As the coaching industry continues to grow, competition between coaching firms and the need for coaches increases. In an environment of increased competition and need, executive coaches are wise to ask themselves how they can increase the effectiveness of their coaching in order to attract and retain more coaching clients and have a greater positive impact on the business industries around them (Uta 2021; Bhatnagar 2021; Hudson 2022). In an effort to answer this question, Marja Hyypia of Laurea University of Applied Science published her thesis, “Strengthening the Effectiveness of Organizational Coaching Service” in 2022. Below we examine her research, its findings, and how coaches can apply this research to their coaching practice today.
Purpose of the study
According to Marja Hyypia, “the purpose of this thesis is to complement coaching literature that is currently focused on individual coaching and coaching practice and provide viewpoints for strengthening the effectiveness of organizational coaching service.” In essence, Marja’s research seeks to find out what elements of a coaching service can make coaching services more effective. In the research, Marja avoids discussions of coaching methodology and instead focuses on the makeup and organization of a coaching business. She defines effectiveness on the basis of “human-centered design” as an intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability (see Figure 1 below).
A two-part study
This thesis contained two primary portions of research: (i) theoretical exploration, and (ii) multiple case study. The theoretical exploration examined the current research surrounding coaching effectiveness.
Theoretical exploration takeaways
Primary takeaways from the theoretical exploration of current coaching research include the following.
It is vital for the coach to understand the “coachee’s context” and for the coachee to understand their “own role in the” coaching relationship.
“Maltbia & al. (2014, 172) stress the need for a coach to understand and define his/her role and goals of a specific coaching process in relation to the coachee’s needs.”
Understanding the “broader strategic agenda of a coachee is valuable information for both parties” (Maltbia & al. 2014, 173).
Coaches should “deepen and widen their perspective to their client’s context” beyond their current coaching to the “related external and subsequent” activities and “results amid accumulating” coaching experiences (Heinonen & al. 2010).
A “good relationship between the coach and coachee was proved to enhance the effectiveness of coaching.” This includes aspects of “trust” and understanding.
“Good service relationships are built on mutual honesty and conscious, well-informed choices by the client.”
A supportive “organizational stance” towards coaching can “increase a coachee’s own motivation and engagement.”
Customer experience is a complex and “multifold” response to coaching that “for the most part” is out of the coach’s reasonable control. Customer experience includes experiences “before, during, and after” the coaching service which can be influenced by “social forces and past experiences” outside of the coach's control.
“Customer experience” is “subjective, emotional, and dependent on the affective frame of interpretation” (Heinonen & al. 2010).
Coaches cannot assume clients will interpret the experience of their coaching session in the same way that they will.
Coaches cannot also assume that their clients are not impacted by their own personal biases. In the case that the influence of their biases becomes apparent, coaches can “nudge” or direct clients while giving them “freedom of choice” but also aiming them “at decisions that are for the client’s own” good. However, it is vital to be transparent in these moments.
Coaching certification is only a starting point for coaching excellence. While “professional qualification may be a prerequisite for a successful and effective coaching service” it does not offer “tools for a provider to develop the service in relation to the client’s goals, tasks, and activities, or to positively differentiate from other available providers and options in the market.”
A key element of having an effective coaching practice is not only the skillful methodology gained through training and certification but also the organization of the coaching service itself.
An effective coaching organization flows through a series of transforming services based on “changing client needs,” “sensing and gathering information throughout” the coaching program regarding client needs, and seizing or “creating service management policy with decision-making practices” and “action plans” for both “opportunities and threats.”
Coaches must stay up to date with “changes in the market and specific client needs” and adapt services to meet changing client needs.
Satisfaction is not enough for coaching to have “long-lasting relevance in a customer’s life.” Instead, “expectations need to be exceeded and customers feel delight for a significant experience”
Delight cannot be “determined or measured by the existence of certain features” but can be “experienced in multiple ways.” Regardless, “positive emotions, social interaction, and effective problem-solving seem to form the most common triangle among potential constellations of delight.”
Multiple case study takeaways
The second portion of Marja’s thesis included a multiple case study (3 cases) “hand-picked” from the coaching firm of “two entrepreneurs,” each differing in “process, length, and contents as well as the client organizations’ size and field.” The three selected cases corresponded with the coaching service packages offered by the coaches at the time of the study (packages A, B, and C). Qualitative data was gained primarily through interviews. Interventions included the introduction of a question matrix or questionnaire and restructured coaching package offerings. Below are some key takeaways from this portion of the study.
Flexibility and adaptability is essential. A “willingness to negotiate and iterate service offers as well as coaching plans during the co-creation of an already agreed service is a natural way of ensuring service compatibility with their clients’ needs.”
The ability to customize packages gives clients a sense of control which seems to be a “valuable feature throughout” the coaching service.
The Provider and Client influence the effectiveness of coaching.
“Quality of collaboration as well as the final design of the coaching process depends as much on the client as it does on the provider.”
“Until reaching shared commitment and understanding regarding change at least within the executive management, there is little chance of implementing any real change in the rest of the organization.”
Opportunity areas for strengthening the effectiveness of a coaching service include:
Clarifying coaching packages to “support decision-making”
Having a system for “extended feedback”
Supporting negotiation by “elaborating early information sharing”
“Adhering to effective process practices”
Strengthening “long-term service impact”
Coaches must “understand their clients’ past, present, and future” and adapt their services to this understanding.
Things to avoid include “too short coaching processes” and too much new information at one time.
Coaches found that introducing a “question matrix was experienced as an effortless and helpful tool worth using especially in every new client meeting.” They found that questions provided a “checklist for the most important questions” and “added structure to early discussions.” A question matrix also “encouraged people to reflect their needs and situation on a deeper level and guided the entrepreneurs themselves.”
Clear and consistent service packages help coaches explain their coaching service in a “consistent and understandable way.” This also made it “easier for entrepreneurs to price and offer” additional services instead of providing them for free—increasing the viability of the coaching business model.
Summary of the results
Figure 39 above shows a summary of the developed “framework” for improving “the effectiveness of” an “organizational coaching service.” Researcher Marja, found that coaches can do the following to increase the effectiveness of their service by:
Increasing flexibility through refined service packages and descriptions.
Increasing viability by developing a system for extended long-term client feedback.
Increasing feasibility and viability by elaborating early information and sharing and investing effective coaching processes.
Increasing desirability and feasibility by enhancing change continuity through long-term service impact and refining service packages based on needs.
It was found that the multiple case portion of the study as well as the theoretical exploration both produced “consistent and complementary” data supporting the above effective coaching practice framework.
What does this mean for coaches today?
There are several key findings within this thesis that are pivotal for coaches today.
It takes “two to tango”
Both coaches and coachees play a role in the effectiveness of a coaching service. As seen in Figure 18 above, there are a variety of characteristics from both the coach and coachee that can influence the effectiveness of a coaching service. For coaches, this indicates a need for an in-depth understanding of a client's needs, context, and goals, dedication, flexibility, and respect. For clients, a shared corporate commitment and an understanding of why they need coaching can positively influence the effectiveness of coaching.
Strategic flexibility can help coaches meet their clients’ needs
Too much flexibility can make it difficult for clients to choose a coaching service or approach and decrease the viability of a coaching firm. Structuring their coaching services was a primary concern of the two entrepreneurs within the multiple case study portion of the thesis. While flexibility was valued by clients, too much flexibility made it difficult for clients to make decisions on coaching packages and resulted in coaches offering extra services without charge, reducing the viability of their coaching business.
Coaches increased their effectiveness by clarifying, defining, and restructuring their coaching services in a way that was “easy to remember” and assisted in client decision-making. Ultimately this increases both coach and coachee clarity and better adjusts coaching services to meet unique client needs.
Flexibility can also be maintained throughout the coaching service
Staying up-to-date with changes in the marketplace, anticipating client needs, and adjusting coaching services to best meet those needs also positively influence coaching effectiveness.
Understanding is vital to the coaching process
Both the coachee and the coach need to understand their role and the goal of the coaching relationship. Coaches can increase their effectiveness by understanding the context of their client's businesses, challenges, and goals. They can deepen their understanding of their resources and provide new ones as needed. Coachees must understand the purpose of their need for coaching. They must also understand their role in the coaching process and the necessity of their own personal engagement within the coaching process.
Questionnaires can be a great source of understanding
Coaches found that implementing a question matrix for new or prospective coachees, gave them a “checklist” of important questions to review. It also helped coachees dive deeper into their understanding of their need for coaching, what coaching is, and what they can expect from coaching.
Effective coaching is a multifaceted process
There are a variety of factors that influence the effectiveness of coaching, some of which are out of the coach’s control. However, there are a variety of things coaches can do to increase their coaching effectiveness aside from coaching methodologies. Coaches can clarify their coaching service offers, increase their flexibility, increase their understanding of their clients’ contexts, and communicate the role of both the coach and coachee to their clients.
The main takeaway
This thesis indicates that aside from coaching methodologies, coaches can increase the effectiveness of their coaching practice in a variety of ways including developing coach and coachee understanding, having flexible coaching services that adapt to client needs, having clear coaching services and programs outlined, and developing characteristics that contribute to coaching effectiveness such as respect and trust. While certification is a vital element of coaching effectiveness, this thesis indicates that the way a coaching business and relationship is structured can influence the effectiveness of the coaching given.
Questions to consider
How do you ensure your understanding of your client's goals, context, and situation?
How do you discuss and discover your clients’ understanding of their role in the coaching process, their needs, their goals, and their need for a coach?
Are your coaching services or program models clear? Do you offer multiple coaching programs? How do you define each program? Are your programs clearly outlined for your clients?
How flexible is your coaching?
Do you stay up-to-date with current changes in the marketplace?
How do you respond to changes in your clients’ needs?
How do you start your coaching relationship? Do you use a questionnaire to increase understanding? Why or why not?
What aspects of your coaching model can you invest in to increase your coaching effectiveness?
Bhatnagar, V. R. 2021. Systemic coaching for higher effectiveness. Industrial and commercial training, 52 (1), 1–14. Article from Emerald Premier. https://doi.org/10.1108/ICT-07-2019-0072.
Heinonen, K., Strandvik, T., Mickelsson, K-J., Edvardsson, B., Sundström, E. & Andersson, P. 2010. A customer-dominant logic of service. Journal of Service Management, 21 (4), 531-548. Article from Emerald Insight. https://doi.org/10.1108/09564231011066088.
Hudson, M. 2022. 2022 Coaching trends. Published 6 January. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/2022-coaching-trends-megan-hudson-marketing-andbusiness-coach?trk=pulse-article_more-articles_related-content-card.
Hyypiä, M. (2022). Strengthening the effectiveness of organizational coaching service [Thesis]. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Source: https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/780960/Hyypia_Marja.pdf?sequence=2.
Maltbia, T. E., Marsick, V. J. & Ghosh, R. 2014. Executive and Organizational Coaching: A Review of Insights Drawn From Literature to Inform HRD Practice. Advances in developing human resources, 16 (2), 161–183. Article from Sage Journal Premier. https://doi.org/10.1177/1523422313520474.
Ută, I-C. 2021 Business coaching industry to top $15 billion in 2019. https://brandminds.live/business-coaching-industry-to-top-15-billion-in-2019/.
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