While the use of coaching is increasing (See my 3/28/08 blog post.), the effectiveness of coaching all too frequently goes unmeasured. In an article titled “The Wild West of Executive Coaching”, that appeared in the November 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review, Stratford Sherman and Alyssa Freas made this observation:
No one has yet demonstrated conclusively what makes an executive coach qualified or what makes one approach to executive coaching better than another. Barriers to entry are nonexistent—many self-styled executive coaches know little about business, and some know little about coaching. At best, the coaching certifications offered by various self-appointed bodies are difficult to assess, while methods of measuring return on investment are questionable.
Three years later, Mike McDermott, Alec Levenson, and Suzanne Newton, part of a very small number of scholars who are studying coaching and its effects on organizations, wrote in an article that was recently re-published in Entrepreneur.com, that two-thirds of coaching engagements are not evaluated in any meaningful way. This makes it very difficult to determine if coaching is effective and in what kinds of situations it is most effective. They wrote:
Although much has been written about how coaching can benefit individuals, coaching as a corporate endeavor remains remarkably unexamined, with scant analysis of the value derived at the organizational level.
It’s a puzzle to me why organizations do not do more to assess the impact of coaching and examine how it can be made more effective within their organizations. Companies are investing huge sums (e.g., the cost of a consultant-coach meeting regularly with an executive over six to 12 months) and considerable time in coaching. Wouldn’t you want to make sure that your company is using coaching in the most effective way possible and getting the intended results? And if coaching is intended to help managers learn how to be more effective in their work, wouldn’t you want feedback about the link between coaching and positive outcomes for organizations.
Some argue that it is just too difficult to measure intangible processes like coaching and therefore they give up on the challenge. I suspect coaches themselves are the biggest barrier to assessment of impact. Some don’t want the scrutiny and others, legitimately so, do not believe they have enough control over all of the factors in each situation to warrant a cause-and-effect analysis of what they do in relation to outcomes for the “coachee” and client organization.
I believe coaching is measureable…through stories. We need to develop narratives that link coaching to results. This means interviewing managers about their experience with coaching. They can tell us what they applied from coaching, what difference it has made, how they and the organization have changed, and what in addition to coaching has contributed to their success or to non-success. And for corroboration, we can talk to their supervisors and direct reports.