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Performance Coaching

What is Coaching and Why Does it Work?
If you haven't tried any type of performance coaching before - life, career, executive, or business - you may wonder why coaching works.  I know I did.  Until I got coached myself, coaching was just another idea I really wanted to believe in, but I could not feel, in my daily life and experience, the truth of it.

You will probably wonder all the more if you have never had any kind of coach, not even an athletic coach, at a high level of performance and competition - or if it was just a long, long time ago.  But coaching does work, for athletes like Andre Agassi and Tiger Woods, celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, executives like former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump, and many other business owners and people from all walks of life.

In this article, we'll look at an overview of the benefits of coaching and then turn to some recent studies of the eye-opening return on investment of coaching.  Then we'll briefly see why coaching works so well, and summarize the many professions and skills from which coaching draws its power.  Finally, we'll look at the twin pillars of coaching's effectiveness, commitment and accountability, before turning to the really interesting stuff:  some real-life examples of how coaching compares to a do-it-yourself approach.

Some Benefits of Coaching
Coaching Provides Clarity and Support in Transitions
Recent Studies Into Coaching's Value
Introduction to Why Coaching Works
Coaching Synthesizes Many Professions and Techniques
The First Pillar of Coaching is Its Commitment to Your Expanded Awareness
Coaching Works Because It Makes You Accountable - To Yourself, To Others

The benefits of coaching are as varied as the ways in which people can change. So any list of benefits is already a very partial one.  But here's a list that will get you going for now.

Some Benefits of Coaching

 Attain greater clarity on what you want, whose values you're expressing, and where you want to go - three things you must know to get anywhere. 

 Get your daily, weekly, and monthly actions aligned with your longer-term vision, your values, passions, and strengths, and your desired career, so that you can consistently move closer to the kind of life and work you want.

  Get unbiased and objective insight, guidance, and feedback - a real sounding board.

 Become accountable to yourself and your goals, organized, and focused, so you can move forward decisively.

 Become more efficient, effective, and productive at home and work.

 Gain a fuller experience of personal and professional fulfillment and balance.

 Gain a sense that you are finally living the life you were meant to live.

Coaching Provides Clarity and Support in Transitions

Coaching supports clients in identifying and then doing what they really want to do in their lives and careers, their businesses and professions. For most of us, that's the hard part: we don't even know what we want to do or we don't know how to get there, or we need a bit of help in unearthing the courage we already have. But if it's fear that keeps you from admitting that you already know where you want to be, a coach is a stalwart ally in confronting and overwhelming the fears that hold you back. A coach will help to open up a space in which you are free to brainstorm openly about what you really want. And we'll also provide or suggest useful tools like self-assessments, state-of-the-art personality and workstyle tests, or journaling.

These are all just words, you might say.  Marketing-speak.  I shared your skepticism. When I founded my first coaching firm I knew I didn't want to adopt a sales mentality. Too many people sell to make money and not because their product or service provides real value.  I needed to know coaching was real.  In my own coaching and my colleagues' coaching, we saw how real it was.  And then the studies began pouring in. I'll focus on a few here.

Executives and HR managers know coaching is the most potent tool for inducing positive personal change, ensuring better-than-average odds of success and making the change stick for the long term.

The Ivy Business Journal, September-October 2000

Recent Studies Into Coaching's Value

Two milestone studies of the effectiveness of coaching for executives have showed returns on investment in excess of 500%.  In other words, for every $1 a client paid out, the client received in return (or saved, which was the same thing) an astonishing $5.  A rate of return of 500% is unheard-of in business.  For comparison, consider the 12% annual return of the stock market as a whole.  That may well be because businesses usually measure metrics other than the ever-surprising human will and the individual's capacity for change and growth.

Businesses measure things less flexible, malleable, changeable, and powerful than what's inside each of us.  If you can't believe in coaching, it may well be that you don't believe in the power of the will and mind generally - or perhaps just your own.  This series of lessons, and the free coaching sessions we offer, could do much to change that.

In one of the studies, by Manchester, Inc., the return on investment of coaching was calculated at 5.7 times the investment.  (1/4/2001 Survey Results).  In the second study, a Fortune 500 company saw a very similar return on investment of 528% (5.28x).  The Fortune 500 company and Pyramid Resource Group, a coaching services company, had engaged MetrixGlobal LLC to determine the business benefits and return on investment of a coaching program for executives.  The Fortune 500 firm had launched an innovative leadership development effort that was expected to accelerate the development of next generation leaders.  The participants in the study were drawn mostly from the ranks of middle managers and from many different business units and functional areas.

The study's authors concluded:

Coaching sessions were rich learning environments that enabled the learning to be applied to a variety of business situations. Decision-making, team performance and the motivation of others were enhanced. Many of these business applications contributed annualized financial benefits. Other applications created significant intangible benefits.

Overall, the participants appreciated their coaching experiences and would highly recommend coaching to others.

The people who got coached commended coaching for:

A "significant or very significant" impact on at least 1 of 9 business measures (77%)

Increasing productivity (either personally or for their work group) (60%)

Increasing annualized financial benefits due to increased productivity (50%)

Increasing employee satisfaction (53%)

Increasing customer satisfaction (53%)

Increasing work output (30%)

Increasing work quality (40%)

There is something important to keep in mind about these studies.  Again, both of the studies above focused only on measurable returns.  They did not include what the authors called the "significant intangible benefits" that coaching offers but that resist measurement - benefits most of us want even more than, say, higher compensation or business profits.  So the actual ROI is even higher than what was measured: intangibles such as self-confidence, better working habits, work-life balance, fulfillment.

We want happiness, and we want the enormous relief of making decisions, at last.  Nor did the studies quantitatively measure the value of the increased employee retention that resulted from the coaching - or the value of the increased job satisfaction experienced by the people who got coached.

Similarly impressive results came in a survey by the International Coaching Federation, which found that over 98% of surveyed corporate coaching clients found coaching to be a valuable investment.  The way that sophisticated corporations have flocked to coaching is evidence enough:

Six out of 10 (59%) organizations currently offer coaching or other developmental counseling to their managers and executives. . . . Another 20% of organizations said they plan to offer such coaching within the next year. . . . In addition, one-quarter (25%) of organizations have already set up formal mentoring programs, with another 25% planning to do so within the next 12 months.

-- Manchester, Inc. 3/99 Survey Results based on a nationwide survey of over 300 companies.

General Electric, Sony and Johnson & Johnson use coaches.  Ernst & Young will spend $2 million this year on them.  Hewlett-Packard . . . spend(s) a lot of time finding coaches for hundreds of employees.

-- Forbes Magazine, March 6, 2000)

No similar studies have been done on life coaching for individuals, no doubt in part because individuals lack the need or the financial resources to conduct extensive studies on themselves.  Another reason is that a human life has fewer quantifiable metrics by which one could measure coaching.  Where to start?  Stress reduced? Potentially explosive conflicts avoided?  Health and longevity benefits of exercise programs begun?  Healthier food eaten?  More satisfying careers targeted?

Indeed, we're often unhappy precisely because we've been living our lives according only to what we and others can measure: money, status, hours, things, etc.  And because the techniques of coaching are consistent from executive coaching to life coaching, and coaching executives has little more to do with pure business than life coaching does, there's no reason to think the ROI in life coaching, if it were measurable, would be much different.

The fact is, in coaching, clients' lives change dramatically. At Feroce, time and again we have witnessed results like those discussed above. How does this happen? One could write books on the subject, but here I will elaborate on a few high-level reasons.

Introduction to Why Coaching Works

Coaching fundamentally works because the client wants it to.  Coaches simply leverage the desire of the client so that it becomes even more effective.  So coaching is first and foremost about the intent and will of the client.  The client must be ready; better yet, raring to go.  This is one major distinction between coaching on the one hand and consulting on the other:  your consultant can succeed in large part without your commitment to what he is doing.  Because he's the one doing it.  Coaching is do-it-yourself, but with a crucial difference.  A do-it-yourself manual will not kick you in the figurative butt, request a due date, toast to your own talents and successes, or gently prod you out of your own way.

In the broadest sense, coaching works because a good coach fulfills several human fundamentals:

 The need for an ally or partner on one's path, particularly during challenging times. Just as a corporation has a Board of Directors for advice and counsel, and powerful people have managers, chiefs of staff, coaches, or PR agents, we can all use a partner.

 The need to be and feel understood - and empowered and self-forgiving because of it.

 The facilitation of insight and awareness into what drives us, both negative or positive.

  The curious but true value of receiving permission to change and support and backing in that change, even from a (credible) near-stranger, particularly when you fear that changing could mean growing away from old friends or work colleagues who are threatened by the change or were, like you, addicted to your old behaviors. (You can learn more on how we get addicted and recover from other Feroce writings and from the coaching itself.)

 The tremendous power of commitment and accountability, wherein a person wanting something must strive harder for it because of a promise simultaneously made to one's self and another (that is, a promise or commitment extracted by a coach).

There are many tools and talents coaches use to facilitate the client's desire for change. Coaching is a profession built upon many others. Techniques drawn from business strategy, psychological development, and motivational theory are just a few. But coaches integrate the tools in a way that the professions from which we've borrowed do not.

Coaching Synthesizes Many Professions and Techniques

Coaching is a synthesis of the most effective techniques of its predecessors, which include:

solid business and consulting skills - best practices in identifying core competencies, goal-setting, planning, reverse-engineering strategy and tactics based on the desired goal, analysis, follow-up, accountability, deadlines


many of the more effective aspects of the healing arts, from the psychoanalyst's attitude of "unconditional positive regard" and to meditator's listening posture of "non-judgmental awareness", and:

- cognitive-behavioral therapy

- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

- existential philosophy and psychology

organizational development

leadership temperaments and techniques

sports psychology

motivational theory

entrepreneurship and marketing best practices

experience with the course of human beings' personal development and transformation

spirituality and ancient wisdom traditions

Wow!  Now you begin to see that for coaches, coaching is not something they just do during the day.  It's a way of thinking and being in the world.

The First Pillar of Coaching is Its Commitment to Your Expanded Awareness

If, once the client's intent is already strong, there is a single reason for the effectiveness of life coaching - for it does appear to be more effective in yielding measurable results than similarly person-centered fields such as psychotherapy - that reason could well be the power of a relationship of commitment.  The coach is committed to the client, and the client is committed to the coach, and by extension to herself, to work with the coach to expand her awareness of both how she's stuck and what talents she has to call upon to get unstuck.

Unlike in therapy or even consulting, you can have a relationship with a coach seven days a week, at most hours of the day.  A therapist says "goodbye" after your 50 minutes are up; you can brainstorm and complain and ask for feedback from a coach on email, or instant messenger, or even in emergency calls.

The client commits to making decisions she's never made and to setting and sticking to real action toward her goals.  The only possible result of decisions and actions is this: change and progress.  She also commits to greater awareness of her self, her patterns, her negative self-talk, the unconscious anchors preventing progress toward goals, her self-limiting thinking, her career, her relationships - her situation.  Personal power comes to you through greater awareness of where you are stuck.

This power of commitment is built on the social reinforcement of people wanting to be who they say they are, and to do what they say they're going to do.  In other words, coaching takes your own innate honesty and good will and magnifies it for your benefit.  If you tell a coach you will do something - and coaches often gently insist you tell them what action you'll take between sessions - you will very often get it done. Imagine that!  That's a benefit. T hat's a real ROI.

Contrast that with the way life normally passes you by. "Sorry I haven't returned your email in three months.  I really meant to, but I got busy, and then it slipped out of view in my folder, and then work got really crazy . . ."  "Oh, that self-help book.  Yeah, I read through the first few chapters.  Then my sister visited and the dog got sick and I found another book that I hope to read soon, once all these projects at work are over."

This is life without a coach.  It's more disorderly, and progress, when it happens at all, comes in fits and starts.  And it takes much longer to get where you want to go, if you get there at all.  Hiring a coach means you have that unique form of self-awareness and discipline that enables you to say, "I know I'm not disciplined enough to do this on my own, but I am disciplined enough to hire someone to help me do it."

Social Contract.  So coaching relies on one of the most powerful forces in the world: the power of the social contract and commitment.  For the same reason that public marriage vows tend to keep people together longer than they would in its absence, for the same reason we try harder to keep New Year's resolutions we have shared with others, coaching is effective because you have made a promise to someone other than yourself - it's a public contract.

Closely related to commitment, in the success rate of coaching, is this fact: coaching is collaborative.  It is two people working in concert toward the same goal.  What power can be harnessed in two or more wills trained on the same object!  And the coach's will is what keeps you accountable to your own.

Coaching Works Because It Makes You Accountable - To Yourself, To Others

Though therapy and coaching can use similar skills at times, they have very different means and goals - including the setting of goals in the first place.  If you hire a therapist, you are unlikely to set any quantifiable goals (often with valid reason); at the most specific, you may say you want something such as self-understanding, or to feel better, or to have more balance and quality in your lifestyle. (You also don't typically go to a therapist when you are feeling well and simply want personal development or greater success in all areas of life.)

Yet without goals, you will not only lack any vision of where you are going, you will have no yardsticks by which to hold yourself accountable. And the undemanding nature of the psychotherapeutic relationship dictates that most therapists will not usually try to hold you to any goals. Which is as it should be, in therapy.

But sociologists and business experts who deal in goal theory know this lack of accountability is the surest recipe for failure in meeting one's goals. If you're looking for a coach, failure isn't on your agenda, and so neither should be a lack of accountability to success.

If you have ever hired a personal trainer, or found a workout partner, you know that the difference between sitting at home watching the telly and sporting a new waist, abs, or cardiovascular fitness is this: you know that every day you are supposed to be at the gym, there will be someone there who has prepared for your workout and gotten there before you. You hire a personal coach, or a trainer, because you suspect you may not have the discipline or technique to get there by yourself, but you do know you have the integrity and sense of honor that will not allow you to let others down - nor yourself, once you have made a pledge, "publicly," in a sense, to that one other person. You'll be there. You'll get it done.

Coaches can create accountability in many ways:

by extracting a commitment from you to the coach to take specific action by specific deadlines

by asking you to commit to another person

by having you check in by email with updates

by making spot-coaching calls or emails to check in with you

by handing out homework like subjective self-assessments (such as in our Strategic Life Planning Handbook) or journaling

and many more . . .

Coaching leverages that power of commitment for results you simply can't get any other way - or, if you could get the results, you're likely to take several times as long (and vent far more frustration).

We could give you a few examples.  For now, let's talk about one common use of coaching: to ease and accelerate transitions.

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