Coaching – an intangible return on investment

Does coaching actually work?

On the one hand there’s “evidence” that it does, which ranges from the reported experience of coaches and clients, the explosive growth in the industry, the fact that courses and qualifications exist, people write about it as a mainstream discipline and go to conferences to discuss it, accrediting bodies have been established and even that competition exists between rival groups!

But none of this is really evidence of efficacy. These are measures of popularity. Love Island is popular and is probably a very high quality offering within its genre. It doesn’t follow that it’s a significant contribution to cultural development though.

So, it all depends on your frame of reference. The lack of regulation in the coaching industry is an alarm bell for some. Similarly the paucity of scientific evidence, such as the small number of randomly controlled trials, disturbs those with an empirical perspective. How can we make claims for something working with so little hard data? And we haven’t even started to discuss ROI measures yet!

A more helpful analysis in my view is to ask the question whether coaching is not simply a branch of talk therapy, albeit stigma-free in the corporate context.

As we have discussed before, some people will immediately baulk at this notion. They will assert that therapy only exists for people with pathology or troubled pasts. As a practising therapist, I think this is misleading as people actually enter therapy for many reasons – ranging form self-exploration to personal development. I also note as an executive coach that there is no shortage of stress, depression, addiction and personal problems amongst high functioning senior executives!

Yes, there is a difference in the ultimate intentions of coaching and therapy, with coaching being largely funded by organisations with outcomes that are connected with effectiveness and productivity and therapy being generally paid for by individuals out of their own pockets and with aims that may involve a deep exploration of personal history, relationships and a way of being in the world. But the truth is that the two are inextricably linked!

Which takes me to my final point.

If measuring the effectiveness of coaching is so difficult and if we also accept that support with deep-rooted psychological issues is and should be beyond the scope of standard coaching, why do we continue to pay so much for it? What are we actually paying for that therapy could not supply far cheaper?

At recent conference, I asked a fellow coach-therapist for his perspective. Enquiring into the difference between the two disciplines, he fixed with a wry smile and simply said “about £250 per hour on average …!”

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