How to raise the standards of coaching in 9.5 important ways! by Yvonne Thackray

*The Hype Cycle is a branded graphical presentation developed and used by US Information Technology (IT) research and advisory firm Gartner. (See Wikipedia)

*The Hype Cycle is a branded graphical presentation developed and used by US Information Technology (IT) research and advisory firm Gartner. (See Wikipedia)

The good coach attracts other like-minded coaches (full/part time/casual – delete as appropriate) who have a vested interest in looking beyond the current state of the market. We participated in group discussion. We reached out to peers, bloggers, and tgc readers to ask them to share what they have noticed in their market that influences how they practice in the field; we’re grateful for all the delicious snippets of knowledge they shared with us. This then allowed me to reflect on and connect the broader field and offer some references to valid evidence to support what resulted in the 2015 list of the 9.5 important ways to raise the standards of coaching.

In a nutshell our way ahead is to individually share case studies of our professional practice and stories of our personal development. It is only through these important contributions can we really broaden and deepen our understanding of how we are giving personal attention through coaching that helps with raising a human’s potential. What we do is more than just the theory or models, and we need to be more confident in ourselves and share the real benefits of coaching. What follows are the 9.5 reasons for why this is important (a few may even consider these as strategic issues of the coaching sector!).

   1. Coaching as a field will continue to grow. It will become even more grounded when it is seen as a means to an end rather than an end to a means.

Coaching is part of human evolution; it will continue to grow and slowly mature into its full potential of ‘getting the best out of each human'. Understanding how and where coaching can be best applied and get optimal returns is important. Case studies are slowly beginning to emerge and shared with the broader community  in particular segments of practice for e.g. Onboarding, Transitioning to senior levels of responsibility, Returning from extended leave i.e. maternity leave and Leadership. Here’s an example of positive evidence:

"Changes in staff attitude surveys that can be related back to coaching interventions can be powerful –  GlaxoSmithKline has generated convincing positive evidence of coaching impact through their global staff survey by comparing leadership impacts in the teams of those coached with those not coached[1]."

The way ahead: We need to encourage more case studies to be shared and exchanged that documents the benefits and limitations of how coaching contributes towards ‘getting the best out of each person’.

   2. There is a need to both increase the amount of coaching being done and raise awareness of the benefits of coaching.

Coaching is part of a portfolio career:

  • some will work full time in coaching that includes training and supervision,

  • some will be offering to coach in addition to their usual technical role,

  • some will be providing coaching in addition to or as an integral part of their role as manager and/or leader,

  • whilst many others will be doing coaching without realising that it is coaching.

In the mainstream coaching market, and within the current narrow definition of coaching, it's perceived to be a tough and competitive market. There seem to be far more qualified coaches and more demand for (and possibly availability of) coaches coming from a senior corporate background who have moved into coaching. They bring their vast experiences with them and a style (a more directive approach) based on how they've evidenced varying levels of positive impact from their coaching shaped by their operational experience within particular contexts and conditions.

A growing conundrum for professional bodies and ‘qualified' coaches particularly when or who is defining who is the client and/or market, and in what ways are they actually making coaching work. Are the current self-assessed qualifications enough to differentiate and decide who fits into the role(s) of a professional coach, and whom should be excluded? Possibly not. Also, fresh graduates from various programs (academic through to training schools) with some work experience have graduated and seeking work in this field, and looking to work with or alongside other experienced coaches.

The way ahead: We need to pay attention for the talent in coaching - what is the pipeline?

  2.5 Don't be surprised when your target market hasn't heard of coaching and start from the remedial end! 

Although many people and organisations haven't heard of coaching, the idea of coaching is being spread from reports and those who work, or have worked, in multi-national corporations and have offices in different parts of the country and world (for example Germany, India, France, Hong Kong, China, US).

Opportunities to introduce coaching skills and attributes regarded as an increasingly important part of daily management and leadership. This has resulted in an increase in demand for coaching skills training for managers provided that part of the formal learning process in leadership development programmes. They should typically involve ‘on the job’ projects, either that individuals identify themselves, or projects that a team of 'learners' work on and share back that should include not only the business outcomes but learning points. This is a growing trend.

The way ahead: Coaching isn’t sacred. There are plenty of opportunities for engaging in delivering coaching across the whole organisation at all levels (front line through to the CEO). It’s knowing when coaching serves the purpose.

   3. Listen to the market. Sponsors of coaching evaluate the outputs delivered from coaching – it's too variable!

Companies, in particular large corporates, are sophisticated users of coaching, and they are questioning the limitations of self-appointed qualifications and accreditations. The competency models used for training coaches is limited in delivering consistently reliable outputs, and this has resulted in one of the big four accounting firms, PwC[2], leading their own way to develop "a set of global coaching standards, using the UK firm's practices as a benchmark for the rest of the world." While Deloitte[3] ditto are "Bringing together member firms with mature coaching cultures in other countries, with the UK firm, to drive consistency and best practice using Deloitte University in EMEA". They are no longer endorsing any professional body.  Or the Learning and OD Manager from the Royal College of Nursing reporting that "the ILM provides a possible alternative route to accreditation, one that is less demanding and more appropriate in scale than EMCC[4] "

The way ahead: Sponsors are developing and building best practice of evaluating how coaching works best in their organisation. They have the data. We need to pay attention as they’ll dictate the market in the future.

   4. Internal coaching, mainly applied as part of their strategic risk management, is on the rise in effective organisations. It takes time, effort, careful planning, and adequate resources.

The more mature companies who have received external coaching and moved beyond the scope of it being simply a purchasing decision, and particularly after the 2008 financial crisis, they are taking coaching in-house. Organisations developing their internal cadre of coaching have demonstrated this to be a cost-conscious solution, as well as helping to retain longer the talent and motivation of various employees who are driven to expand their role laterally. There are many strategies for building an internal coaching group (see 1), the most popular being coaches who typically do individual coaching sessions as an addition to their ‘day job' and frequently outside regular working hours.

In the current market (see 3) internal coaching can be regarded as a threat to external coaches. The reality though is that it raises the profile standards and practice of coaching because they understand the environment their clients work in, and they can strategically find ways to pilot coaching interventions and demonstrate the benefits to the organisation in their own language. In effect, internal coaching can scale the practice of coaching within bounded conditions and its nuances. And the needs of the organisation that seeks diversity, an appropriate level of independence and specialism that matches the individual, who chooses to participate or assigned to coaching, will most likely drive the balance of internal and external executive coaches. 

The way ahead: Internal coaching has an amazing contribution to take coaching forward. Can we create a forum (pow wow) for exchanging coaching stories and practices with each other? 

   5. Articulating the benefits received as a result of coaching that impacts the needs of organisations is not a straightforward process.

Appropriating the accounting performance measure of ROI may be more of a marketing hyperbole that comes from coaches (mainly external) that are seeking to justify their work quickly to sponsors. The limitations of correctly executing ROI is the difficulty in isolating those factors that contribute to the impacts from coaching, and the capacity to articulate what it is that has positively resulted in tangible shifts from behavioural changes.

Like any consultant/freelance, it always takes more time to build relationships and reputation with the sponsor to delivering coaching itself. When that opportunity arises, and repeatedly, the sponsor is explicitly delegating to the coaches how their coaching can benefit the individual with personal attention, placebo or not, within their strategy.  Established Internal Coaching functions report[5] that whilst "Robust coaching evaluation processes are in place…none is relying on data from evaluations to justify continued investment in coaching as there exists an underlying belief in all firms that the investment in internal coaching provides excellent value".

The way ahead:Evaluating the impacts from coaching needs to be shared and validated by the sponsors (not purchasers) in the language of the client and how they relate the positives for the individual, team, function, and the organization because they typically know how the ripple effect of the impacts (behavioural) relate to performance. The question is more; how or what ways can these stories be shared that demonstrates and evidences the validity of practice for the individual coach?

   6. A lack of consensus building of what is Coaching

Coaching is neither a legally regulated nor a controlled term that is bequeathed to a profession; hence the continual confusion of what any coach actually does in the marketplace. For example from the professional services coaching assignments have been used to outplace leaders and they have been used to help obliquely the ‘unhappy/high potential' few who stay and/or promoted to cope with all the burden and pressure that falls on their shoulder as ‘high potential coaching/middle management coaching/leadership coaching/C-suite coaching' to deliver results. Coaching can thus be packaged as a form of developing potential as managers' move into a more senior position that typically is the merging of a number of positions, and becoming an acceptable part of the Learning & Development portfolio that is increasingly observed to becoming more popular in large organisations to have senior management sponsorship. 

The way ahead: Contradictions exist in how full human potential can be reached and in what condition. Let’s clarify what are the purposes of coaching and what outcomes can be expected that lets the public and clients know that they can trust a coaching professional. From there, perhaps then we can start building a definition for coaching.

   7. A scarcity of a body of knowledge to demonstrate and evaluate the conditions for, and impacts from, coaching

Since the International Coaching Research Forum held in Dublin 2007, according to an interview[6] with Lew Stern

"[From the 100 topics proposed] from 2008 to 2012, more than 100 studies total in more than 80 journals where they were published. In those peer-reviewed journals, there were only basically 100 studies in five years having to do with what goes on in coaching, and a little over 40 about outcomes and not quite 30 about coaching in organizations. There were about 20 articles about coaching versus other helping practices and how they differ."

Where does knowledge come from in a new field like coaching? From the coaches themselves. The experiences of how practitioners create and sustain themselves in their market, and how they create the conditions for coaching is the first place for researchers to investigate (perhaps even using participant observation as an approach), and then understand more of how the bricolage of tools (coach training) are being applied in the various situations and contexts. Perhaps as coaches, and through our professional life, we're too used to the notion of the expert having all the answers and have less confidence in ourselves. A delicate balance obviously has to be drawn between being confident and overconfident (guru like) and really consider and understand how what we do intuitively can be explored and grounded in more details and facts.

The way ahead: Understanding the cause and effect of coaching is not a perfect science. However, it shouldn't stop us to apply the approaches more to understand more of how we do what we do and at the same time continually increase our self-awareness.

   8. Understanding how coaching is brokered

Winning organisational contracts typically requires independent executive coaches to work with a number of different associations – coaching consultancies through to management consultants (small, medium and large). It's even less clear what opportunities are available for independent contractors working directly with SMEs, and even MNCs, compared to solopreneurs/freelancers.

And this leads to an important question, in order to safeguard the field, what type of coaching contracts/agreements alongside the selection process (similar qualifications, accreditation, assessment centres, interviews) are being used? What is becoming more noticeable though is a move towards seeking more centralised control in the use of external coaches, rather than senior people going directly to their own preferred individual coach (although this still happens at the top)!

The way ahead: Understanding the various ways and approaches for coaching contracts could lead to a best practice guidelines for all parties involved (that can also be appropriately underwritten).

   9. Coaching supervision needs to move towards fitness to practice focusing on professional development, of which personal development is an essential part of a coach's development. Perhaps CPPD is better placed to encourage fitness to practice.

Coaching supervision, like coaching, lacks any formal definition, and most training programs/academic courses adapt frameworks from other therapeutic backgrounds to focus on developing the mental (including emotional) health of the individual. Borrowing from academia, a supervisor is typically an individual (lecturer/professor) who is a specialist within a particular discipline (single/cross) whose role is to guide and set the standards for students to carry out their research and then present their results to the best advantage. Then the question we as coaches need to ask "What type of supervision is required for healthy individuals that coaches should be working with that meets, at a minimum, fitness to practice professionally?"

While supervision is working on defining what this should be; a more practical and useful approach is to take advantage of something like ‘Continuing Personal and Professional Development' (CPPD) where a small group of peers[7],[8]  (minimum 3 up to 5 people) come together and use the coaching approach to creating a learning environment where they can talk about the challenges of coaching, for starters:

Learning conditions for cppd1.jpg
  • From building a practice through to unique challenges that arise in coaching and find alternative (and most likely trial and tested) ways to manage it

  • Share personal developmental stories that have helped them nudge forward their practice overall,

  • Trial new approaches/technology and understand its strengths and limitations,

  • Compare one's practice and approach and learn from others, where appropriate,

  • Discuss ethical issues and dilemmas,

  • Challenge definitions and understanding what the real boundaries in coaching are.

The way ahead: Create a learning environment for continuing personal and professional development amongst a small group of peers, and share some of the themes and stories with the broader community to also learn from. This way we are building towards and contributing to the practitioner field of knowledge together.

As stated right at the start to keep nudging the field forward we each need to individually share case studies of our professional practice and stories of our personal development. It is only through these important contributions can we really broaden and deepen our understanding of how we are giving personal attention through coaching that helps with raising a human’s potential. How do we continually create the engagement?

  • What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?- Write your comments with us in the comment box

  • Share your thoughts with us and let us know what else should be added to this list - Quickly list 1, 2 or even 3 points in the comments below what should also be covered

  • What would you like to say or contribute towards raising the standard of coaching? - Share your experiences with the broader community through a blog. Click here to find out more.



*I'd like to thank the following practitioners around the world for sharing their thoughts, experiences and opinions with me. Martina Weinberger, Aubrey Rebello, Laurent Terseur, Eamon O'Brien, Lynne Hindmarch, Nicholas Wai, Jeremy Ridge, Sue Young, Doug Montgomery to name just a few.  Any mistakes in this blog are all mine.

References (incl. the good coach blogs)

  • [1] Doug Montgomery's blog

  • [2] Ridler & Co (2014) Case Study: The Development of Internal coaching in the Big Four Accounting Firms, p 17

  • [3] ditto

  • [4] Internal Coaching Group (2015) What is the role of APECS in supporting and promoting Best Practice in Internal Coaching APECS 4th Annual Symposium

  • [5] Ridler & Co (2014) Case Study: The Development of Internal coaching in the Big Four Accounting Firms (pg 14)

  • [6] Lew Stern Interview: Research on Professional Coaching (

  • [7] O'Brien, E., Montgomery, D., and Thackray, Y (2015) Contracting to avoid gossiping APECS 4th Annual Symposium.

  • [8] Young, S and Thackray, Y (2015) How do APECS members realise the value of CPPD: The Quality Proposition that keeps APECS at the Leading Edge. APECS 4th Annual Symposium.


*Calculations for Ratio of coaching to active working population

World Employment Social Outlook Trends 2015 (International Labour Organization)

  • Working Population: ~3000 million

  • Unemployment: ~200million

  • Active Working Population: 2800 million

Target coaching population: 1540 million (~55% excl. Low skilled occupations and non routine manual jobs)

Ratio: 1:15,400 or 0.00006% engaged in coaching.