Do coachees genuinely find coaching highly impactful and helpful? Do their managers? What is it about leadership coaching that is most impactful? What isn’t? HFL’s annual survey of coaches provides the answers to these questions.
The following is an abridged version of the executive summary of a survey conducted by HFL Inside Leadership Coaching,. For a full copy of the report, please contact us.
HFL is a specialist leadership development firm which has, as part of its offering to mostly corporate clients, a leadership or executive coaching practice. At any one time we have between 120 and 200 coachees (the phrase we will use throughout this report for those being coached) involved in coaching engagements. The majority of these coachees are involved in wider leadership development programs, often also run by other practices inside HFL.
To run this many coaching engagements (usually around 120 coaching sessions each month), HFL deploys an experienced panel of accredited coaches; some of whom are full time consultants within HFL, and others who are HFL accredited external contractors. Discussions among these coaches, while preserving the confidentiality of individual discussions, often revolve around how valuable the coachees find the coaching. However, this view is highly anecdotal, and it would be fair to say that the coaches have a vested interest in stating how valuable their work is.
HFL’s objectives in running this study were fourfold:
1. Firstly, what is the real story? Do coachees genuinely find coaching highly impactful and helpful? How impactful is coaching when compared to other development opportunities? What is it about coaching that provides the most impact? In their words, not ours.
2. Secondly, while the view of the coachees is important, the higher level question is whether the consumers of the coaching – the business – find it valuable. So in this study we were determined to ask the coachee’s managers either the same or broadly similar questions to those asked to the coachees. Are the views of managers aligned to coachees? If not, where and how do they differ, and by how much?
3. Thirdly, are there particular executions of coaching engagements that work better than others, and therefore provide greater value to coachees, their managers, and the organisation as a whole? For a consultancy like HFL, this is valuable information. Where do our systems work, and where could they work better?
4. Fourthly, would this type of study provide information that could help us, and other stakeholders within our client organisations, make a better case for investing in coaching, which is a very expensive development option?
It is important to note that this is not an academic study, and does not arrive on your desk with the associated rigour or dispassionate analysis. This is a rather large snapshot of the views of a leadership group, spanning 10 or more organisations that are already involved in the coaching process. This means that the data can be viewed as having various bias points, and we are not making the claim that this study proves beyond doubt how wonderful executive coaching is.
However, we do believe that it provides a very accurate snapshot of what this sample thinks and feels about coaching as a development activity, and why; and that information is certainly useful to us, and we share it with the broader community because it may feed into other conversations and discussions about the value of this activity.
Coachees love it
The broadest description of the combined results of this study across the range of topics and questions is that the vast majority of coachees find the development activity helpful, supportive, a successful learning experience, and often the most impactful leadership development activity they have undertaken.
The key findings in this respect were:
• The vast majority found coaching either helpful or very helpful in their personal development as leaders.
• The most significant benefits of coaching was found to be the development of leadership skills, teamwork skills, and increased engagement with the organisation.
• Coaching increases the likelihood of employees staying with the organisation.
• Coaching and workshops were found to be the 2 stand-out development activities reported to have an impact on individuals. While these were both neck and neck when rated by coachees and managers, coaching was found to have a greater impact with respondents of increasing age and organisational seniority;
• Respondents reported a high level of satisfaction with value for time, and manager support, although fewer respondents reported that their managers were highly engaged in the program.
• Coachees reported that the topics discussed that were of most value in the coaching engagement were the generic topic of leadership, followed by communication & influencing, followed by dealing with difficult people/situations, followed by emotional intelligence.
• By far, the biggest benefit coachees reported from the coaching engagement was receiving objective and independent support, followed by techniques to deal with challenges. They also liked the tailored, individual nature of the learning that takes placing inside coaching sessions.
• This study found that diagnostic tools (psychometrics, 360 surveys, development centres) were insightful and, in the main, regularly referred back to as coaching progressed, with half of the respondents reporting that their assessment was referred back to regularly or more often.
• In particular, 360s and 180s were found to be of particular benefit, suggesting individuals find feedback from peers, reports and managers to be of high importance.
• Most coaches in the programs reported having a development plan that was actively discussed, both with their coach and their manager.
• The vast majority of coaches saw their development plans as either important or very important, and believed that their managers, while not placing as much importance on them as themselves, still viewed the development plans as important.
• The majority of coachees highly valued the joint coaching sessions held with the coach and their manager (a key component of HFL’s coaching approach), and the majority reported that these sessions helped improve communication between themselves and their manager.
• The vast majority of coaches were very happy with the performance of their coach, particularly the level of challenge, preparation and the extent to which they were non-judgemental.
• Most coaches professed an ability to be extremely open with their coach, being prepared in most cases to tell their coach anything; in fact comments suggest that the ability to have someone to confide in about anything is a critical benefit of the coaching process.
Managers of coachees love it too
We were fascinated to see the extent to which managers supported the enthusiastic ratings for coaching we received from their reports. Broadly, managers were as highly supportive of the coaching process as their reports.
The key findings in this respect were:
• The vast majority of managers found coaching either helpful or very helpful in the personal development of their reports as leaders; specifically, they site improved career direction, teamwork skills and leadership skills as key outcomes of the coaching engagements.
• The most significant benefit of coaching was found to be the follow through on development plans, followed by development of leadership skills; many managers also mentioned their reports “getting a different perspective” as being a good benefit from coaching.
• Managers felt that their direct reports likelihood of staying with the organisation was enhanced, their engagement improved, and that they were more hopeful of an increase in promotion opportunities for promotion than the coachees were.
• Coaching and workshops were found to be the two stand-out development activities reported to have an impact on individuals by managers, with workshops edging ahead of coaching, but both being described as impactful.
• Respondents report a high level of satisfaction with value for time, and two thirds of managers reported they were engaged with the coaching program (a higher figure than suggested by their direct reports).
• Most managers of coachees in the programs reported that their coachee had a development plan that was actively and regularly discussed.
• The vast majority of managers saw their reports’ development plans as either important or very important; suggesting that they place more importance on them than their direct reports give them credit for.
• Managers highly valued the joint coaching sessions held with the coach and the coachee (a key component of HFL's coaching approach), and many reported that these sessions helped improve communication between themselves and their report.
Results vary slightly by demographics
All in all, when analysing the data across different demographics (age, number of coaching sessions received, and seniority), the most notable finds are as follows:
• While coaching was found to be most helpful in improving leadership skills compared to the other factors mentioned, this was particularly evident with increasing number of coaching sessions.
• Coachees who had more coaching sessions were also likely to find coaching more helpful in developing teamwork skills and career direction compared to coachees who had fewer sessions; in fact, the more coaching sessions, the higher the results overall. However, many coachees with 6 or fewer coaching sessions still rated the engagement as very successful and valuable.
•There were no vast differences in the helpfulness of coaching across levels of seniority. The largest difference was found in career direction whereby front line level coachees were more likely to find coaching helpful in developing career direction (79 per cent) than senior level coachees (67 per cent).
Things that could be better
One of our objectives was to find ways to improve the coaching experience and outputs for all concerned. The data is very granular on improvements, but taking the data overall, HFL draws the following conclusions:
• Involvement of the manager in the coaching process is paramount, and while our current process does this quite well, there is room for improvement in the level to which the managers feel engaged in the process, and the extent to which the development plans are live and lived between the manager and the coachee.
• Coaching has high value in helping coachees learn how to deal with difficult people and situations, and this finding accentuates HFL’s focus in workshops on experiential, case study style learning, where participants have to deal with difficult people and difficult conversations; we should investigate other ways to provide coachees with access to this learning.
• Strong personal relationships of trust get developed between the coach and coachee quite quickly, and these relationships are very valued by the coachee. For HFL, this means that we have to place more emphasis on using coaches that will remain available to the coachee throughout their journey. Coachees would like coaching to take place more regularly, if possible, and this is particularly true of those on “every two month” programs.
This survey is re-run by HFL every two years, as a check-in on our coaches, and also as an update to the data. Please for further details. Note: if you are interested in auditing your coaching initiatives, HFL would be happy to include your participants and their managers in our next survey.