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How effective is coaching in the workplace?

By Martin Cole

coaching in the workplace

There are certain questions that are bound to be uppermost in the mind of anybody who is considering the introduction of coaching in the workplace. These might include:

  • What will the impact of coaching be?
  • What can coaching actually achieve?
  • Will I see an adequate return on my investment?

You’ll find plenty of answers to these questions online, published by various interested parties, usually those promoting workplace coaching in general or their own coaching services particular.

Some of this is useful stuff and some of it is less useful. But what most of it has in common is a lack of independence and scientific rigour.

For example, many return on investment (ROI) measures are highly simplistic and fail to account for other potential performance influencers such as team input or other development activities.

Similarly, monetary or statistical ROI measures are rarely able to reflect the considerable indirect benefits that can accrue as result of coaching, such as the positive influence of the coachee on team members, increased job-commitment and improved well-being.

Fortunately, as coaching has matured as a discipline there is an increasingly impressive body of empirical evidence to demonstrate what coaching can do.

Establishing the evidence for coaching effectiveness

In 2013, academic Tim Theebom and his colleagues set out to examine this evidence and assess the effectiveness of coaching in the workplace by reviewing all the relevant studies published up to that point in the scientific literature.

They only included studies where the coaching had been provided by a professionally trained, independent coach with no formal authority over the coachee (“professional coaching”). This was because one of the main points they wanted to examine was whether the cost of hiring professionally trained external coaches was justified.

They excluded from their analysis all individual case studies, all studies that they could not be sure were internally valid and all studies where the outcome may have been affected by something other than coaching.

The remaining studies were then categorised in accordance with the outcomes that were assessed after coaching had taken place. These outcomes fell into 5 broad groups, as follows:

  • Performance and skills – this category included outcomes that directly reflected performance (e.g. number of sales, appraisal performance ratings) or reflected the demonstration of the kinds of behaviours needed for organsiational effectiveness (e.g. leadership behaviors).
  • Well-being – this category included outcomes relating directly to people’s well-being, health, needs-fulfilment and emotional responses, – studies measuring of levels of burnout or depression, anxiety and stress were included.
  • Coping – this category included outcomes relating to the individual’s ability to deal with job demands and stressors, e.g. measures of self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to successfully complete specific tasks) and mindfulness.
  • Work attitudes – this category included outcomes relating to psychological and behavioural responses toward work and career, such as job satisfaction, organisational commitment and career satisfaction.
  • Goal-directed self-regulation – this category was concerned with outcomes related to goal-setting, goal-attainment, and goal-evaluation.

The benefits of coaching in the workplace

The overall results of the analysis that Theebom and his colleagues painstakingly undertook were as follows:

  1. Professionally coaching has significant positive effects on performance and skills, well-being, coping, work attitudes, and goal-directed self-regulation.
  2. Professional coaching had the most significant positive effects in the performance and skills and goal directed self-regulation categories.
  3. A greater number of coaching sessions did not necessarily result in stronger positive effects. However, the evidence suggested that the robustness of the coaching seemed to increase with the number of coaching sessions. This finding reflected research on adult learning which suggests that deeper levels of learning only occur when there are sufficient opportunities for critical reflection and active experimentation.

This therefore means that professional coaching in the workplace has proven to be a highly effective intervention that can directly lead to enhanced workplace performance in three ways:

  • by positively influencing directly measured performance (e.g. targets or appraisals),
  • by leading to improvements in performance enhancing behaviours and skills, and
  • by facilitating the achievement of agreed goals, objectives and deliverables.

It is also significant is that the study also shows that professional coaching is effective in boosting psychological factors that are highly important in supporting workplace performance. These include health, well-being, coping, resilience, task or role specific self-confidence, organisational commitment and job/career satisfaction.

Finally, and this will be of interest to budget holders, the study shows that it is not always necessary for coaching in the workplace to continue over extended periods of time, although the authors suggest that for sustained long term effects to be achieved where the issues involved are complex, there may be a need for a greater number of coaching sessions.

Wrap up

In summary, therefore, the evidence shows that coaching is a cost effective way to bring about significant improvement, change and growth across a range of performance, development and behavioural contexts in the workplace.

Notes

Theeboom, Tim, Bianca Beersma, and Annelies EM van Vianen. “Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context.” The Journal of Positive Psychology 9, no. 1 (2014): 1-18.

About the Author

I'm Martin Cole. I am a UK qualified lawyer, a leader within the financial services regulatory and compliance sector and an organisational and executive coach. I have an Master of Science (M.Sc). in coaching psychology and am certified as a coach by the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership. I also have a Bachelor of Laws (LLB (Hons.)) and was admitted as a barrister by the Inner Temple (now non-practising). I have lived and worked in London and Sydney and now live near Edinburgh in Scotland with my wife and two daughters. I support Crystal Palace FC, have wide ranging musical tastes (especially Jazz, Blues and Soul) and oppose mediocrity, selfishness and organisations that fail to value their people.

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