The Winning Teams Blog alerted me to a recent study of coaching. Defined as a relationship between an organizational leader and a consultant to improve work performnance,this study is evidence that coaching has solidified as an important tool in the development of successful organizational leaders. Commissioned by the American Management Association, the Institute for Corporate Productivity conducted an online survey of U.S. and Canadian managers (854) and directors (176) in international companies during December 2007 and January 2008. Both respondent groups had a relatively large percentage who were HR managers. That said, the findings and conclusions are noteworthy. The investigators wrote in their report:

This study confirms that external and internal coaches have a role in executive leadership development that improves organizations’ productivity and profitability. This study also confirmed that the more frequently respondents used a formal process to measure results, the more likely they were to be successful in their coaching programs...

Generally speaking, our team believes that coaching will continue to expand and mature as an important leadership development practice. We expect that coaching will become one of the keys to developing and retaining scarce talent in the future, and we think companies that learn to leverage it well will have a significant competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

I commend the authors of the ICP report for the clarity of the results and their candor in describing the survey method and instrument used to conduct the study. This helps consumers of this information make their own judgments about the validity and reliability of the findings.

However, one point of contention that I have with this report is the suggestion that ROI, a business indicator of financial value of something, is the sine qua non of evaluation. On the contrary, if by ROI, they mean a mathematical calculation of the financial value of results compared to what it cost to achieve those results, the time and energy to calculate ROI usually does not make it worth the effort, especially given that it is never coaching (or any other single performnance intervention) alone that makes the difference. Many other factors come into play. And even if you could sort out which factors contribute to change, you still would not know how and why coaching resulted in the bottom-line result. Rather, I recommend constructing through interviews a story (narrative) of the coaching process and its link to outcomes. In that way you are more likely to be able to describe the specific way in which coaching contributed to change in the coachee and the organization. Besides, most executives are influenced more by an illustrative story than they are by a ratio of dubious origin.