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Bozer, Gil; Pirola-Merlo, Andrew --- "How effective is your coach? Executive coaching" [2007] MonashBusRw 30; (2007) 3(2) Monash Business Review 44

How effective is your coach?
Executive coaching

Gil Bozer, Andrew Pirola-Merlo

Human resources departments love them but how do you know if an executive coach is doing you any good? Gil Bozer and Andrew Pirola-Merlo go looking for answers.

These days executive coaches are about as ubiquitous as personal trainers and form part of any self-respecting human resources arsenal. And it’s big business turning over $1 billion worldwide in 2003 and double that by 2005. However, there’s been little research into their effectiveness and what real benefits, if any, they bring.

Executive coaching can be defined as a one-on-one relationship between a professional coach and an executive (coachee), with the coach aiming to enhance the coachee’s behavioural change through increasing self-awareness and learning to ultimately enhance individual and organisational success. According to a Judge and Cowell (1997) survey of 60 executive coaches, they are mostly called in to modify the coachee’s interaction style, assist with change management and help the coachee to build trusting relationships.

The coach

To date, there are certificate programs in several countries including the US, Europe and Australia for people who want to train to become executive coaches. However, these programs are managed by self-appointed bodies and are difficult to assess in terms of quality or effectiveness (Sherman & Freas, 2004). Further such qualifications are not required by law and indeed are not held by a number of people who call themselves executive coaches.

The Judge and Cowell survey also found that 60 per cent of executive coaches were male, 80 per cent were between 35 and 55 and each had an average of 24 years’ work experience. Ultimately a coach needs three things – the ability to connect, a high standard of professionalism and a clear, sound methodology. They must be grounded in both business and psychology and have empathy for widely differing groups, patience, listening skills, creativity and analytical problem-solving skills. And, of course, a sense of humour.

The coachee

The Judge and Cowell study found coachees were usually mid-level to senior managers, half doing the course voluntarily and half required to do it. Individual coachees can be divided into three groups: valuable but having difficulty; seeking to improve leadership skills; and professionals/entrepreneurs other than executives such as lawyers, doctors, architects etc who find daily managerial demands limit long-range strategy development or personal development. Regardless, common requests from coachees were: help in modifying their interaction style; dealing more effectively with change; and creation of trusting relationships in their workplace.

Wasylyshyn (2003) raised a question about which executives are most likely to benefit from coaching and presented a typology for assessing executive coaching engagements: Primary group – successful executives and other high-potential employees without performance issues; Secondary group – potential derailers with performance issues that are salvageable; Tertiary group – unsalvageable.

The coach-coachee match

Personal chemistry, gender, socio-economic background and life experience are important. Both need to get on to create self-awareness which leads to behavioural change.

The processes

Researchers agree that executive coaching follows these processes: relationship building; assessment; intervention; follow-up; and evaluation. Natale and Diamante (2004) have a five-stage process: alliance check; credibility assessment of coach; likeability link and style; dialogue and skill acquisition; and cue-based action plans based on a trusting relationship between coach and coachee.

The outcomes of executive coaching

According to Baek-Kyoo’s survey (2005) executive coaching outcomes can be divided into proximal and distal outcomes (see chart below).

Proximal outcomes: This refers to behaviour change though self-awareness and learning.

Distal outcomes: This can be divided into individual and organisational success. Individual success includes enhancement of managerial and interpersonal skills and ability, better problem solving, greater confidence and adaptability to change, better relationships, better work-life balance and less stress. Organisational success includes improved productivity, customer service, increased commitment and job satisfaction, increased shareholder value and better transfer and support for training and development programs.

Executive coaching has grown significantly since the 1990s and today is a global phenomenon which mostly occurs outside traditional management training structures. This has meant that the actual day-to-day practice is more developed than the theory.

Chart 1The Proposed Framework of Successful Executive Coaching (Adopted From Baek-Kyoo)

The academic version of this paper was presented at the QIK Conference in Delhi, India in February 2007.

MBR subscribers: to view full academic paper email

Public access: (six months embargo applies)

Cite this article as

Bozer, Gil; Pirola-Merlo, Andrew. 'How effective is your coach?'. Monash Business Review. 2007.; Monash University ePress: Victoria, Australia. : 44–45. DOI:10.2104/mbr07030

About the authors

Gil Bozer

Gil Bozer is a doctorate student in the Department of Management, Monash University.

Andrew Pirola-Merlo

Dr Andrew Pirola-Merlo is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management, Monash University.

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