Defining and measuring success in coaching can be a thorny issue.
How do you measure success in coaching when changes might take place over multiple months or even years and where the change can be internal as well as external?
How do you measure success when different stakeholders may have different ideas of what success looks like from the coaching? Is it a success when a key member of staff realises that they want to leave the organisation? Many would say yes but we have to be realistic about what the organisation really wanted.
And what is success in the first place? Who decides?
In this article I aim to unpack this complex question, casting a light on the multi-faceted nature of success within the field of coaching and offering, I hope, some useful perspectives.
Aimed at experienced coaches, those in leadership roles commissioning coaching, and anyone with a vested interest in understanding the essence of coaching success, I have avoided covering basics concepts such as what is coaching with an assumption that the reader is well-versed in this. If you are new to coaching then it would be worth reading some of our many articles that lay the foundations of coaching theory and practice.
Definition of Success in Coaching
To understand success within the context of coaching, we must first acknowledge its multidimensional nature.
It’s a common misconception to view success solely as a metric, a “win” or the attainment of specific goals.
However, in reality, coaching success is a mosaic of personal growth, team development, the fostering of relationships, and the journey towards and beyond the clients’ objectives.
This is particularly true in the field of transformational coaching in which the changes evoked can unfold over many months or years and the change is often internal as well as external. How does one measure the impact of critical reflection on one’s beliefs?
Maya Angelou, a celebrated American poet and civil rights activist, effectively summed up success in transformational coaching (though that was not her intention, of course):
“liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Yet, despite this, there is a call, and perhaps a need, for a more precise and objective way of measuring success in the field of coaching.
At the very least, there is a need to be able to engage in this conversation.
So let’s start where we need to start.
Central to a coaching relationship is the fulfilment of the client’s specific objectives.
These objectives provide a roadmap for the coaching journey and act as a compass guiding the process.
Success, in this context, however, is not merely the achievement of these goals but the meaningful progress made towards them and the learnings gathered along the way.
The way clients define their objectives can vary greatly depending on their personal style, their understanding of the coaching process, and their specific needs and expectations.
Here are some approaches clients might use to define their objectives:
SMART Goals: This is a widely accepted approach to goal-setting in both personal and professional contexts. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Using this method, clients may be encouraged by the coach to define success in very concrete terms. For instance, a SMART goal could be, “I want to improve my public speaking skills to confidently deliver a 30-minute presentation to my team within the next two months.”
Intuition or Gut Feeling: Some clients might prefer a more intuitive approach, where success is defined based on a ‘gut feeling’ or a sense of inner knowing. For example, a client might want to feel more confident in their decision-making abilities, but may not have a specific metric or timeline in mind.
Subjective Measurement: Success can also be defined in subjective terms. This could involve a client’s personal assessment of their progress, such as feeling more at ease in stressful situations or experiencing a greater sense of fulfilment in their work. A classic coaching question that relates to this is “Where would you like to be on a scale of 1 to 10 by the end of the coaching journey?”
Sense of Completion: Some clients might equate success with a sense of completion or closure. This could relate to the resolution of a particular issue, the attainment of a specific goal, or a feeling of wholeness or completeness in some aspect of their personal or professional life.
Values-Based Goals: For some clients, success might be closely tied to their personal values. This could involve living in alignment with these values, or making changes to better reflect these values in their actions or decisions. This might create a feeling of authenticity, or other intangible outcome, that is vital to the client.
Process-Oriented Goals: Instead of focusing on a specific outcome, some clients might define success in terms of their engagement with the coaching process itself. This could involve developing new insights, learning new skills, or growing as a person.
Qualitative Feedback: Clients may seek external validation of their progress. They might measure success based on positive feedback from others, such as improved relationships or recognition of their growth.
The key here is that each client’s definition of success is unique, and it’s important for the coach to understand and work within the client’s framework to support them effectively.
If, at the end of the coaching relationship, or a coaching session, a client can say they met their objective, then this would surely constitute success in the eyes of the client.
Organisational Success – Key Performance Indicators
Coaching, however, is not always initiated by the client.
Often, coaches are brought in by organisations to help achieve certain outcomes. As with client-focused measures of success, organisational measures may be clear and concrete, abstract and intangible or a combination.
However, a common way to measure the success of coaching in organisations is the use of key performance indicators (KPIs).
These metrics could include the enhancement of specific skills, improved performance in identified areas, and the overall attainment of set goals.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in a coaching context will typically depend on the specific objectives and areas of focus for the coaching engagement.
Examples of common KPI areas include:
Skill Development: Enhancement in specific skills related to the coaching objectives. For instance, if the coaching is focused on leadership development, KPIs could be improved decision-making skills, more effective delegation, or better conflict resolution.
Behavioural Changes: Observable changes in the client’s behaviours can serve as KPIs. This could include increased assertiveness, improved time management, or more effective communication.
Emotional Intelligence: If the coaching involves emotional intelligence, KPIs could be enhanced self-awareness, better emotion management, improved empathy towards others, or more effective relationship management.
Performance Metrics: In an organisational context, improved performance metrics related to the individual’s role could be KPIs. This might involve increased sales, more efficient project completion, or improved quality of work.
Career Progression: For career-focused coaching, KPIs may include achieving a promotion, successfully transitioning to a new role, or reaching specific career milestones.
Feedback from Others: In some cases, feedback from others in the client’s personal or professional life can be a KPI. This might involve improved 360-degree feedback scores, more positive feedback from team members, or improved customer satisfaction ratings.
Wellbeing Metrics: In coaching aimed at personal development or wellbeing, KPIs might include lower stress levels, increased work-life balance, or improved health and wellness outcomes.
Meeting Set Goals: Achieving the goals that were set at the start of the coaching process can also be a KPI. This could include anything from resolving a specific issue to achieving a personal or professional goal.
Satisfaction with the Coaching Process: The client’s level of satisfaction with the coaching process and their perception of its value can be a key indicator of success.
Remember, the most effective KPIs are those that are closely aligned with the client’s specific objectives and that provide clear, measurable evidence of progress and success.
The observant reader may have noticed a challenge with many of the areas listed above. They remain intangible and subjective.
How, for instance, does one measure “increased assertiveness” or “enhanced self-awareness”.
Well, one approach might be 360-degree feedback.
One of the pillars of coaching success in organisational coaching is the use of 360-degree feedback.
By gathering comprehensive insights from all stakeholders – peers, direct reports, and supervisors – a holistic picture of the coaching impact is rendered.
This collaborative evaluation not only aids in assessing the coach’s effectiveness but also fosters a sense of shared ownership in the coaching journey.
What is 360-Degree Feedback?
360-degree feedback, also known as multi-rater feedback, involves gathering performance-related feedback about an individual from various sources.
This includes the individual’s self-assessment, their peers, subordinates if applicable, their supervisor or manager, and potentially even customers or clients.
In essence, it offers a comprehensive, “360-degree” view of the individual’s performance and behaviours from different perspectives.
How Does It Work?
Typically, the process involves a structured questionnaire that asks respondents to rate the individual on various competencies, behaviours or skills.
This might include aspects such as communication skills, leadership effectiveness, problem-solving ability, teamwork, and more. The questionnaire may also include open-ended questions for qualitative feedback.
The data is then compiled and analysed, often by a third party, to ensure confidentiality and objectivity.
The feedback is then presented to the individual in a constructive manner, often with the help of a coach or HR professional to guide interpretation and development planning.
Benefits and Uses in Coaching
In a coaching context, 360-degree feedback can be extremely beneficial.
Here’s how it can be used:
Identify Strengths and Areas for Development: The feedback can help identify both strengths to be leveraged and areas where further development may be beneficial. This can provide a solid foundation for goal-setting in the coaching process.
Track Progress and Evaluate Coaching Effectiveness: By repeating the 360-degree feedback process after a period of coaching, any changes or improvements can be identified. This provides a way to measure the effectiveness of the coaching intervention.
Enhance Self-Awareness: By providing feedback from multiple perspectives, 360-degree feedback can help enhance the individual’s self-awareness, which is a crucial part of personal and professional growth.
Improve Relationships and Team Dynamics: Feedback on interpersonal skills and behaviours can provide valuable insights for improving relationships and team dynamics. The individual can work on these areas during the coaching process.
It’s important to note that the 360-degree feedback process needs to be handled carefully to ensure its effectiveness.
The feedback needs to be delivered in a constructive and sensitive manner to avoid defensiveness or negativity. The feedback process should be clearly explained to all participants to ensure they understand its purpose and the importance of providing honest, constructive feedback.
Confidentiality is crucial to creating a safe environment for open feedback.
Finally, the feedback should be used as a developmental tool, not a punitive measure.
In addition to 360-degree feedback, less tangible, psychological change may potentially be assessed through the use of psychometric tools as a measure of coaching success.
A boost in a client’s belief in their abilities, their capacity to bounce back from setbacks, and their drive to achieve their goals often signals the positive impact of coaching.
Psychometric tools are often used in coaching to provide objective data about an individual’s personality traits, cognitive abilities, behavioural style, or emotional intelligence.
They can be helpful both in setting coaching objectives and in measuring progress towards those objectives.
Some common psychometric tools include:
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): The MBTI assesses an individual’s personality type across four dimensions: Extraversion vs. Introversion, Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving. It can be used in coaching to identify areas for development or to enhance self-awareness. Pre- and post-coaching MBTI assessments can provide insights into changes in an individual’s understanding of their personality or shifts in their behaviour.
Emotional Intelligence Appraisal: This measures an individual’s emotional intelligence (EI), a key factor in effective leadership and interpersonal relationships. EI can be developed through coaching, and changes in EI scores can be used as a measure of coaching success.
StrengthsFinder: This assessment identifies an individual’s top strengths. It can be used in coaching to help individuals leverage their strengths more effectively. Changes in the application or understanding of their strengths can be used as a measure of coaching success.
DiSC Profile: The DiSC profile assesses an individual’s behavioural style in terms of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. It can be used to enhance self-awareness and improve interpersonal relationships. Pre- and post-coaching DiSC profiles can provide insights into changes in an individual’s behaviour or relationship dynamics.
Hogan Assessments: These assessments measure personality within the context of the workplace and can predict leadership potential, team fit, and potential derailers. They can provide useful insights for executive or leadership coaching, with changes in scores or interpretations indicating progress.
Using these tools, coaches and clients can track progress and measure changes in specific, quantifiable ways.
However, it’s important to remember that these tools should be used in conjunction with other methods of assessment, and that they require professional training to administer and interpret correctly.
The data they provide should be considered as part of the wider context of the individual’s development and coaching objectives.
Impact of Coaching on Team Dynamics
Successful coaching can ripple out, influencing team cohesion, communication, and overall performance.
Improvement in these areas suggests not only the success of individual coaching but also its wider positive influence within an organisation.
Measuring the impact of coaching on team dynamics can be a crucial aspect of evaluating success, especially in organisational and executive coaching scenarios. The following are some ways to measure the influence of coaching on team dynamics:
Surveys and Questionnaires: Pre- and post-coaching surveys or questionnaires can be used to assess changes in team dynamics. These might assess elements like team cohesion, communication effectiveness, trust among team members, or conflict resolution.
360-Degree Feedback: 360-degree feedback, where feedback is gathered from team members, peers, managers, and direct reports, can be used to assess changes in team interactions and the behaviour of the individual being coached.
Observation: Direct observation of team interactions can provide useful insights. These observations might be done by a manager, HR professional, or an external consultant and could be focused on meetings, collaborative projects, or everyday interactions.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): KPIs related to team performance can be used to measure changes. These might include measures of team productivity, quality of work, or meeting project deadlines and milestones.
Interviews or Focus Groups: Conducting interviews or focus groups with team members can provide rich qualitative data on changes in team dynamics. These might explore perceptions of the team atmosphere, collaboration, or the impact of the individual’s behavioural changes on the team.
Conflict Incidence: A reduction in the number or severity of team conflicts could be an indication of improved team dynamics.
Employee Turnover Rates: If coaching improves team dynamics, it may lead to a decrease in turnover rates. This could be a long-term measure of coaching effectiveness.
Employee Engagement: Measures of employee engagement, such as job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation, or willingness to put in extra effort, can be indicative of effective team dynamics.
Collaborative Output: The quality and quantity of collaborative output, such as shared projects or team presentations, can provide an indication of the effectiveness of team dynamics.
It’s important to note that assessing changes in team dynamics should be done in a confidential and respectful manner, ensuring the privacy of all team members and maintaining trust in the coaching process.
Organisational Review of Coaching Success
Coaching success is not only predicated on the impact on the client alone but the success of the programme for the organisation that commissioned it.
Organisations can evaluate the success of a coaching contract using various methods to assess its value and effectiveness.
Post-Coaching Evaluations: These can be used to gather feedback from the individuals who received coaching. This might include questions about their satisfaction with the coaching process, perceived value, changes in their behaviour or performance, and their progress towards coaching objectives.
Pre- and Post-Coaching Assessments: Using the same assessment tools before and after the coaching can provide an objective measure of change. This might include psychometric assessments, 360-degree feedback, or other evaluation tools relevant to the coaching objectives.
Review of Progress Towards Goals: The organisation can review the extent to which the coaching objectives were achieved. This might include reviewing specific goals or key performance indicators (KPIs).
Interviews or Focus Groups: Interviews or focus groups with individuals who received coaching and their managers can provide qualitative data on the impact of the coaching. This might explore perceptions of change, the value of the coaching, and any observable impact on performance or team dynamics.
Observation: Observation of behaviours, communication, or performance can provide insights into the impact of the coaching. This might be done by HR professionals, managers, or an external consultant.
Organisational Performance Measures: The organisation might review relevant organisational performance measures to assess the broader impact of the coaching. This might include measures related to productivity, quality of work, employee engagement, or turnover rates.
Cost-Benefit Analysis: The organisation can conduct a cost-benefit analysis to assess the return on investment (ROI) of the coaching. This involves calculating the financial benefits associated with the outcomes of coaching (e.g., increased productivity, reduced turnover) and comparing this with the cost of the coaching.
Follow-up Surveys: Conducting follow-up surveys weeks or months after the coaching has concluded can assess the long-term impact and sustainability of the changes brought about by the coaching.
It’s important to note that evaluating coaching success should be planned from the outset, with clear objectives and evaluation methods established as part of the coaching contract. This ensures that all parties have a clear understanding of what success looks like and how it will be measured.
Sustainable Changes and Long-Term Impact
While immediate progress is always to be celebrated, often the real measure of coaching success lies in the sustainability of the changes it brings about.
Can it be considered a success if a client changes their performance for a short term but reverts to older patterns when the coaching is over?
The continued application of learnt skills and maintained improvements in performance indicate that coaching has achieved lasting impact.
One of the complexities in measuring coaching success, therefore, involves the timing of evaluations.
It’s crucial to acknowledge the potential for a delayed impact.
Sometimes, the most significant changes occur long after the coaching engagement has concluded, underlining the need for longitudinal assessments.
There is seldom the inclination or finances to carry out such studies however and so coaches and clients alike are typically focused on shorter-term measures of success.
This is particularly true of organisational coaching. Life coaches tend to have the luxury of trusting the process more fully, recognising that change takes time and that it creates ripple effects that simply can’t be measured.
The Coach’s Perspective on Success
As a final piece of this puzzle, we can consider what success is for the coach from a coaching assignment.
Coaches, in their professional journey, will have their own interpretations of success that extend beyond their clients achieving their desired outcomes.
Some concepts of success that coaches might consider include:
Personal Growth: Coaches may gauge success through their own professional development and growth, such as mastering new coaching techniques, expanding their knowledge base, or improving their ability to connect with and understand diverse clients.
Client Transformation: The degree of transformation or change in the client can be a marker of success. This could include observable changes in the client’s behaviours, mindset, or emotional intelligence, regardless of specific outcomes. This, of course, is what we have considered throughout this article.
Satisfaction in Helping Others: The fulfilment and satisfaction derived from assisting others in their growth and self-discovery can be a profound measure of success for coaches.
Reputation and Recognition: Success could also be defined in terms of the coach’s professional reputation, such as recognition from their peers, positive feedback from clients, or achieving specific accolades or qualifications in the coaching field.
Client Retention and Referrals: A high rate of client retention or receiving referrals from past clients can be a strong indication of success, as it suggests that clients value the coaching service and feel they have benefited from it.
Client Self-Sufficiency: Seeing a client reach a point of self-sufficiency, where they can apply the tools and strategies learned during coaching independently, can be a fulfilling marker of success for a coach.
Consistency in Practice: Being able to maintain consistency in their coaching practice, upholding ethical standards, and staying true to their coaching philosophy can also be key success indicators for coaches.
Quality of the Coach-Client Relationship: The ability to build strong, trusting, and effective relationships with clients is crucial in coaching. The quality of these relationships can, therefore, be a significant measure of success.
Positive Impact: For many coaches, knowing that their work has had a meaningful, positive impact on someone’s life or career can be a profound indicator of success.
These are just a few examples, and each coach might have additional or different personal markers of success.
The key is that these measures align with the coach’s values, philosophy, and goals for their coaching practice.
Challenges in Measuring Coaching Success
Measuring coaching success is not without its complexities and challenges. We have alluded to some of these already but to bring them together, let’s consider them again.
Subjectivity: Success is inherently a subjective concept. Each individual has their own unique definition of success based on their values, beliefs, goals, and experiences. This subjectivity can make it difficult to establish universally applicable metrics for coaching success.
Lack of Tangible Outcomes: Coaching often deals with intangible factors such as personal development, mindset shifts, or emotional intelligence. These are not as straightforward to measure as more tangible outcomes such as sales figures or performance metrics, adding to the challenge.
Time-Lag Effect: Changes brought about by coaching can take time to fully manifest. The effects of the coaching may not be immediately apparent at the conclusion of the coaching engagement, which can complicate the evaluation process.
Isolating the Impact of Coaching: In real-life settings, there are often many variables at play that can influence outcomes. This makes it challenging to isolate the specific impact of coaching from other potential influencing factors.
Confidentiality and Privacy: Coaching often involves dealing with sensitive personal or professional issues. This can limit the information that can be shared or used for evaluation, particularly in organisational contexts.
Differing Stakeholder Perspectives: Different stakeholders may have different views on what constitutes success. For example, an individual being coached may have a different perspective on the success of the coaching to their manager or the person who commissioned the coaching.
Changing Goals or Objectives: The coaching process can lead to changes in goals or objectives as individuals gain new insights or grow personally or professionally. This means that the measures of success may also need to evolve over time, which can add complexity to the evaluation process.
Emphasis on Process Over Outcome: The nature of coaching is such that the process of self-discovery and personal growth is often as important, if not more so, than the specific outcomes. This emphasis on process over outcome can make it harder to define and measure success.
Despite these challenges, it’s important to strive to evaluate the effectiveness of coaching in order to demonstrate its value, drive continuous improvement, and support the professional development of coaches.
With careful planning, clear communication, and the use of appropriate tools and techniques, these challenges can be navigated effectively.
Measuring success in coaching, with its inherent complexities, demands a multifaceted approach.
By embracing a broad definition of success and acknowledging the unique journey each coaching relationship embarks upon, we can cultivate a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of coaching success.
Our exploration reminds us that the tapestry of coaching success is as varied and vibrant as the individuals and organisations we serve.
All coaches want to help their clients succeed and to succeed themselves by whatever standard they choose to measure this by. What seems clear from the realities of coaching is that there is no one way to measure coaching success and that one person’s measurement may fail to satisfy someone else.
Given this variability, what becomes central is understanding what success looks like to the client and/or commissioner of coaching and finding ways to assess it that satisfy those involved.
I hope that I’ve provided a framework for thinking through the concept of success in coaching and, of course, wish you success in your journey as a coach.