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Karen Drury

fe3 consulting

Internal Communication advisor, executive coach

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Coaching’s search for respectability


Karen Drury is a volunteer for the EMCC.

Coaches are everywhere. A report published by the International Coaching Federation and PwC in 2012 estimated that there were 21,000 professional practicing coaches in Europe, generating around $900m in revenue.  

The growth in the industry has not been mirrored in the academic field, even if research interest has increased more than fourfold since 2000.

Among the criticisms levelled at the research which has been done, is that studies rely heavily on self-report, rather than more objective evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of coaching. Much of the research focuses on characteristics of coach or coachee, or about the delivery of coaching, rather than behaviour change of the individual or impact on the organisation.

On the brink of change?

This may be about to change, as interesting comparisons with the body of research on psychotherapy are being drawn by academics. They note that both fields are concerned with an interpersonal helping intervention. 

The research on psychotherapy is rich in randomised controlled studies (where subjects are randomly allocated to receive an intervention or not), and rigorous investigation where the efficacy of interventions is evidenced and fully tested.

As more rigorous research is conducted, the discipline matures, and more stringent certification processes are applied, it’s hoped that the current ‘vagueness’ around coaching and what works (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t) will dissipate.

Professionalism – a call from business

Certainly, there’s a call from business for the coaching community to be more professional and to provide strong standards against which individuals can be assessed. 

Grant Thornton, one of the world’s leading organisations of independent assurance, tax and advisory firms, takes the benefits of coaching as read, but recognises that other businesses may not be at the same point.

“Coaching has really taken a hold in the last few years, in all sorts of environments. Some organisations still suffer from scepticism about the value of coaching, and for them the constant refresh of new evidence and fleshing out of existing understanding is highly important,” commented Lorenza Clifford, Talent Development Specialist.

Another organisation for which the argument for coaching has already been made is NATS, once part of the Civil Aviation Authority and now a Public Private Partnership. NATS provides air traffic control services, handling 2.2 million flights and 220 million passengers in UK airspace annually, with global customers in more than 30 countries.

NATS launched its formal Coaching and Mentoring programme in 2014, and at the same time invested in professionally training 25 employees to become internal coaches as part of their Leadership and Management Development strategy.

“We knew the positive impact coaching and mentoring had on individuals and on the organisation, and it was the right time to ramp up our internal capability and build committed coaching and mentoring pools,” said Soraya Robertson, Leadership and Development Manager.

From what works – to what works BEST

At Grant Thornton, Lorenza now wants to explore further, not what works, but what works best.

“Many are shifting focus from ‘does it work?’ and ‘is it effective?’ to questions that take us forward,” she said. “Questions such as ‘How can we improve the effectiveness of coaching?’, ‘What type of coaching produces longer lasting insights?’, ‘What is the best way to support coaches to continue developing in context?’

“At Grant Thornton, with our large pool of internal coaches, and a leadership team who understand the value of coaching our people and clients, we would welcome further insights from independent research around the latter questions.”

The European Coaching and Mentoring Council (EMCC) is also aware of the same questions and is focusing on helping coaches ensure their practice develops and stays up to date. 

Fiona Williams, EMCC UK Director, commented. “As the choice for professionals, we’re taking forward ‘Knowledge Exchange’ (KE) to help make research more accessible to coaches and mentors. It’s the ‘so what, now what’ implications for practice which our members want to know.”

“We’re about supporting our members, and others, to share their coaching-mentoring knowledge, experience and research, and our investment in KE will help with all of these.”  

Business – doing it for themselves

While this investment gets under way, organisations are developing their own CPD and creating their own knowledge sharing.

“At NATS, our coach-mentors have all signed up to continuous professional development and are motivated to grow their levels of competence,” said Soraya. “We’re supporting them through a number of different avenues from participation in internal and external CPD workshops, access to tools, methodologies and Action Learning Groups.”

Grant Thornton’s practitioners currently have regular lunchtime CPD sessions – called Soul Food – they can choose to attend, and supervision is available as a valuable source of development.  This is together with regular reflection and sharing with other coaches.

“We are about to launch a participative resource site where our coaches can share online their favourite articles and resources, as well as their questions and experiences. We are exploring how coaching can become really embedded in our culture,” said Lorenza.

Soraya Robertson has a clear view of what the EMCC should be doing.

“As coaching and mentoring rises further up the ladder of ‘must do’s’ for organisations wanting to engage and enable their employees to be more effective in today’s face paced, complex world, the EMCC, and other professional bodies play an important role in reviewing and further establishing the standards that will define ‘what good is’.   

“They also have a crucial role to play in bringing together professionals from various industries and backgrounds to share their experience, debate common issues and collaborate on projects that moves the discipline forward as quickly as the world is changing.

“If there is a gap in what they do today, I would like to see them have a more visible profile and influence amongst professional training and HR bodies.”

The EMCC itself has recognised the need to speak directly to the HR profession, and as part of an ongoing conversation, exhibited at CIPD’s Learning and Development Show in May this year. Other activities to raise the profile include hosting special interest groups, and a series of conferences happening now.

“Indeed, EMCC has a critical role in defining, shaping and promoting best practice in coaching and mentoring,” said Fiona Williams. “This includes publishing an international research journal and addressing questions like ‘where are we with data to underpin our profession?’ and ‘how do you use research to strengthen your own practice?’ in this month’s London and York conferences.”

“To support professional development, we’ve experienced coaches and mentors presenting case studies and practical experiences in our national and international conferences, other events and online.” ”

Author Profile Picture
Karen Drury

Internal Communication advisor, executive coach

Read more from Karen Drury

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