International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 9, 67-79. 2011
Special thanks to Brodie Gregory, PhD for preparing this article
In Alison Walker-Fraser's 2011 article, “An HR perspective on executive coaching for organizational learning,” Alison Walker-Fraser calls for an evidence-based approach to executive coaching, noting a need to demonstrate “how or why organizations perceive coaching to be a contributor to organizational and leadership performance” (p.67). In short, coaches, researchers, and practitioners need to get serious about producing clear evidence that coaching contributes to both individual and organizational performance.
Walker-Fraser’s study set out to explore the strategic use of coaching as a form of organizational learning, to examine HR perceptions regarding the purpose of executive coaching, to investigate the factors that inform the use of executive coaching in organizations, and to understand the role of HR in demonstrating the ROI of coaching.
Data were collected through interviews with 17 HR professionals. Walker-Fraser found that the use of executive coaching can largely be classified as strategic – aligned to business goals and targeted at senior leaders and high-potential candidates for senior leadership roles – or “ad hoc” – used reactively to address challenges as they arise. Factors that contribute to the strategic v. ad hoc use of executive coaching included organizational culture and HR perceptions regarding the benefits of executive coaching.
Participants also indicated that HR should be responsible for evaluating the outcomes and/or ROI of coaching. Additionally, 41% of participants specifically identified matching individuals with appropriate coaches and having a clearly defined set of goals for the coaching engagement as essential to the success of coaching. Interestingly, however, results indicated no universally accepted criteria for assessing the success and/or impact of coaching. Further, one third of participants reported that their organizations did not engage in any formal process of evaluation for coaching.
One essential takeaway from Walker-Fraser’s study is that the success of executive coaching is largely contingent on strategic connections between coaching and organizations systems and/or strategic HR. Specifically, Walker-Fraser comments that, “effective organizational learning and development requires an integrated approach, in which coaching and or mentoring are situated in the context and culture of the organization, and the internal and external resources that a coach or mentor brings, enabling learning to occur” (p. 73).
So – what does this mean for coaches or HR practitioners?
1) First and foremost, coaching must be linked to strategic HR processes and business goals in order to be maximally effective and also continue to be perceived as a valuable development tool.
2)Organizations must identify a set of relevant criteria, based on their needs and expectations, for evaluating the impact, effectiveness, and ROI of coaching.
Walker-Fraser’s article makes a strong contribution to the coaching literature by providing concrete evidence of the importance of connecting coaching with strategic HR and business goals.
How can you incorporate these findings into your own practice?