well as other types of self-development interventions.“2018 Oxford Review – Special Report
This is also backed up by the ICFs 2009 study reported that the majority of individual and companies utilising coaching “made back at least their investment”. We acknowledge that intangibles are very hard to measure. Again it comes back to being specific about what you are you looking to achieve.
A different perspective on this discussion is that organisations with an “aggressive approach” to employee development generally perform highly against other companies.
In the Harvard Business Review article ‘How’s Your Return on People?’ the authors created four hypothetical stock portfolios consisting of companies that “invested at roughly twice the industry norm in employee development in each of the previous years.” “Their returns were robust and in line with a growing body of empirical research showing that organisations that make extraordinary investments in people often enjoy extraordinary performance on a variety of indicators, including shareholder return.”
They “created a live portfolio of companies that spend aggressively on employee development. In its first 25 months since inception, that portfolio has outperformance the S&P 500 index by 4.6%.” They expanded their “investment strategy by launching two additional live equity portfolios made up of similar development-oriented companies.” “Each of these three portfolios outperformed the S&P 500 by 17% to 35%.”
The research and anecdotal evidence for coaching is exceptionally strong. There are genuine best practices and critically the context for each individual, or company, employing coaching will always be unique.
Honouring your uniqueness as an individual or business, tailoring the solution to you and working in partnership is what delivers the best results.
Chris is an international trainer, facilitator, consultant and accredited professional coach (PCC). He owns Caboo Learning and is co-founder of 20 Rock. His passion is helping leaders and teams maximise their natural strengths to fulfil their potential and actively engage in their work. He believes in creating experiential learning that takes you one step out of your comfort zone and actively promotes building the eco-system to support learning transfer to give it the greatest opportunity to be applied in the workplace. For over 18 years he has designed and delivered projects for SMEs and blue-chip corporations, working with 10,000+ participants in 30+ countries (Europe, North & South America, Middle East, Asia).
Oxford Review Special Report 2018; ‘Executive Coaching and its outcomes: What the research actually says’ (Prepared by David Wilkinson)
2009 ICF Global Coaching Client Study (Prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers)
The Manchester Review 2001; ‘Maximizing the Impact of Executive Coaching, 2001, Vol 6, No 1’ (Joy McGovern et al)
Harvard Business Review, March 2004; ‘How’s your Return on People?’ (Laurie Bassi and Danial McMurrer)
Public Personnel Management, Washington; Winter 1997; (Gerald Olivero; K Denise Bane; Richard E Kopelman)
Telling Training’s Story 2006; (Robert Brinkerhoff)