New coachee study reveals the barriers to effective coaching

Newsletter articles

1 Sep 2014

HR Insight Issue 19

Alison Carter, IES Associate Fellow

Most existing surveys are of the views of the coach, but this study, by the College of Business, Law & Governance at James Cook University (Australia) and the Institute for Employment Studies (UK), surveyed 644 industry professionals from 34 countries, who either had received or were currently receiving coaching. The researchers found that 89 per cent of coachees found coaching to be effective, while just 11 per cent said it was of limited use.

However, successful outcomes require confidence in the coach. The research found that the biggest single predictor of less effective coaching was difficulties with the coach. In addition, women are almost twice as likely as men to report the organisational culture as a barrier, particularly an unsupportive boss.

The findings have been published as two papers within the conference proceedings from 4th EMCC Research conference held last month in Paris.

Barriers to successful coaching infographic

Alison Carter, Associate Fellow at IES and co-author of the papers, said:

‘We have empirically confirmed what everyone already ‘knew’: that coaching works. But the process of being coached is tough and not all employees expect this. We found that not all coachees are willing to put in the effort that is required.

‘There is a widespread belief amongst coaches that 'barriers' are nothing to worry about: barriers are just issues that become part of the coaching conversation and the coach helps the coachee to overcome them. We were not satisfied with this and decided to find out how many coachees perceive they face barriers, which were the most commonly encountered, and which, if any, might adversely affect successful outcomes from their coaching.’

Anna Blackman, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and co-author of the papers said:

‘Business coaching has become a popular tool for human resource management with a number of advocates making a variety of claims about its benefits and practice. Despite its popularity, until recently there has been little published systematic empirical research into business coaching. This study clarified factors that make coaching effective and should be included in the coaching process.

‘Our findings challenge some existing assumptions. According to coachees the most important factors for a coach to have was experience in the coachee’s industry, being honest and communicating clearly. This contradicts the assumptions of many coaches that industry experience is not necessary.’

This is the first time IES and James Cook University (JCU) have collaborated on HR research. Drs Anna Blackman and Alison Carter met at EMCC conference two years ago where they were both presenting findings of previous research studies. They realised they shared a common desire to test out empirically the various claims made about coaching in work settings. Following the enormous success of this international study the organisations expect to collaborate again on other topics.

There are many claims and myths about coaching outcomes that have been made by coaches and coaching associations. As a result of their study from the coachee perspective, IES and JCU plan a series of papers to confirm or debunk these myths.

The initial findings were presented at the EMCC Research Conference at Cergy-Pontoise University on 26-27 June 2014.The papers were recently published in the Book of Conference Proceedings from 4th EMCC Research Conference, Megginson D & Lindall P (Eds), by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), which can be purchased via the EMCC website:

Future papers will present evidence about successful coaching outcomes in terms of organisational support, coaching context, and the characteristics of a successful coach.