Updated: Aug 16, 2019
by Karen Hickman - Project Leader for the Yorkshire Accord
I’ve been a big fan of coaching & mentoring for many years; personally I’ve experienced the benefits both as a coach/mentor, a coachee/mentee and as an learning & development professional. I’ve seen the impact it can have and in my mind it has a power and energy that drives results in a way I’ve not seen repeated in many other development approaches. However when it comes to measuring impact or return on Investment there is notoriously a difficulty that exists for organisations in the identification of pure tangible outcomes. As a co-ordinator of coaching & mentoring schemes I have found there are at least two key challenges in this.
1) Proving results are directly attributable to the Coaching & Mentoring
This is difficult because other factors could also have also contributed to reported success. So for example, how do you know it was the coaching/mentoring that had the impact, and not the training, or the fact somebody is just becoming more competent at their role over time anyway?
2) Individual benefits are often a matter of personal perception
Reported benefits are often expressed on an individual and personal level. It is not uncommon for people to report ‘feeling better about myself’ or ‘feeling valued and supported’. Whilst personal benefits will more often lead to organisational benefits drawing clear links between the two creates an interesting challenge for organisations who want to measure impact by looking to the external environment for more tangible measurable outcomes.
Over the years I have successful evaluated schemes and collected many positive responses from those who have participated in coaching. There is actually vast and wide ranging list of possible outcomes to be discovered. Common results include; Gaining promotion/securing a new job; Gaining new management skills; Developing positive working relationships; Reducing personal or team conflict; Making informed choices/decision; Reducing stress: Improved work/life balance; Increasing personal confidence and self worth….and i could go on!
My frustrations have rather centred in the way businesses tend to want to measure return of investment. Typically this means they seek hard and solid facts which can be clearly and unquestionably validated into a neat set of results or statistics. I believe anybody who had been on the receiving end of good coaching would need no such evidence. The problem therefore lies in convincing the unconvinced or rather the uninitiated!
A study into the Impact of coaching & mentoring leaders who had taken part in Yorkshire Accord Scheme
A few years ago as part of my MA dissertation research I conducted a study of leaders who participated in the Yorkshire Accord Coaching & Mentoring Scheme. I set out identify the challenges they were facing at the time they participated and what they gained as a result of their involvement.
These were recorded into seven emergent categories;
1) Personal Conflicts within the Organisation – Professional Competition & Rivalry, Developing Credibility, Emotional Conflict and those brought about by Structures & Processes
2) People and Relationship Management – Managing Difficult People, Managing Poor Performance and Supporting Team Development and Specialism
3) Leading Through Change – Personal Resilience, Influencing Outside Own Authority; Supporting & Reacting to Organisational Change and Navigating Systems and Processes
4) Managing Career and Professional Development – Career Transitions and Personal Fulfilment
5) Meeting Expectation and Demand – Organisational Demand and Work-life Balance
6) Professional Liability – Personal Accountability and Ethical Conflicts
7) Lack of Personal Support – Line Manager and Lack of Appropriate Development Support
Impact & Outcomes Experienced as a Result of Coaching
The study revealed that all leaders had derived benefit from their Coaching experience and reported a variety of impacts and outcomes including;
- Structured Reflection & Thinking Time
- Personal Support
- Emotional Well-being
- Increased Self Responsibility & Commitment
- Improved Professional Relationships
- Improved Personal Influence
- Development of Wider Perspectives
- Increased Personal Awareness
- Informed Career Choices
- Increased Flexibility
- Development of Knowledge
There were however two further significant benefits experienced by all leaders, theses added a new dimension to my own understanding of the value of coaching & mentoring, and related difficulties in measuring it. e.g. bureaucratic structures or chain of command)
The new learning was in the analysis of the language used by leaders to describe the challenges and benefits they had experienced. These were predominantly expressed intrinsically, In other words statements made were less about matters of physical fact or organisational process (e.g bureaucratic structures or chain of command), and more often communicated as a sense of feeling or matters of personal perception (e.g. worrying about personal credibility, knowing who to trust, feeling like they had delivered a professional service).
Common to all leaders interviewed there were two specific intrinsic benefits that emerged;
1) An increase in Personal Confidence - leaders felt reassured of their own ability, thinking and decision making
2) The development of Leadership Confidence - leaders reported that their coaching & mentoring experience had a positive effect on the way in which they viewed their own identify as a leader.
They felt more comfortable 'Being a Leader' and the responsibility that brought. They also believed that this had been projected in the way they acted and how they were perceived by others. Leaders believed that their demonstration of Leadership Confidence had provided a reassurance to others and encouraged trust; it had also resulted in fewer challenges and less resistance for the leaders in their need to influence others
For me the development of Leadership Confidence is a significant outcome. Many theories link the importance of leadership and confidence but how it is developed remains largely unreported. From my own experience of supporting leaders and managers in organisations I’d have to say that the development of confidence as well as competence was one of the main driving factors to investing in development programmes.
So where does all this leave me and my frustrations with measuring ROI?
Well it confirms that traditional evaluation processes such as appraisals and 360 degree tools can only go so far in attributing the impact of coaching & mentoring. The real value is in the psychological benefits which are difficult to measure not only because improvement is often matter of individual perception, but also the challenges and issues faced are largely unseen and they may not have been fully disclosed to others. There may be many reasons for this. Perhaps leaders purposely decide to withhold the details of their insecurities or concerns, quite understandable given their position to inspire confidence in others. Additionally though there is a strong chance that leaders may not be consciously aware of how of their own values and the related cognitive process which forms personal perception links to their experience, and their overall performance first place.
My advice to organisations looking to invest or to continue to invest in coaching & mentoring is trust the process. If you really want to know its value you need to take time to talk to people who have engaged in it. Listen carefully to their stories not only what they say but also how they say it. Encourage them to reflect fully on their experience and let get them to talk to others about the difference it has made to them.