To coach or not to coach

Coaching, be it personal, life, executive or transformational, seems to be the panacea to cure all ills.

According to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study undertaken by PWC the annual revenue worldwide of the coaching industry now amounts to over $2.3 bn annually.  This, of course, does not take into account the amount of time taken out of normal day to day duties by the coachee.

And yet despite the inexorable rise of coaching as an intervention there is little evidence to measure the impact coaching has. That’s not surprising. There are many factors which directly and indirectly impact upon an individual’s performance at work. And when you think that more than one third of coaching assignments last somewhere between 4 and 6 months, that’s an awful long time frame in which priorities (and performance) can shift – with or without coaching.

Evidence based coaching is about defining, measuring and evaluating the value coaching delivers. This can be either for the individual or organisation. Typically the value can be defined during the initial contracting period: ie what the coachee wants to achieve over the next 4 to 6 months. Sometimes this can be quite intangible such as a coachee of mine who wanted to ‘fall back in love with her job’.

Whether helping to deliver tangible or intangible outcomes, anyone who provides a service should make an effort to measure their impact – even though we are acknowledging how difficult that is going to be. In certain circumstances, it can be useful to track the impact throughout the coaching journey by using a series of questionnaires. In the case of the coachee who wanted to fall in love with her work, we opted to use the Oxford Happiness Survey and tracked the individual’s happiness throughout our work together. The use of such questionnaires can also help to pinpoint a particular area of focus in an otherwise intangible assignment! For instance, my coachee identified through completion of the questionnaire that work/life balance needed her attention and that this could be directly impacting how much she loved her job.

The degree of success of any coaching assignment is impacted by a number of factors. Organisational demands or changes in personal circumstances directly impact an individual’s motivation. An individual’s own locus of control and self efficacy can directly impact upon their willingness to take on risks and try out something new.

Self efficacy is defined as a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or to accomplish a task (Bandura). According to self efficacy theory, people with high self efficacy believe they can perform well and are more likely to view difficult tasks as something to be mastered rather than something to be avoided. When self efficacy is low, people avoid tasks, believe tasks to be harder than they actually are and will typically blame themselves when things go wrong.

So when faced with a coachee who has very low levels of self efficacy, a better use of coaching may be to concentrate on overtly building up their self belief.

So how do we build self efficacy in others?

Bandura came up with a number of factors which can impact an individual’s self efficacy.

Mastery experiences – having a success will build self belief. As a coach: Help the coachee identify small tasks which they have a likely chance of succeeding in accomplishing.

Vicarious experience – seeing people similar succeed by sustained effort raises beliefs. As a coach: Help the coachee identify colleagues similar in experience/skill set/style who are succeeding in the organisation.

Verbal persuasion – influential people in our lives reinforcing their belief in us. As a coach: Overpraise throughout the coaching session, champion every success. Work with an individual’s strengths.

Emotional and physiological state – depression can dampen self efficacy. As a coach: Reinforce positive experiences and get them to reflect on what has gone well over the intervening period.

Imaginal experiences- visualising. As a coach: Use visualisation throughout coaching sessions to help them overcome perceived obstacles. For those who struggle with visualisation an alternative can be drawing.

When we return to evidenced based coaching we can measure the impact of our interventions by using a scale focused on self efficacy. It’s not a perfect response to the call for evidence because a shift in a self completed questionnaire does not necessarily correspond to a shift in on the job behaviour. However, it’s a start and it’s a way in which an individual lacking in self belief can witness a shift in themselves. After this they may feel better able to tie themselves down to a more outcome focused development goal.