Research Paper By Anda Bog
(Executive Coach, ROMANIA)
This paper is written because we believe coaching can help individuals and teams reach their goals. It works quite well both in the business world and with individuals, on personal matters. Somehow though, the two are quite different in point of coaching contracting as in the first category, the stakeholder system is more complex and hence the relationship of the coach with each of the stakeholders is equally complex.
Simplifying this stakeholder network, we often get to two positions that champion, sponsor and contract for the coaching services in their companies, the CEO/GM/MD and the HR. Hence, their views on what coaching represents, is quite interesting for coaching professionals. Luckily, there are professional surveys that deal with the two categories allowing us the grasp a good sense on the opinion of HRs and CEOs.
The Two Surveys Reviewed
The study surveying among the HR professional working inside organisations was conducted by PwC and ordered by ICF. It uses a well structured methodology with in depth interviews on a large geography, nevertheless the majority on individual interviewed coming from US and Western Europe. The survey covers both essential coaching topics, but also details on how to select a coach, internal vs external coaches, training of the coaches.
The study addressing the C level professionals, was conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business, Center for Leadership Development and Research, bringing good access and expertise on talking to executives and touching a number of issues that are closely related to coaching topics from their perspective. Moreover, the survey reveals what’s the experience each of the senior professionals made with coaching themselves.
It is interesting to take a perspective on the same thing from two different points of view which surprisingly are often on the same side, the “client’s” side or let’s call them the “contractor’s” side. Hence, both studies look at how the third party beneficiaries think about the coaching process, while those directly involved, the coaches and the coaches are not present in the survey. Both surveys are therefore entirely customer oriented, only in a bigger picture, that of the organisations that they are part of.
The premises both studies start from is that the coaching business is increasing its impact on the business community, and the study how this impact is measured, used and understood by the organisation practicing them. Reading the conclusions each of them reached, one could experience a certain confusion about where and what coaching profession is, but most certainly there will be a clear perspective on how the ones using the service view it!
There are significant differences and particularities with each of the studies, but this paper will overpass them and go directly to the most relevant conclusions, comparing them whenever possible and adding a personal view/interpretation. To ease following the document, there will be a listing of these conclusions and the two studies are going to be generically named the ICF/HR survey and the Stanford/CEO survey.
What is interesting is that nearly 100% of CEOs in the survey responded that they actually enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice, Stanford/CEO survey
This is how the respective study opens and it is a remarkably powerful finding. It is CEOs saying this, which brings about the opportunity to cascade coaching down in their organisations. As a matter of fact the ICF/HR study remarked a tendency to provide coaching to “high potentials” that are not necessarily senior grades. Most referrece is made to external coaching, which is altogether a positive sign for the development of the coaching profession as a stand alone business service. Moreover, the fact that two thirds of the CEOs actually do not receive any coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants (Stanford/CEO survey) is a great opportunity to work with.
- Coaching progress is largely kept private , Stanford/CEO survey
It does not come at a surprise given the confidentiality the whole coaching process is subject to, but what seems to be surprising is the reason why this is a fact. To have a coach still signifies needing help, in other words admitting one has weaknesses. Nevertheless it is a decreasing trend, coaching has been starting to earn its own reputation among the business services offered particularly at highest level in the organisations. The ICF/HR survey elaborates on the confidentiality topic furthermore, bringing in the “tripartite” agreements where the confidentiality is granted not only within the actual coaching process, but also as far as the sponsors in the organisation is concerned.
- Coaching has evolved, ICF/HR Survey
This evolution is mainly linked to the fact that it is not anymore a major event/conflict/improvement action that triggers the need for coaching but rather the desire to accelerate development. The Stanford/CEO survey also found that the areas where CEOs find coaching helpful are sharing leadership/delegation, teambuilding and mentoring while conflict management still represents an important aspect that can be addressed through coaching. Both studies acknowledge the role of coaching in talent development and, particularly ICF/HR survey, look at the qualitative measurements that can be used in order to track its efficiency. Leadership performance, employee engagement, reduced attrition and improved team working are enhanced by coaching even though the quantitative measurement process is still to be refined in most organisations. Hence, there is a real need for a standardized toolkit to measure impact and effectiveness of coaching, so far only 360 tools have been employed (ICF/HR survey).
- Internal vs External Coaching, ICF/HR Survey
While both types are largely used in organisations, developing an internal capability is still a matter of choice and scale, without becoming an exclusive solution. Most of the organisations developing internal coaching function view it as a “free” resource with increased availability and little time spent on sourcing a coach. The quality of the coaching process appears to be similar for external and internal services, although the latter has more senior and better trained professionals involved. An issue with the internal coaches is the type and amount of information they might be exposed to, which otherwise should be only kept confidential across a certain function or level in the organisation. The Stanford/CEO survey does not make any distinction whatsoever between the two types of coaching services, an educated guess would be that at senior level only external coaches are used.
- Reputation and recommendation are attractive qualities of a coach, ICF/HR Survey
Selecting a coach does not seem to be a structured process and the results of the survey shows that there are no active efforts directed towards selecting coaches. Somehow, each company has a “pool” of coaches that have made it to this “pool” and further referrals are being used. The survey dealt with how to choose the right coach and found that experience and recommendations were essential, while credentials, certification, accreditation and academic background were only looked at by few organisations. In other words, the concern for obtaining quality services is there but there is no system in place to guarantee this. Instead, the companies count on their previous experience with one coach or the other, which typically recommends them to continue working for the company.
Reflections from a new comer in the coaching business
These two surveys give valuable data for the coaching community but after reviewing both of them, as a beginner coach there are few action points that would be interesting to follow.
There is a real opportunity for coaching services, the profession is on the rise and it has a tendency towards being popularised. Organisations know what to use it for and to a certain extent they also know how to, therefore it is in coach’s hand to conduct an active sales process in order to enter the “pools” mentioned in the ICF/HR Survey. So what it takes to get there, besides an active sales effort? Probably as in any marketing attempt positioning and pricing would make the difference but having little benchmark, publicly available, there is ultimately a matter of emphasizing personal strengths and adequate pricing.
Both studies revealed the ambiguity in the standards of coaching services. Qualitative and quantitative measurements are still to be developed and previous experience seems to dictate on choosing the right coach. For a new comer, this is a real issue and no matter how positive their attitude might be, it is difficult to prepare and work towards a standard that does not exist. On the other hand, this is also an opportunity. There are no firm standards, therefore one can create them. Easier said than done, but essentially it comes down to creating an own vision and sticking to it.
One topic that neither of the studies touches is the one regarding financials. There is a brief mention in the ICF/HR Survey that one of the reasons why internal coaches might be preferred to the external ones is that the first category involves less cost to the organisation. Same study also stated that one of the reasons why only senior levels in an organisation benefit from coaching is that the service is expensive enough so that to be unaffordable for lower levels. Both findings might be right, as we speak, but one question arises from here, namely is coaching an exclusive service? First assumption is that organisations are right when they say coaching is expensive. But then again, what does expensive mean? And conversely, what would be reasonable for them? Another way to start the discussion would be related to the concrete issue they need to address and the its impact on the business, from a financial point of view. Either way, the coach needs to position themselves and fact is that there is little evidence on how to do that. Most business services have already developed a way to relate fees to results, but coaching does not fall into this category, with few exceptions of coaches who developed an own way to do this. The two surveys do not offer any hints on how to solve this dilemma, which leaves it in the hands of each person to deal with.
The two surveys have been targeting individuals and organisations that had some experience with coaching, mostly positive. Question is what percentage do they represent from the total number of companies similarly sized? The Stanford/CEO Survey says that two thirds of the CEOs do not use coaching, can it be extended to their organisation? Probably not, but the issue of the spread of the coaching services in general is still a valid one.
The amount and quality of information provided is significant and it is a good starting point for anyone willing to juggle some factual data. Although it is far from being complete, the data shows some evolution and some trends of the coaching profession but gives little indication as to what was the numerical progress in point of number of coaches, fees, number of organisations using coaching etc.
Surveys are like photos, taken at a certain point in time under certain conditions, more or less prepared in advance. Editing is the difficult part, and just like with pictures, once the data is “edited”, there a many ways the information can be used. From the coach point of view, it reveals the way organisations act and people think about coaching, bringing some clarity on what to take into account when prospecting the market for coaching. Conversely, both studies are useful tools for the other professionals, be they HR or executives, who did not participate in the survey but could use their findings. For the coaches, the two surveys can be really helpful aids in helping the potential clients to better understand where coaching is and how it is used by other organisations.