Can you articulate the value of coaching?

Can you articulate the value of coaching?

one colleague briefing another

6 October 2022

As coaches and mentors face greater demand to articulate the positive benefits of their work, Rachael Hanley-Browne, President of EMCC UK, challenges us to know why we do what we do.

I am finding that conversations about evaluation and return on investment in coaching are emerging again. For those of us who have been in our profession for many years, this is a cyclical pattern that usually follows the prevailing economic climate.

As we move into continued economic uncertainty and a possible recession, those clients who invest in coaching will begin to question outcomes. This is a particularly prevalent challenge for internal leaders of coaching programmes and initiatives, where significant resources are invested in multiple coaching relationships.

In the good times, where budgets are generous, and a long-standing internal coaching champion can articulate a powerful narrative around the benefits of coaching, this question is less frequently asked. But when starting up a coaching programme or seeking buy-in from inexperienced internal or external clients, knowing what is possible or appropriate to evaluate is key. Although, I would argue that we, as practitioners, all need to be clear about the value of coaching for our clients. What benefit do we really offer them – whether they are individuals, teams, or organisations – and given our purpose and the nature of our practice, what is our stance on return on investment?

I recognise that the way we express these benefits may vary; they will be in line with our overarching coaching philosophy and the type of work we undertake. But I do believe that we should be able to articulate the value of coaching. Why do we invest in coaching, and why should someone invest in us? Why is this important? Because the recipient of coaching should be clear on our intentions from the outset, and their expectations should be managed or met.When I led a coaching practice with multiple organisational clients, some hired coaches on a case-by-case basis and did not ask for anything more than feedback or three-way contracting. For them, the coaching alliance was the primary focus and objective. In contrast, other clients sought quarterly reporting and analysis, including feedback scores and information about the themes and repeating patterns coaches were encountering with their clients. Here the coaching was part of an overarching leadership capability programme.

Fundamentally, the difference was the purpose of the coaching, which could be, for example, building a substantial internal leadership talent pool, or supporting senior leaders through a major change initiative. Few clients invested in a root-to-branch evaluation study which would require significant hours of labour and a high volume of coaching relationships to be meaningful. So, the paradigm of capturing outcomes ranged from longitudinal measurements of impact across the organisation, to collating satisfaction scores, or more simply asking for written feedback to create a compelling narrative.

There is significant disagreement among practitioners about the need for measurement and how meaningful it is, but I would say it is an area worth knowing about and exploring. Can you articulate the argument for or against evaluation or measurement? What can or cannot be measured? How much investment is required to create a meaningful study? Do you have evidence for the efficacy of coaching to share with your clients? Do you know the potential downsides or limitations of coaching?

There is a famous article by Steven Berglas on the downsides of executive coaching. Sources of data about why clients invest in coaching, and its efficacy, are available from a variety of sources. At EMCC UK, we recently had Clive Mann, author of the Ridler Report, speak at one of our Spotlight events. For a comprehensive analysis of the field of coaching outcomes, What Works in Executive Coaching by Erik de Hann is a great place to start. Google Scholar is also a great resource for searching and setting up alerts on the latest coaching research.

What is your stance on return on investment and measuring coaching outcomes? How does this stance fit with your purpose, practice, and client base? Do you know what is possible to measure and what is not – and do you have the evidence to support what you are doing?

Know the value of what you do and how to articulate it. To be forewarned is forearmed.

Image by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash