Evaluating Effectiveness of Leadership Coaching

by Deborah Bell

As Vice President, Consulting, Deborah conducts assessments, manages consulting projects, and designs and delivers custom solutions. She enjoys building relationships with her clients and uncovering their needs so she can serve as a trusted adviser and business partner.

Leadership Coaching is used by more than 70% of organizations and has been shown to yield impressive ROI (up to 778% in one study). Source Yet a recent survey indicated that demonstrating the effectiveness of coaching programs remains one of the biggest challenges for organizations Source.  One good source of information that can provide guidance into how to measure outcomes of coaching is scientific research in the field of psychology.  So, we reviewed three independent meta-analytic studies that investigated the relationship between coaching and various work-related outcomes.  

First, let’s look at the Coaching Process Variables and Outcome Variables that were investigated, as these can serve as decision-making criteria when designing a coaching program for your organization.

Coaching Process Variables

  1. Participated in Coaching: Yes or No
  2. Coaching Approach: Single approaches (e.g., cognitive behavioral, positive psychology, solution-focused, GROW) or Integrated approaches (e.g., cognitive behavioral and solution-focused)
  3. Coaching Frequency: < 5 sessions OR 5 or more sessions
  4. Coaching Modality: Face-to-Face, virtual, hybrid
  5. Multi-Rater Feedback: Used as an input into the coaching engagement or not used

Outcome Variables

  1. Affective: self-efficacy, psychological well-being, burnout
  2. Work Attitudes: work engagement, job satisfaction, intentions to leave
  3. Skills/Performance: subjective (self and others’ ratings on specific behaviors/skills) and objective (e.g., revenue brought in from sales)
  4. Goal Attainment: Achievement of the specific goals established at the start of coaching

Key Findings and Practical Implications

Participating in Coaching:

  • had a large effect on Skills/Performance and Goal Attainment outcomes
  • had a moderate effect on Affective and Work Attitude outcomes

This is no surprise, but confirms that Coaching has a positive impact on multiple outcomes. 

Take-away:  Include metrics from each of the 4 categories pre- and post- coaching to show the impact.

Coaching Approach: 

  • An Integrated approach had a considerably larger effect on outcomes compared to a single approach methods.

Take-away:  When vetting coaches, ask what approaches they use and listen for a blend of psychologically-informed approaches (e.g., Cognitive-behavioral and solution-focused).   

Coaching Frequency:

  • The positive effect of coaching on Affective and Goal Achievement outcomes can be achieved in <5 sessions with no significant increase with additional sessions.

  • The positive effect of coaching on Skills/Performance and Work Attitudes increases considerably when 5 or more sessions are conducted.  One hypothesis is that people who have more serious problems with performance or attitudes may have been contracted for more sessions and, because of the severity of the issues, it took longer to turn around their performance or attitudes.

Take-away:  Consider your desired outcomes for each coachee when determining how many sessions to include.

Coaching Modality

  • The overall effect of coaching was similar for face-to-face and hybrid (face-to-face and phone) models.  There were not enough studies with phone only or video-conference only to investigate.

Take-away:  In-person, face-to-face coaching is not needed to achieve positive outcomes.  When possible, give options to the coachees by allowing them to select which model is most comfortable for them.


Multi-Rater Feedback (MRF)

  • When MRF was used as an input into coaching, the coaching was considerably less effective than when MRF was not an input into the process.   The researchers hypothesized that the subjective nature of multi-rater feedback can evoke emotional responses and serve as a distraction that depletes cognitive resources needed to focus on the coaching process.  

Take-away:  Carefully consider how multi-rater feedback as been used in your organization, how well-received it has been, and whether the risks outweigh the payoff.  If you do use it as an input, consider administering it several months before the coaching engagement along with a debrief to help the person process the information prior to meeting with the coach. This is particularly important when the coaching process includes psychometric assessments, as the objectivity of those serve as a strong starting point for discussion at the outset of the coaching engagement. 

Interested in PCI’s Coaching Services?

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