If you are a coach, you are not the only one the client has asked to demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) on coaching dollars. Many of us try different approaches to do this. The most prevalent one being a 360-degree feedback on the executives, a request for a percentage improvement in behaviours, and then an estimation of the impact on their overall performance. I am sure this approach works because I believe that coaching works. However, given my experience in consulting, I often try a slightly different approach to demonstrate tangible results.
As usual, our initial coaching sessions focus on the ‘who’ rather than the ‘what’, and the ‘being’ rather than the ‘doing’. This helps evoke acceptance and generates awareness of new behaviours in the coachee.
Devising action plans around these new behaviours is almost always about seizing an opportunity to practise them. To do this, I invite the coachee to pick a critical ‘business’ project on which they must deliver to further organisational goals. This project becomes a live opportunity to deploy new thinking and behaviours. The coachee can use this project to test their hypotheses around new ways of working and to practise and understand what works and what doesn’t.
In any organisation, such projects, by their very nature, have tangible and measurable outcomes. With the client identifying a live project to work on, we link the success of the coaching intervention to the delivery of a tangible and quantifiable result. If coaching is about facilitating the client’s growth as an individual, employee, and leader, there is no better way to show this than through a live project. The project’s success is evidence that the work done through the coaching engagement delivers demonstrated value to the organisation.
One thought that may be crossing your mind is whether we are overstepping the boundaries of coaching. I don’t think this is the case, as long as we are mindful and ring-fence ourselves within the ethical framework of coaching.
Let me take an example from one of my coaching engagements to explain better what I am suggesting. When I was coaching a senior finance leader, and he became aware of the need to improve his ‘collaboration skills’, he needed a playfield to practise new behaviours. Around the same time, he kicked off a project about ‘improving customer service of the finance function to its internal customers’. He concluded that this would be the perfect opportunity to try new behaviours and to introduce a new way of doing things.
The project was successful. This is, of course, important. However, more significant was the opportunity this project provided to improve his collaboration skills. The project gave the leader an excellent opportunity to initiate new ways of ‘doing’ from the state of his ‘new being’.
Our coaching sessions now focused on the intersection of the ‘new’ competency and the project. I supported the coachee to discover for himself how re-imagined behaviours around collaboration can favourably influence the project’s delivery and results. Some of the questions I asked to help him focus on this intersection of ‘collaboration skills’ and ‘improve customer service of the finance function to its internal customers’ were along the following lines:
• How can you work cooperatively with others across the organisation to achieve significant improvement in customer service levels? For this to happen, who would you require to be in your role?
• What is possible for you to achieve ‘together’, which none of you can achieve by yourselves? How would you do that?
• How can you leverage your resources and interests (functional mindset) while being fair to others and their requirements concerning customer service?
• What could you do as a leader to facilitate an open dialogue with various contributors and stakeholders relevant to this project? How will you need to turn up to be that kind of a leader?
• What could you do to promote higher visibility of shared contributions for this project? How are you showing up currently and how should you be showing up from your stakeholders’ point of view?
• How would you balance being collaborative, yet realistic (and a little stretched) with your commitments on service levels?
• What kind of collaboration can you build within your function to deliver on improved and agreed-to levels of customer service?
• What could you do to onboard your team in the early part of this exercise and leverage all your external stakeholders to co-create the journey towards improved customer service (rather than this being an individual or a functional project)?
It is true that organisations often talk about behaviours, but we should not forget that what they value is outcomes. Behaviours are valuable for organisations only if these help them deliver higher and better outcomes. Live projects should be seen as a playfield for the leader being coached to use their new behaviours to drive better outcomes, and hence, should be seen as an intrinsic part of any coaching engagement.
Focussing on the ‘who’ rather than the ‘what’, and the ‘being’ rather than the ‘doing’
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The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organization leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.
In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.
The author, Sandeep Jain, ACC, is a finance professional by qualification with diverse experience in finance and business leadership roles in multiple geographies across the Asia Pacific. He has worked in industry segments such as FMCG, media, pharmaceuticals and lifestyle products. He is now based in Delhi NCR, and runs his consultancy outfit, Value-Unlocked Private, which operates in the strategy consulting and leadership-development space. Jain is a Marshall Goldsmith Certified Coach, Peter Hawkins Certified Systemic (and team) Coach, ACC Credentialed Coach, ICF Member, Qualified NLP practitioner and a certified HOGAN Assessor.