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Coaching: A faster way to lose money than burning it


Garry PlattCorporate coaching may be the popular new boy on the block, says Garry Platt, but should we be welcoming it quite so naively and with no strings attached?

You'd have to have been living in the Western Deep Levels (the worlds deepest mine) for the last five years not to have noticed the increase in coaching as a developmental method in organisations. But just how many of these organisations have any significant evidence (significant = figures, data, facts) of its value to the company? Hardly any is the answer.

What happened in the UK's economy and its companies four to five years ago that suddenly meant coaching became essential? Nothing so far as I can see, coaching simply became the next big thing. This is not evidence, however, that coaching is a waste of time. Coaching might have a significant and important influence on the results achieved by companies, but there is virtually no hard evidence to prove it.

In the 2005 CIPD report Does Coaching Work? less than half of the 29 organisations reviewed had any measures in place which would provide data as to the effectiveness of the coaching strategy. There is also a strange anomaly in the paper which is worth emphasising. On page 12, Figure 1, there are examples of the intended targets for achievement used by the coaches, these include things like: productivity levels, reduction in absence, cost reduction. Good clear outcomes for coaching to be aimed at improving. On the facing page however, Figure 2 shows the performance rating measures used in the same range of case studies, these encompass such things as employee satisfaction surveys, 360 degree feedback, ratings of competence. What was wrong, I wonder, with just seeing if the original goals set were achieved? That is what it was intended to do. Roughly half of the organisations involved in this study are reported to have reviewed progress towards targets, though I suspect that many of these targets were in fact far from tangible.

Photo of Garry Platt"Coaching might have a significant and important influence on the results achieved by companies, but there is virtually no hard evidence to prove it."

Garry Platt, learning and development specialist

In a similar vein the Coaching and Mentoring network has a list of case studies on its site. The benefits of coaching as described here includes such things as increased or developed: 'inclusiveness and openness', 'appreciation', 'respect', 'dignity' and 'self awareness'. But where's the money? Where's the evidence of impact on the bottom line or the achievement of goals and targets?

Like virtually every other form of HR development in the UK the predominant approach to assessing effectiveness is anecdote, opinion and as the CIPD defines it 'beliefs'. Alas, on the basis of anecdote, opinion and beliefs I can make a case to prove that Stalin was a humanitarian. But there are also some extraordinary unsubstantiated claims made for coaching, for instance, the Association for Coaching: cites: 689% ROI at Booz Allen; 529% ROI and significant intangible benefits to the business (oxymoron surely?) for an unnamed Fortune 500 Company and 600% ROI for an anonymous Fortune 1000 Company. I am somewhat sceptical, especially when this same organisation has published a report entitled: 'ROI from Corporate Coaching' which states its intention to answer the question 'What is the Return on Investment from Corporate Coaching?' It's a truly remarkable document in as much as it doesn't even contain a £ sign or indeed any reference to money at all. There is in fact no financial data presented, merely a statistical breakdown of views and opinions. It's like buying a book with the title 'The Life and Times of Samuel Pepys' and proceeding to discover that the content is actually about the mating habits of Llamas.

In the 2005 CIPD report it states; 'Coaching isn't a cheap option. There are significant costs involved in implementing coaching initiatives - so what might be the best way forward for coaches and host organisations to ensure that the former is behaving ethically and the latter is spending its money sensibly? I propose asking two very simple questions which either party could pose at the early stages of proposing and contracting and I suggest that these issues are recorded in any agreement between the parties.

"Like virtually every other form of HR development in the UK the predominant approach to assessing effectiveness (of coaching) is anecdote, opinion and, as the CIPD defines it, 'beliefs'."

The first question is why? Why do you want to introduce coaching? What is the intention and purpose? Peter Thompson wrote that when people buy a drill they don't actually want the drill, they want the holes the drill makes. So exactly what are the holes that coaching has to make? Responses and answers like 'develop our culture'; 'empower our staff' and 'raise our management capability' should be recognised as non-specific, lacking any definition in terms of observable and clear outcomes. Answers to this question should reference actual goals, targets and objectives which are to be achieved. Anything which is ambiguous or open to interpretation should be refined and defined again to a point at which we can say clearly what has to be realised or accomplished.

The second question is how: how will success be measured? How will progress be tracked during and after the introduction of coaching? The answers to the first question will provide the focus of this, but it is important to set formal methods for assessing movement towards the targets outlined.

Above and beyond this I would urge employers to agree a linked pay scheme that ties outcomes to payments. Would you be happy going to the garage and asking for an oil change, pay for it and then discover the oil hasn't been changed? No. Then why pay for a coaching initiative that doesn't deliver? The coaching fraternity is awash with grandiose claims for the benefits of its product so this challenge shouldn't be a problem, provided of course clear goals and targets are agreed up front and a clear and equitable system for tracking progress is installed.

Corporate coaching is not the bad boy of the developmental world but it is an expensive and fairly new approach. It would be highly beneficial to organisations and coaches if there was more clarity about what its purpose and contribution will be within the business, and in that way prove it is a financially viable and responsible approach.

Garry Platt is employed as a senior learning and development specialist at Woodland Grange. Its website detailing all its services is at:
Garry can be contacted at: [email protected]


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