This paper researches the call for standardization in executive coaching. Recent articles note the good that executive coaching can do for a company and its executives. The articles, however, note that the lack of conformity and standardization among coaches make selecting a coach a “buyer beware” type of transaction. This paper points out specific areas in which executives feel there needs to be more regulation among coaches and opinions on how that regulation might be achieved.
In a world that is growing ever smaller because of the increase in communication, transportation, and cooperation, the companies that seem to thrive are the ones that provide a consistent product at a consistent rate with consistent quality. Buyers want to know that their purchases will meet their expectations. Companies that want to prove their image of delivering consistent products can seek certifications from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. ISO certification is costly and time-consuming, but once achieved, it gives the company that earned it more prestige in their field. Periodic inspections are performed to ensure the
company is continuing to meet the standards it claims to uphold.
Currently there is no ISO certification available for coaching. There are, however, several coaching certificates available through various organizations. These certifications are less appealing because of the varying standards between the organizations that issue the certificates. Currently there are over 50 coaching certification programs in just the UK (Coutu et al., 2009). Some programs are intensive and require several hours of study, practice, and research. Others can be achieved by simply attending a weekend seminar. Although the word “certification” denotes that one is a professional in their field, buyers may become confused when shopping for a credible coach.
For fields such as Life Coaching and Spiritual Coaching, this varying degree of professionalism is less of a concern because individuals often seek coaches based on personality matches and coaching styles. For Executive and Business Coaching, however, coaching is seen as an investment for which the organization hopes to receive the largest return possible. Without a predictable standard, coaching is considered a high-risk investment that companies may be hesitant to make. Articles written over the last few years show the call for standardization in Executive Coaching. The following will touch on a few points within those articles.
STANDARDIZATION IN EXECUTIVE COACHING
Coutu, et al..s article (2009) states the following about how coaching is a good thing, but is unstable:
When we asked coaches to explain the healthy growth of their industry, they said that clients keep coming back because coaching works.. Yet the survey results also suggest that the industry is fraught with conflicts of interest, blurry lines between what is the province of coaches and what should be left to the mental health professionals, and sketchy mechanisms for monitoring the effectiveness of a coaching engagement.Bottom line: Coaching as a business toll continues to gain legitimacy, but the fundamentals of the industry are still in flux. In this market, as in so many others today, the old saw still applies: Buyer beware!
In a similar article, Berglas (2002) warns,
In some companies, having an executive coach is a badge of honor. But many top managers are finding that the advisers hired to solve their performance problems only make matters worse.
The article sums up how a lack of standards in coaching qualifications can match the wrong coach to the wrong executive with negative results.
Executives want to hire qualified coaches that match their needs, but are not able to because there is no clear answer as to what makes a qualified coach. Sherman and Freas (2004) describe a real hiring situation where a vice president didn.t even know how to look for a qualified coach:
When the senior vice president for organizational development at a leading U.S. bank first sought executive coaches for a few senior leaders, she faced a stampede. Kicking up dust were hundreds of applications with wildly diverse qualifications, each expecting an interview. To make the selection process manageable, the VP established arbitrary criteria: Candidates needed some sort of coaching certification, plus five years of coaching experience at Fortune 500 financial services companies.
I have to screen people somehow,. she said.
So I am making stuff up…
It is unsettling to think that executives are just “making stuff up” as they search for qualified coaches. Much of how the business world views qualification is through quantifiable data. Much of the coaching.s products of success, however, are measured in qualitative data. Sherman and Freas (2004) also quote an executive coaching manager who stated,
I dont think ROI is ever going to be able to measure the true success of coaching, so we assess the value with qualitative data.
SUGGESTIONS FOR STANDARDIZATION IN EXECUTIVE COACHING
So what then is a better way to measure or standardize executive coaching? Coaches will likely have varying opinions on this, so we go back to the basics: give the customer what he/she wants. Below are suggestions from executives on what can be done.
Berglas (2002) wrote an article describing the dangers of executive coaching. The article describes how executive coaching can exacerbate underlying psychological disorders of executives. As a suggestion of how to ensure a client is achieving the desired results without negative consequences he states,
To best help their executives, companies need to draw on the expertise of both psychotherapists and executive coaches with legitimate skills. At a minimum, every executive slated to receive coaching should first receive a psychological evaluation. By screening out employees not psychologically prepared or predisposed to benefit from the process, companies avoid putting executives in deeply uncomfortable – even damaging – positions. Equally important, companies should hire independent mental health professionals to review coaching outcomes. This helps to ensure that coaches are not ignoring underlying problems or creating new ones.
Coaches come from all types of backgrounds. Not all are (nor should all) be) trained to recognize and diagnose deeper psychological problems. Berglas is suggesting here that one possible way to standardize the industry is to couple coaching with psychological evaluation. At first it may seem insulting to coaches to suggest this, but it will likely further legitimize the field of coaching to show how the coaching process actually creates a healthier mental ability more often that it creates deeper psychological issues.
When offering their suggestions for improvement, Sherman and Freas (2004) note the importance of 360 degree evaluations.
Well constructed 360s can identify particular behaviors with great precision and link them to corporate goals, values, and leadership models. By aggregating subjective judgments and making them anonymous, 360s generate statistical data with a helpful patina of objectivity and legitimacy. While the judgments are not always fair, they represent actual perceptions. For that reason, 360s can provide priceless insight into the subjects. interpersonal environment. Even coaches of modest attainment can add value by delivering such information.
Coaching is all about creating self awareness so that the individual can take self-decisive action. A 360 degree evaluation gives a different level of awareness to the client. In executive coaching, it may be wise to standardize the field by using 360 degree evaluations or something akin to them.
With seven authors, the Coutu et al. article (2009) contained the most advice executives that would like to give coaches to standardize the industry. The article states,
If a prospective coach can.t tell you exactly what methodology he uses – what he does and what outcomes you can expect – show him the door.
Coaches are often taught that to be able to be consistent with a code of ethics such as International Coach Federation (ICF) offers, they are not to misrepresent what they offer nor make false claims as to what the results may be. Coutu et al. (2009) continues,
The coaching industry will remain fragmented until a few partnerships build a brand, collect stellar people, weed out those who are not so good, and create a reputation for outstanding work…. [The] industry badly needs a leader who can define the profession and create a serious firm in the way that Marvin Bower did when he invented the modern professional management consultancy in the form of McKinsey & Company…. [Coaching] firms will need to demonstrate how they bring about change, as well as offer a clear methodology for measuring results.
Earlier in this paper it was mentioned that one of the issues facing the coaching industry was that there are a plethora of coaching certification programs and executives do not know how to distinguish quality coaches from poor coaches. Coutu et al. (2009) offers the insight,
Currently, there is a move away from self-certification by training businesses and toward accreditation – whereby reliable international bodies subject providers to a rigorous audit and accredit only those that meet though standards.
Buckingham (2012) confirms the above statement by adding,
A formally recognized qualification gives credibility and confidence to both the coach and the client…. What I recommend you research is an independent coaching organization such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or Association for Coaching (AC). All have different standards and requirements for qualifications for both their credentialed coaches and their accrediting schools….The Daddy of independent coach credentialing organizations is the International Coach Federation (ICF) with approximately 19,000 members. Based in the US, it considers itself to be the global voice of coaching and sets the highest benchmark standards for pure [coaching] in the profession.
The benchmark standards mentioned are exactly what those looking to hire executive coaches need to be aware of when searching for a professional.