The Science of Effective Coaching

The need to achieve more with fewer resources at a faster pace is the new normal for business leaders who face an ever-growing list of new and old demands. Many companies have turned to coaching to fill the gap – but does it really work?

Research shows that coaching produces highly variable results, with reported improvements ranging from 3 percent to 97 percent. What’s more, the impact of ineffective coaching can be disastrous for companies and individuals. Accounting for more than $14 billion in business spending each year, it’s critical that executive coaching justifies the cost and delivers measurable impact.

The goals of coaching are always admirable, but many coaching solutions are primarily aimed at making a person feel better or providing a change in thinking, in the hope that this will lead to a change in behavior in the workplace – and this is not a given.

What works is a consistent methodology backed by science that is proven to make a difference and increase ROI. When done well, coaching can deliver results such as improved employee retention, confidence, job satisfaction, reduced stress, increased productivity and revenue growth.

Why traditional methods don’t work

Traditional coaching focuses on matching coaches and coachees, often based on factors including personality, gender, etc., despite little scientific evidence that matching leads to solid business results for individuals or organizations.

Why doesn’t the relationship between coach and coachee make a bigger difference?

Because often likability and chemistry are in direct conflict with the challenging mindset a coach needs to make meaningful changes in behavior. Coach-to-coach match-ups can also discourage diversity of thought and undermine diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, as we tend to want to fit in with someone like us rather than someone more likely to challenge our thinking and expose us to new ideas.

Hence the focus on what it matters is critical: how coaches build trust and a working partnership with their coach, and seek to challenge attitudes and support behavior change. If you choose coaching based on the coach alone, at best you’re investing time and money in an inconsistent approach that may not produce tangible improvements, and at worst you’re investing in a relationship that may be actively destructive.

A fresh perspective

Quick. Focused on the goal. Solution oriented. Measurable. These are the qualities of effective coaching that make an impact.

Approaches built on solution-focused therapy, behavioral activations, and mastery experiences have been shown to be more effective in generating problem solutions and achieving goals than the typical problem-solving approach (which can be completely counterproductive ). Let’s break down these three elements:

Solution-Focused Therapy. Instead of spending time thinking about the problem that exists right now, its causes, and the individual’s strengths and weaknesses that led to it – solution-focused coaching approaches jump right into what needs to change and the steps to get there there.

Enable behavior. A key element that determines whether coaching can improve performance is whether there are behavioral opportunities to bridge the gap between intention and behavior. In traditional coaching, the intention-behavior gap creates good intentions for an action that people will take in their own time, but those intentions do not translate into the desired behavior. Effective coaching will recognize the difference between intention and behavior and provide participants with the tools they need to turn intention into action.

A masterful experience. Experiencing mastery involves creating a sense of continuous progress and achievement for the learner through regularly meeting set standards for improvement. This is achieved by setting achievable goals and focusing on achieving that goal before moving on to the next—rather than focusing on several different priorities or goals at once and chipping away at them over time.

More does not mean better

Many traditional coaching solutions involve sessions spanning six to nine months, with that time spent setting goals and discussing issues. Having a set number of sessions to achieve goals keeps a tighter focus on what you want to get out of each session and can lead to more action-focused change.

On the other hand, with more sessions, you run the risk of having more time for distractions, reflecting on current challenges, and distracting you from the real goal: taking action to change.

Results you can see

There are many solutions that promise change, but most lack accurate data to support tangible impact. Creating a scalable training strategy tied to metrics like business performance and organizational priorities is a great foundation for visible, measurable coaching results. There are three important metrics for tracking a noticeable, measurable change in behavior. The first is internal change: this involves measuring the psychological constructs that predict behavior change. Next is behavior change, which measures whether an individual’s behavior has changed in the real world. Finally, it is important to measure organizational results that demonstrate impact through engagement surveys, financial results and productivity metrics.

With economic instability on our heels and the Great Resignation still alive and well, organizations must balance tightening the purse strings and developing the next generation of leaders. So when choosing a strategy for a coaching solution, it should be linked to metrics where ROI can be directly linked to changed behavior for greater organizational impact.

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