Coaching can be described as the use of positive support, feedback and advice to help improve personal effectiveness.
Its use within the work environment is not a new concept. Indeed, according to the CIPD, 9 out of 10 organisations already use coaching by line managers, and 2 out of 3 use external coaches.
However, despite its prevalence, there is very little research evidence about what makes a ‘good’ coach and whether coaching actually works.
The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) are among those working to address this. In August, they published a report which explored the factors leading to coaching success, from both the coach and the coachee perspective. They also examined the nature of an effective coaching relationship and set out practical advice for organisations on how to improve coaching elements of everyday work.
The key to success
They found that, according to coachees, the most important characteristics of a coach were:
- Communicates clearly (including the ‘ability to listen’, ‘ask good questions’ and being ‘non-directive’)
- Displays emotional intelligence (e.g. ‘presence’, ‘emotionally involved’, ‘awareness’, ‘connection’, ‘sensitive’, ‘empowering’, and ‘authentic’)
- Has experience within the coachee’s industry
- Is challenging but supportive
- Displays acceptance of the coachee
In the context of achieving successful outcomes from coaching specifically, coachees felt that successful coaches:
- Displayed acceptance of the coachee
- Were calm
- Displayed self-confidence
- Were organised
- Had experience within their industry
The characteristic ‘has experience within my industry’ was of particular interest. Whether or not coaches need experience of the industry in which their coachee works is a point of contention between different coaching researchers and practitioners. Based on this research, the IES suggest that industry experience may help to improve coach credibility, but also note that “who coaches are has importance to coachees, not just what they do”.
They conclude that “the key to effective coaching lies within the coachee having respect for the coach’s ability. A coachee can also derive comfort from the coach’s experience in dealing with situations, and in the coach’s confidence and manner”.
While the characteristics perceived as important by coach and coachee were broadly similar, it was noted that coaches being organised, calm and self-confident was considered very important to coachees – much more so than to the coaches themselves.
In terms of the coaching relationship, the coach having ‘similar values’ was considered the key to success. It is thought that such shared values may promote the sense of connection between the coach and coachee. The coach being the same gender, age or having a similar personality was less important to the development of a successful coaching relationship.
Addressing the barriers
The majority of coachees felt that their coaching was effective. However, there is clearly room for improvement – around 1 in 10 people felt that their coaching was of limited or no effect at all. Previous research by the IES has also shown that as many as 84% of coachees have faced barriers to their coaching experience. These include:
- Unclear goals
- Emotions getting in the way
- Lack of commitment
- Unsupportive boss
Coachees also faced difficulties with:
- Their own readiness and engagement
- The coaching model used
- Organisational culture/boss
- Coaches skills or manner
- External events
- The coaching relationship
Awareness of the barriers commonly experienced by coachees and the factors coachees perceive as contributing towards their success is a useful first step towards developing and adopting effective coaching practices.
Improving coaching practice
According to the IES, their research on coaching is a conscious attempt to “shift away from ‘guru’- led coaching practices to research-informed and evidence-based practices”. Based on their research to date, they offer the following advice for coaches and line managers:
- Not to worry about having less experience than coachees – that the coachee having respect for your ability is more important
- Weave reflection into everyday coaching practice after each session/encounter – consider how to best help your coachee, how your coaching made a difference, and how your coaching compares to that of others
- Obtain feedback from your coachee about what you did that made the coaching successful (or unsuccessful) for them, and ask them to contribute to collective feedback mechanisms such as evaluation surveys
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