Professional coaching can bring many wonderful benefits. Just ask recent Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who went straight to coach Ivan Lendl upon beating Novak Djokovic in the final. From a business perspective, coaching can bring fresh perspectives on personal challenges, enhanced decision-making skills, greater interpersonal effectiveness and increased confidence. The International Coach federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

When an individual or business has a fairly clear idea of the desired outcome, a coaching partnership can be a useful tool for developing a strategy for how to achieve that outcome. Coaching is not the same as training. Training assumes a linear learning path that coincides with an established curriculum, whereas coaching is less linear without a set curriculum. It also differs from consulting. The assumption with consulting is the consultant will diagnose problems and prescribe solutions. With coaching, the assumption is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks. In the following interview, Magdalena Mook, CEO and Executive Director of the International Coach Federation, explains some of the nuances of coaching:

Highly renowned companies such as Nike and Coca-Cola now seem to be highlighting the effectiveness of coaching in achieving their goals. What has caused the growth in the coaching industry?

Today’s dynamic business climate demands that organizations and their employees be flexible and adaptable. In the wake of changes such as downsizing, restructuring and mergers, many organizations’ talent management and development needs have changed as well. Coaching is a powerful tool for organizations that seek to maximize human capital: By investing in coaching, organizations can increase employee engagement; cultivate leadership from within; and demonstrate to employees the high premium placed on their growth and development.

The overarching reason for the profession’s growth is simple: Coaching works! According to the 2009 International Coach Federation Global Coaching Client Study, 70 percent of global coaching clients reported a positive change in work performance, 72 percent reported improved communication skills and 57 percent reported improved time-management skills. In the same study, organizations that had utilized coaching reported improvements in teamwork, communication and overall corporate culture.

In organizations where leaders have received coaching, their satisfaction can have a trickle-down effect. According to the 2013 ICF Organizational Coaching Study, coaching takes hold in some organizations thanks to “coaching advocates;” i.e., senior leaders who have experienced the benefits of coaching firsthand and spearheaded its rollout on a wider scale across the organization.

Clients’ satisfaction with the coaching process is due in large part to what the coaching experience offers to clients: buy-in, deep understanding of the issue, and the discovery of a solution or a best approach.

What do these multinational corporations look for when they turn to coaching for their staff?

The ICF Organizational Coaching Study revealed that confidentiality and ethical practice are top priorities for individuals charged with making decisions about coaching within organizations. These are values that the ICF shares: This is why all ICF Members and Credential-holders are trained in and obliged to uphold the ICF Code of Ethics; it is also why we have a stringent Ethical Conduct Review process in place to address complaints and concerns. The ICF Code of Ethics and Ethical Conduct Review process promote ethical practice within the profession and provide an assurance to consumers that ICF-affiliated coaches keep integrity and ethical conduct at the forefront of their work.

Other decision-making factors cited by Organizational Coaching Study respondents included referrals and recommendations, experience (both in terms of client contact hours and specific organizations coaches worked with previously), credentials and coach training.

Coaching is a significant investment for an organization, and coaching decision-makers need to know what to expect of a prospective coach. The ICF’s membership eligibility requirements make it very easy for purchasers of coaching to make an informed decision. In addition to adhering to the ICF Code of Ethics, ICF Members must commit to coach-specific training; as a result, consumers can have confidence that ICF Member coaches are well-trained and well-prepared to offer their services.

Possession of an ICF Credential is another clear sign of a coach’s commitment to professionalism. Currently, more than 10,000 individuals hold one of three ICF Credentials distinguishing themselves as consummate professionals and supporters of ICF’s mission of advancing the art, science and practice of professional coaching. ICF-Credentialed coaches have fulfilled stringent education and experience requirements, including completing coach-specific training, logging a set number of experience hours and being coached by a Mentor Coach. According to the 2010 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study, clients are more likely to be satisfied with their coaching experience and more likely to recommend coaching to others when they partner with an ICF-Credentialed coach. Organizations can begin the search for an ICF-Credentialed coach at Coachfederation.org/crs with the ICF Coach Referral Service, a free, searchable online directory of all ICF Credential-holders.

Many individuals also decide by their own initiative to work with a coach. What are the typical reasons for individuals taking on a coach?

Coaching is defined as a thought-provoking partnership focused on maximizing an individual’s personal and professional potential. Coaching appeals to individuals who seek creative collaboration and exposure to new perspectives as they set goals, create outcomes and manage change in their personal and professional lives. According to the ICF Global Coaching Client Study, the top two motivations for clients seeking coaching services were self-esteem/self-confidence (cited by 79 percent of clients as very or somewhat important) and work/life balance (76 percent). Other examples of reasons to pursue coaching include:

  • Something urgent, compelling or exciting is at stake (a challenge, stretch goal or opportunity).
  • A gap exists in knowledge, skills, confidence or resources.
  • The client has a desire to accelerate results.
  • There is a lack of clarity regarding choices to be made.
  • Success has started to become problematic.
  • Core strengths need to be identified, along with how best to leverage them.

What factors should be considered when looking at the financial investment in coaching? And is the return on investment measurable?

As with any investment of time or money, careful research and due diligence are central to making a wise coaching purchase. When looking to work with an external or internal coach, the ICF advises organizations’ decision-makers to educate themselves about coaching by reviewing scholarly articles, industry research and case studies. (The ICF Research Portal, located at Coachfederation.org/portal, is an excellent starting point.)

Decision-makers should also have a clear list of objectives for working with a coach. Summarize what your organization expects to accomplish in coaching, and ask yourself whether your business is ready to devote time and energy to making real changes through the coaching engagement.

It’s helpful to know that virtually all coaching clients report satisfaction with the experience. Ninety-nine percent of ICF Global Coaching Client Study respondents reported being “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the overall experience, and 96 percent said they would repeat the process.

Coaching also offers a significant return on investment for companies. According to the ICF Global Coaching Client Study, the vast majority of companies (86 percent) say they at least made their investment in coaching back. In fact, almost one-fifth (19 percent) saw an ROI of 50 times their investment, while a further 28 percent saw an ROI of 10 to 49 times the investment.

We recommend using the following formula to calculate the ROI of coaching:
(Gain from investment – Cost of investment)
_____________________________________            X 100 = Return on Investment
Cost of investment

Other tools organizations use to measure the success of coaching include 360-degree feedback assessments, employee engagement and satisfaction surveys that can be traced back to coaching participants, and surveys designed to collect feedback on coaching engagements. Although the information gleaned through these sources is qualitative rather than quantitative, it still provides powerful insight into the broad-ranging impacts of organizational coaching.

How does the coaching process pan out? What happens if a coach and his or her client do not connect on a personal level?

Coaching typically begins with a personal interview to assess the business’ current opportunities and challenges, define the scope of the relationship, identify priorities for action, and establish specific desired outcomes. Subsequent coaching sessions may be conducted in person or over the telephone, with each session lasting a previously established length of time. Between scheduled coaching sessions, coachees may be asked to complete “homework”—specific actions that support the achievement of individual or team goals. The coach may provide additional resources in the form of relevant articles, checklists, assessments or models to support coachees’ thinking and actions. The duration of the coaching relationship varies depending on needs and preferences.

Because the coaching relationship is an important one, we recommend looking for a good “fit” during the interview process. Interview at least three coaches, and make sure that a connection exists between you and the coach you choose. Once the coaching engagement begins, strive to keep the lines of communication open. The coach and client are both charged with co-creating a relationship characterized by mutual respect and trust; this involves being honest about your needs, perceptions and learning style in order to receive the individualized and ongoing support you seek from your coach.

The ICF Code of Ethics also includes several built-in provisions that protect the client if the relationship needs to be terminated for any reason. ICF’s Code of Ethics specifically states that:

  • A coach will respect the client’s right to terminate the coaching relationship at any point during the process, subject to the provisions of the agreement or contract. The coach will be alert to indications that the client is no longer benefiting from the coaching relationship.
  • The coach will encourage the client or sponsor to make a change if he or she believes the client or sponsor would be better served by another coach or by another resource.
  • The coach will suggest a client seek the services of another professional, such as a therapist or consultant, when deemed necessary or appropriate.