Organisations must consider their desired destination before embarking on coaching programmes

Ahead of collecting data for a coaching programme evaluation in an emergency services organisation, Dr Bernadette Doran talks about key success factors for evaluating coaching programmes.

The paradox around coaching programmes within organisations is that they can be brought in without too much thought of what they are specifically designed to do. Coaching is one approach that can be used by organisations to release the potential of their staff, maximising both wellbeing and professional delivery of organisational priorities. It stands to reason that before you begin a coaching programme, the positive outcomes should be defined and worked towards.

There is broad agreement from most organisations that coaching is a worthwhile and valuable activity, however to create a successful coaching programme, delivery has to be designed with the organisational journey in mind. The programme must help to move the organisation in the direction it wants to go, it has to enable the behaviours necessary for transformational change. Coaching programmes also have to be measurable, in terms of any changes in attitudes and behaviours, to understand if coaching has had the desired impact and also to inform any changes in design.

According to a survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) 70% of organisations use their internal appraisal system to assess the success (or otherwise) of coaching, whilst only two-fifths undertake specific evaluation of coaching interventions and just under half assess against business goals.

On top of the issues spoken about above around defining outcomes, there are a number of other challenges and complexities at play. Specifically, you could measure and track staff motivation, for example, before and after a coaching programme and find that it had increased but actually it could have increased for a whole host of reasons. That is why coaching evaluations can be put in the ‘too difficult’ box.

Plenty of anecdotal information and evidence exists of people reporting the softer benefits of coaching but in terms of evidence, in an empirical, robust sense, it is practically non-existent.

As part of the IPSCJ’s work for East Midlands Police Academic Collaboration (EMPAC), under the organisational transformation strand, we are about to evaluate a coaching programme that has been implemented within an emergency service organisation in order to identify the impact of coaching on individuals but also at an organisational level. The fact that such an organisation is actively open to taking this further step is really quite unique.

One of the main criticisms of existing coaching evaluations is that they do not link to the reasons of why the coaching programme was introduced. The approach we have taken for this evaluation is to look at the development strategy of the organisation we are working with to ensure it is kept at the core of our measurements.

For example, where an organisation has a command and control style of leadership yet wants to move towards a situational leadership style where encouraging personal responsibility is key, you can see how coaching could play a positive role in shaping this, so we would suggest measuring outcomes around leadership style. This will all be tracked against a control group who have not experienced coaching.

Once our findings are released – which will be March – the organisation will want to know how coaching has impacted on their organisation and if coaching has delivered a return on investment. By establishing robust coaching-related metrics and linking them to organisational objectives and performance, it becomes easier to evaluate the true impact of coaching for that organisation.