What’s the number, today! By Yvonne Thackray


Elevating numbers as a target in their own right, as part of a separate strategy without questioning or critiquing how or what is possible, has shifted us, albeit unconsciously, to behave in a way that seems normal. Like any language, talking through numbers is yet another example of communication.

Numbers then, and now, have been a way to keep account of and inform one to make better decisions – and current scientific management is being taken to a partial conclusion that has metamorphosed the intention of a number. It has been elevated to the stratosphere of how we should be leading our lives and livelihood that seems though not fully connected to reality because it’s an objective.

Simply linking it to the Enlightenment period has created a level of connection that has been taken out of context of that time period where the social-cultural needs were different, although it’s questionable whether as humans we have really advanced any further.

Following on from my blog last month, it became evident that the benefits that can be derived from executive coaching (in all its different guises or approaches – limited or sophisticated) are shown to ‘add-value’ when the changes can be measured relative to something specific like an organisational and/or government target in which results can be both tangible e.g. increase in sales, weight loss and intangibles e.g. happiness, trust, quality of relationship – and observed via objective measurements e.g. scaling, ROI or subjective observations e.g. intuitive observations of change.

Demonstrating the value of executive coaching in the marketplace; there has been an explosion in the field of coaching particularly with the government’s new indices around well-being (see blog), and the science of happiness. Happiness has, for some, turned from a virtue that is experienced (a typical philosophical debate) to something that can be objectified (a scientific debate) via numbers. Advances in science are an important part of progress, however elevating them before any certainty can be validated can be the ‘bust and boom’ of latent potential.

Coupled with this is the rise of experts in the field that have moved from informing and serving society by protecting “the less knowledgeable members of society[1]” to that of a dominant profession who now tells society what must be considered as having value versus what is considered of having little or no value.  Scales et al[2] describes it as”the ideas of ‘entry’ to the professions being dependent on specialist knowledge and skills, professional autonomy, authority and altruism. Professionalism also implied virtuous behaviour; the much lampooned phrase, ‘Trust me, I’m a professional’, was probably once said without irony.”(2011).

For example, In Britain the overall costs of mental health disorders to the economy (i.e. workplace absence, reduced productivity, medical costs) is estimated at £110 billion per year[3]. Economist Richard Layard in 2007 presented a business case for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) whereby it would save the UK government money by its demonstrations that its ‘express’ treatment and apparent success rate helped keep people in work[4]. This resulted in the creation of the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies, and escalated the rise in the number of therapists trained in only one approach and employed by the National Health Services. And in 2014, the government announced that disability benefit claimants could have their payment stopped if they refused to attend sessions of CBT. Underpinning this type of government intervention is the belief that regardless of the individual’s need (employed/unemployed) the “aim is to restore their self-belief and optimism with ruthless efficiency[5]”. And as Davies (2015) points out the solution is also being reached through a ‘range of coaching programmes’ though he doesn’t expand further on what he means here.

Numbers and experts are dominating society. It is unclear whether this is for better or worse – at the end of the day it’s all relative in our democratic society. Without a doubt there is value in demonstrating the benefits from coaching on principle – moreover though how, why and for serving whom. Understanding how coaching as a tool can provide support towards the achievement of something rather than as a monist solution with self-certified competencies will help with moving executive coaching towards a credible profession is a way forward. How we go about implementing it as we contract with our clients will depend on how we choose to intervene in the market against the backdrop of government regulation.

[1] Illich et al (2011) Disabling Professions.

[2] Scales et al (2011) Continuing Professional Development in the Lifelong Learning Sector.

[3] Royal College of Psychiatrists et al. (2011) Mental Health and the Economic Downturn: National Priorities and NHS Solutions

[4] Layland et al (2007) Cost-Benefit Analysis of Psychological Therapy.

[5] Davies W. (2015) The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being