Measuring the effectiveness of executive coaching is not an easy task, but it can be done. Here you go 3 frameworks.
“You cannot improve what you don’t measure”, or so goes the popular management mantra, but how can this be applied to coaching?
The use of executive and business coaching is increasingly widespread in many organisations worldwide. There have been many attempts to measure its financial Return On Investment (ROI) but with mixed success.
When doing a coaching intervention to improve a leader’s performance, it is often difficult (or nigh impossible) to isolate the impact of coaching on the improvement of the leader in question and the financial results they and their team bring.
There are always multiple factors affecting any business outcome, so even if it may be tempting to use ROI due to its simplicity (we invested X in coaching, and we obtained Y dollars as a consequence), it may not be a reliable reflection of what’s going on in reality.
Measuring the ROI of coaching may not be as helpful or as easy as it seems.
However, do not despair, evidence-seeking reader, as there are other ways to measure the success and effectiveness of an executive coaching intervention.
Here we will look at three frameworks.
Framework 1 – Goal Achievement
Coaches often say that without a goal or challenge, there is no coaching.
Coaching is a structured process to assist a client in achieving the goals they have defined for themselves, so the goal is an essential part of it. Without a goal, there is no coaching.
Therefore, the simplest way to measure the success of a coaching process will be to check if the goals set up at the beginning of the process have been achieved and, if so, how complete this achievement has been.
That’s it. Have the goals been achieved? Yes or no. If they have, the coaching intervention has been successful; if they haven’t, unsuccessful.
This measurement can be done directly with the client, but we often involve their line manager or an HR manager from the hiring company. The goals are usually defined at a three-party meeting, which kicks off the coaching process.
The proponents of this framework often forget that a coaching process is a complex and multi-layered process that can impact the client on many different levels. It happens that the initial goal isn’t the most important one, and there are other hidden goals that need to be addressed but that weren’t defined at the outset of the process.
This framework is the simplest of the three, but its simplicity also means it is the least complete.
Framework 2 – Well-being and Engagement Framework
The coaching academic Anthony M. Grant, PhD, proposes a more holistic and humanistic model that goes beyond the merely financial measures of the ROI and is more comprehensive than the goal attainment framework.
This framework is called the Well-Being and Engagement Framework (WBEF).
As its name indicates, the WBEF focuses on the well-being and engagement of the coaching client. Grant argues that coaching is a complex process with many facets and outcomes and it goes beyond financial gains. It impacts the well-being and engagement of employees, and this should also be measured.
Based on whether the coachees have low or high engagement and well-being, they should be placed in one of the four quadrants of the WEBF matrix (see below).
The aim of the coaching process will be to bring the coaching clients as close as possible to the Flourishing or “Happy Worker” area. We can measure the effectiveness of the process by measuring how close we have brought the clients to that quadrant.
For that, we can use the different measures that exist today in the market for measuring employee well-being and engagement.
As Grant himself admits, this is still a conceptual model. Still, as more coaching practitioners start using it, we will be able to collect more data and measure its reliability and validity to measure the effectiveness of coaching.
If I understood it correctly, this framework leaves out measuring performance altogether. It seems like a big omission to me.
Framework 3 – The Performance, Retention and Well-being Model (Better Up)
The third framework was devised by the virtual coaching platform BetterUp, and it measures business outcomes in three main areas: performance, retention, and well-being.
Like in the previous model, their framework is based on the assumption that coaching is a holistic process with positive outcomes in many different areas, not only on goal achievement and performance improvement, so they try to measure the impact of coaching on diverse dimensions. We see well-being repeated, and retention is added to the equation, both of the coachee and their direct team members.
Retention can be a funny one. I can see why they would use it as an indicator of success in the current climate, with all the talk about the Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting and the like, but an employee leaving a company isn’t necessarily a sign of the coaching process not working. It can be a sign that it is working all too well.
It sometimes happens that an employee decides to leave their employer as a consequence of a coaching process, because they have realised that their current employment isn’t giving them what they need to feel happy and fulfilled. In such a case, the coaching process would have been a success, but retention would have suffered.
Concerning measuring performance, something similar to what happens when evaluating the financial ROI might happen. It is difficult to isolate the specific impact and establish the direct causality of the coaching process on specific work outcomes.
We can assess if the coaching goals have been achieved, but how precisely can we measure if the achievement of those goals has helped the employee successfully close a deal? There are always other factors and other people involved.
Which framework is better to measure the effectiveness of executive coaching?
It is difficult to establish which framework is better. Like most things in life, it will depend on what you need it for.
If you want to keep it simple and go straight to the point, focusing on objective achievement should be enough. If you want a more holistic view, both the WBEF and the Performance, Retention and Well-Being Model would be more appropriate. The former omits performance in the equation, and the latter doesn’t include engagement. Both are key omissions, so maybe a mix of the two would be the best solution?
If you want to put a dollar sign on the measurement, financial ROI is the solution for you, but I am not entirely convinced. Mr Grant explains the reasons more eloquently than I do in his paper linked above, so let’s finish this post with some of his words:
“Organisations and workplaces are more than just money-making machines. They are social and psychological contexts in which people live, work and relate. Of course, money-making is important. But so is the development, growth and well-being of the people that constitute organisations and workplaces. We do our clients, ourselves and the coaching industry a great disservice by overly focusing on the financial outcomes of coaching.”