article

Measuring
Coaching
Effectiveness

Revel Gordon

The head of coaching at a large corporate recently asked me “How do you measure coaching success?” The fundamental measure of any successful coaching engagement is observed behavioural change that meets both the individual’s and the organisation’s needs.

The three-way conversation – a series of structured discussions between coach, coachee and manager over the course of the coaching engagement – plays a crucial role in helping align individual and organisational outcomes. As such, it should be a cornerstone of almost any coaching engagement (there are a couple of exceptions which I discuss below).

The initial three-way conversation ensures there is clarity around contracting (confidentiality, process, roles and responsibilities, etc), and also provides an opportunity for the manager to provide input into the coaching engagement. This should include a discussion of the coachee’s strengths, areas for development and any relevant organisational context. David Clutterbuck provides a useful guide to the initial three-way conversation here. Follow up three-way conversations are typically held at the mid-point and end of the coaching process, and allow for positive reinforcement and course corrections where necessary.

Over the journey of a successful coaching assignment, the manager should notice differences in the coachee’s behaviours that align with her initial input. A key element of the coach’s skill is to fluidly find ways to align the coachee’s self-defined – and often evolving – goals with the broader needs of the organisation, so that everyone benefits.

Breakthroughs

The three-way conversation itself can lead to breakthroughs in the relationship between coachee and manager. It sometimes marks the first genuine dialogue they’ve ever had, particularly where the coach has been engaged to help improve their relationship. The three-way discussion also provides a first hand opportunity to observe the manager and coachee interacting, and deepens the coach’s understanding of the dynamic between them. These insights are invaluable, and in many cases are crucial to the success of the coaching engagement.

When not to have a three-way conversation

If a coachee is sponsoring their own coaching – for example, where a senior leader decides to proactively engage a coach – then a three-way conversation is often inappropriate, irrespective of whether the coachee is paying for the coaching or the organisation is footing the bill. Having a third party in the room may also introduce a significant power differential to the conversation that can lead to everyone ‘playing their roles’ rather than engaging in genuine dialogue. If I sensed that a three-way conversation may not be beneficial, I would discuss this with the coachee, including the option of me having a separate one-to-one briefing with their leader (e.g. the CEO or Chairman), and then having data from this briefing further inform our coaching work.

4-way conversations?

In general, it is better not to include a fourth person (such as the HR sponsor) in the three-way conversation, unless there is a specific reason to do so. Ideally these conversations lead to genuine and open dialogue between coachee and manager, and having an extra person in the room makes this less likely to happen. One situation where it can be useful to have HR present is when there has been a serious breakdown of trust between coachee and manager. In most cases however, it is preferable to meet with the HR sponsor separately to discuss coaching progress (while of course maintaining confidentiality).

Involving other stakeholders

Coachees are part of an organisational system, and it is important to engage other stakeholders in the coaching process. There are many ways to do this, including formal structured methodologies (such as Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching), or more dynamic approaches that are customised based on individual circumstances.

An approach I often take – particularly with more senior execs – is to set up a series of third party interviews with key stakeholders on the coachee’s behalf. I then synthesize the results into a written report for the coachee’s eyes only, which provides powerful input into our coaching work. The benefit of this approach is that it can provide greater insights into others’ agendas and perceptions of the coachee, as they will often be more candid without the coachee present. Note this approach does require a high degree of trust between coach and coachee.

360’s & other instruments

Finally, instruments such as 360’s and psychometric tools can provide an effective means of gaining input from colleagues and provide data-driven insights to the coachee. While I tend not to lead off with these – and particularly not when working at executive level – there are situations where instruments can be of great value. Part of a coach’s skill is the ability to select and introduce the appropriate instrument at the appropriate time in the coaching engagement for maximum impact.

Instruments are particularly useful in supporting programmatic work involving large numbers of individuals, such as coaching within a leadership development program. Products from Human Synergistics, The Leadership Circle and Hogan are some of the leading tools in this space, though of course there are many, many others. They provide a common language and lens, and so can help shift behaviours and culture at an individual, team and organisational level, and track that change over time. Of course, irrespective of the instrument selected, the outcomes will largely depend on the capability of the coaches involved. I can buy Roger Federer’s racquet, but alas, I’ll never play like him!

Conclusion

Whatever other measures an organisation uses to track coaching effectiveness, the three-way conversation should be included in the process unless there are very specific reasons not to do so. This – combined with a coaching rating form completed by the coachee at the end of assignment – are often sufficient to determine whether the coaching has been a success. After all, if the coachee is highly satisfied with the process, and the manager has noticed significant positive behavioural change, then from a practical perspective, the coaching has been effective. For larger coaching programs, a more data driven approach – for example, one that includes a 360 or some other instrument – is likely to be of value.

The three-way conversation helps to ensure that the manager’s needs – and by extension, the organisation’s needs – are factored into the coaching engagement. It also increases the coachee’s likelihood of achieving their goals by providing clarity around the manager’s expectations. As coaches, we work with individuals, but operate within a system, and the three-way conversation is an effective means to ensure we deliver an ROI at both the individual and organisational level.

The head of coaching at a large corporate recently asked me “How do you measure coaching success?” The fundamental measure of any successful coaching engagement is observed behavioural change that meets both the individual’s and the organisation’s needs.

The three-way conversation – a series of structured discussions between coach, coachee and manager over the course of the coaching engagement – plays a crucial role in helping align individual and organisational outcomes. As such, it should be a cornerstone of almost any coaching engagement (there are a couple of exceptions which I discuss below).

The initial three-way conversation ensures there is clarity around contracting (confidentiality, process, roles and responsibilities, etc), and also provides an opportunity for the manager to provide input into the coaching engagement. This should include a discussion of the coachee’s strengths, areas for development and any relevant organisational context. David Clutterbuck provides a useful guide to the initial three-way conversation here. Follow up three-way conversations are typically held at the mid-point and end of the coaching process, and allow for positive reinforcement and course corrections where necessary.

Over the journey of a successful coaching assignment, the manager should notice differences in the coachee’s behaviours that align with her initial input. A key element of the coach’s skill is to fluidly find ways to align the coachee’s self-defined – and often evolving – goals with the broader needs of the organisation, so that everyone benefits.

Breakthroughs

The three-way conversation itself can lead to breakthroughs in the relationship between coachee and manager. It sometimes marks the first genuine dialogue they’ve ever had, particularly where the coach has been engaged to help improve their relationship. The three-way discussion also provides a first hand opportunity to observe the manager and coachee interacting, and deepens the coach’s understanding of the dynamic between them. These insights are invaluable, and in many cases are crucial to the success of the coaching engagement.

When not to have a three-way conversation

If a coachee is sponsoring their own coaching – for example, where a senior leader decides to proactively engage a coach – then a three-way conversation is often inappropriate, irrespective of whether the coachee is paying for the coaching or the organisation is footing the bill. Having a third party in the room may also introduce a significant power differential to the conversation that can lead to everyone ‘playing their roles’ rather than engaging in genuine dialogue. If I sensed that a three-way conversation may not be beneficial, I would discuss this with the coachee, including the option of me having a separate one-to-one briefing with their leader (e.g. the CEO or Chairman), and then having data from this briefing further inform our coaching work.

4-way conversations?

In general, it is better not to include a fourth person (such as the HR sponsor) in the three-way conversation, unless there is a specific reason to do so. Ideally these conversations lead to genuine and open dialogue between coachee and manager, and having an extra person in the room makes this less likely to happen. One situation where it can be useful to have HR present is when there has been a serious breakdown of trust between coachee and manager. In most cases however, it is preferable to meet with the HR sponsor separately to discuss coaching progress (while of course maintaining confidentiality).

Involving other stakeholders

Coachees are part of an organisational system, and it is important to engage other stakeholders in the coaching process. There are many ways to do this, including formal structured methodologies (such as Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching), or more dynamic approaches that are customised based on individual circumstances.

An approach I often take – particularly with more senior execs – is to set up a series of third party interviews with key stakeholders on the coachee’s behalf. I then synthesize the results into a written report for the coachee’s eyes only, which provides powerful input into our coaching work. The benefit of this approach is that it can provide greater insights into others’ agendas and perceptions of the coachee, as they will often be more candid without the coachee present. Note this approach does require a high degree of trust between coach and coachee.

360’s & other instruments

Finally, instruments such as 360’s and psychometric tools can provide an effective means of gaining input from colleagues and provide data-driven insights to the coachee. While I tend not to lead off with these – and particularly not when working at executive level – there are situations where instruments can be of great value. Part of a coach’s skill is the ability to select and introduce the appropriate instrument at the appropriate time in the coaching engagement for maximum impact.

Instruments are particularly useful in supporting programmatic work involving large numbers of individuals, such as coaching within a leadership development program. Products from Human Synergistics, The Leadership Circle and Hogan are some of the leading tools in this space, though of course there are many, many others. They provide a common language and lens, and so can help shift behaviours and culture at an individual, team and organisational level, and track that change over time. Of course, irrespective of the instrument selected, the outcomes will largely depend on the capability of the coaches involved. I can buy Roger Federer’s racquet, but alas, I’ll never play like him!

Conclusion

Whatever other measures an organisation uses to track coaching effectiveness, the three-way conversation should be included in the process unless there are very specific reasons not to do so. This – combined with a coaching rating form completed by the coachee at the end of assignment – are often sufficient to determine whether the coaching has been a success. After all, if the coachee is highly satisfied with the process, and the manager has noticed significant positive behavioural change, then from a practical perspective, the coaching has been effective. For larger coaching programs, a more data driven approach – for example, one that includes a 360 or some other instrument – is likely to be of value.

The three-way conversation helps to ensure that the manager’s needs – and by extension, the organisation’s needs – are factored into the coaching engagement. It also increases the coachee’s likelihood of achieving their goals by providing clarity around the manager’s expectations. As coaches, we work with individuals, but operate within a system, and the three-way conversation is an effective means to ensure we deliver an ROI at both the individual and organisational level.