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What is coaching? 18 stats reveal its potential for massive ROI gains

two coworkers are talking about what is coaching

We’ll go into more statistics later in this post, but coaching has demonstrably positive effects on a business. Consider, for example:

1. 88%: Training and coaching leads to an increase of 88% in productivity, versus 23% from training alone.

2. 46%: of coached respondents rated “coaching by the sales manager” as one of the most effective ways for reinforcing news sales skills. 

3. 17%: The increase in close rates with coaching.

4. 63%: The decrease in expired deals when sales reps are coached more.

5. 73%: Decrease in the days since the last customer interaction by the sales department with increased coaching, thereby improving customer engagement.

6. $7:90: Companies received an average return of $7.90 for every $1 invested in executive coaching.

7. 529%: ROI from executive coaching. 

8. 86%: When training is combined with coaching, individuals increase their productivity by an average of 86% compared to 22% with training alone.

9. 21-40%: Of Fortune 500 companies use executive coaching.

10. 80%: Of those coached saw improved self-confidence

11. 73%: saw improved relationships

12. 72% saw improved communication skills

13. 70% saw improved work performance

14. 61% saw improved business management

15. 57% saw improved time management

16. 51% saw improved team performance

17. 788%: ROI on executive coaching in best-case scenarios.

18. 93%: Companies report significantly less turnover when they offer coaching to employees.

Coaching is clearly important to conventional business success, then. But … what is coaching? What constitutes it, and how does it differ from related fields or ideas?

Table of contents
What is coaching, honestly?
What is a coach’s responsibility to a learner or client?
Is coaching thought to work?
What is coaching: The power of realistic expectations
Should your manager at work be a coach or a mentor?
What is coaching: The body vs. the mind
The bottom line on what coaching is

What is coaching, honestly?

Per the relatively-robust Wikipedia for “coaching,” the term can best be defined as “when an experienced person supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.” Seems like the definition you expected, right? We frame this in many different ways, with the two most-discussed probably being sports and business, although there are a myriad of subcategories here, including: health/fitness, religious, career, vocal, relationship, and more.

For historical context, “coaching” in this definition is thought to date to Oxford University in 1830, referring to private tutors who “carry” students through exams, much like a “coach” (i.e. a device commonly attached to a horse) would. 

We’ve recently talked about performance coaching, but now let’s get deeper on the overarching question: What is coaching?

What is a coach’s responsibility to a learner or client?

Per the International Coach Federation, a coach’s responsibility is to:

  • Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
  • Encourage client self-discovery
  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
  • Hold the client responsible and accountable

In the 2007 book Therapist as Life Coach, Institute for Life Coach Training (ILCT) founder Patrick Williams described coaching as such:

“A powerful, human relationship where trained coaches assist people to design their future rather than help them get over their past . . . coaches aid clients in creating visions and goals for ALL aspects of their lives and in creating multiple strategies to support achieving those goals. Coaches recognize the brilliance of each client and their personal power to discover their own solutions when provided with support, accountability, and unconditional positive regard.”

The end goal, or philosophy, behind most coaching approaches is that humans have an untapped reservoir of potential. You can ultimately create the life you want faster through partnership with a coach. 

Coaches can also work on refining aspects of your life relevant to, but not primary among, your core pursuits. For a good example, consider basketball star LeBron James. As a member of a basketball team (currently the Los Angeles Lakers), he plays for the coach hired by the team. At the same time, though, as he described to Tim Ferriss on a podcast, he works with another “coach” / trainer, Mike Mancias. Mancias helps LeBron prepare for games a certain way, including visualizing situations, passes, plays, and the ultimate outcome. Afterwards, he focuses on specific recovery methods, including ice, protein shakes, stretches, etc. Everything is logical and measured. That’s how their specific coaching relationship has evolved. 

Is coaching thought to work?

Absolutely, and data exists to back it up. 

One study from 2014 found that, among individuals who had received coaching:

  • 80% saw improved self-confidence
  • 73% saw improved relationships
  • 72% saw improved communication skills
  • 70% saw improved work performance
  • 61% saw improved business management
  • 57% saw improved time management
  • 51% saw improved team performance

And of those surveyed, 99% indicated that they were “somewhat or fully satisfied with their coaching experience” and 96% said they would do it again.

There has been reported 788% ROI on executive coaching in some cases, and 93% of companies reported significantly less turnover when they offered coaching to employees. (Look at additional employee retention strategies.) Back in 2009, Harvard Business Review found significant ROI from coaching, but did showcase the logical caveat that the right match between client and coach is especially important. You see that in sports all the time with players leaving one franchise for another because of disagreements with coaches. Forbes has also noted, more recently (2019), that 70% of employees who received coaching reported improved work performance.

What is coaching: The power of realistic expectations

Stanford University did some research on closing the achievement gap and helping minority and underprivileged students get into universities. The series of experiments involved 10,000+ incoming college freshmen, and ultimately found that the No. 1 way to bridge this achievement gap was through coaching and mentoring programs. The study’s authors even found a direct connection back to the working world:

“Think about starting a new job. You’re trying to figure out the landscape. It was a really competitive search. You feel fortunate to have gotten the job, but then you’re really worried about whether you’re going to fit in. What happens if you stumble? We all make mistakes on the job, and most of us learn from them and do better the next time. But if you’re not approaching that as being normal, you may start to question whether you’re qualified for the job instead of seeing it as a normal part of how we learn and grow.”:

Coaching, then, can be powerful during the onboarding experience, which is why you often see companies assign a “buddy” to a new employee. While this system has success in showing a new employee the ropes of a place, the problem -- as Harvard Business Review noted in an article about how most managers don’t know how to coach people -- is that, well, most managers aren’t very good at coaching people. To wit:

The biggest takeaway was the fact that, when initially asked to coach, many managers instead demonstrated a form of consulting. Essentially, they simply provided the other person with advice or a solution. We regularly heard comments like, “First you do this” or “Why don’t you do this?”

What’s being described above actually isn’t coaching, but rather, a form of micromanagement. And that brings up another important, not-often-discussed question.

Should your manager at work be a coach or a mentor?

Coaching and mentorship are a little bit different. While both are primarily concerned with achievements in the present and future, mentoring tends to be more far-ranging than simply work. It can involve discussions about deep goals, deep fears, your personal life, and how to handle a wide variety of situations. Coaching can theoretically involve these discussions too, based on the depth of the relationship between coach and client, but tends to be more focused on specific areas, i.e. sales coaching, spiritual coaching, fitness coaching, and the like. 

What should your manager be? That’s an interesting theoretical question. Many managers prefer to be simply “a boss,” which is usually conceptualized as a deadline-setter, train-mover, and motivator (ideally). A coach, which former Facebook/Google executive Kim Scott has likened to a “thought partner,” would be more of a one-on-one relationship where ideas and goals were volleyed back and forth, as opposed to simply one side taking orders and deadlines from the other. 

Ideally a boss would also be a mentor, and help guide the steps of your career and some form of personal growth, but this is challenging for a couple of reasons. First of all, many bosses feel uncomfortable being friends with direct reports (blurred lines), and it’s hard to establish a mentor relationship without some degree of a friendship. Secondly, there’s been a massive decline in official, assigned mentorship programs. You can still find mentors at work organically, of course, as you develop relationships with coworkers and senior leaders. But fewer organizations offer mentorship as an official channel.

Ultimately, then, your boss should be a mix of boss (deadlines and goals, accountability), coach (developing your skills), and mentor (bigger picture of career and life). Most bosses are not all three, but this would be a great intersection if you come across such a person. In reality, people tend to gain different types of knowledge and insight from different figures as they move through a career.

There is some evidence that a coaching leadership style is among the best for managers to assume, however.

What is coaching: The body vs. the mind

In 1997, Timothy Gallwey wrote The Inner Game of Tennis, which is now considered a classic book on motivation and management as well as, well, tennis. Why is this? Because he showed that most issues in tennis are a function of the mind as opposed to the body. In his view, the answer to “what is coaching?” was a person who helps their end client silence their mind. When you silence the mind, it turns out the body is a good judge of where to go and what to do. This is obviously through the prism of a sport (tennis), but it applies in many work contexts as well too. Work is often a series of competing priorities and deadlines, and your mind can get jumbled as a result. If you learn to silence your mind and focus on achievement of tasks instead of the noise, you can become a better professional. Coaching helps get people there. 

The bottom line on what coaching is

Coaching is a process to move you from one level to another, be that professionally or personally, spiritually or emotionally. It takes many forms and has many associated concepts, i.e. consulting, training, mentoring, therapy, but in the end, the overarching idea of what is coaching comes back to helping a person move, grow, learn, and create even more than they were previously.

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