2018 Research: Intro, Methodology, High Level Findings

This is the first of a series of blog posts in which we will be releasing chapters from our 2018 Executive Coaching Research Study. In this post, we feature the Introduction, Study Methodology, and High-Level Findings. We plan on releasing the full report, chapter by chapter, over the course of 2018-2019. To be informed of the release of future chapters, please subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address below:

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Please note: This material is copyrighted by CoachSource, LLC.


The executive coaching industry has experienced a meteoric rise over the past 15 - 20 years. Originating as a practice mostly in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, the practice quickly spread to other parts of the world, with notable coaching investments now occurring on all 6 continents. Total industry spend estimates vary from $1 billion USD - $5 billon per year (though those numbers are hard to quantify). Findings from this research study predict great future growth in executive coaching – and all its variations – over at least the next 5 years. Coaching still seems to be the fad that won’t quit.

Most practitioners would agree the coaching industry has matured significantly since the “wild west” days (a term applied to the field in 2004). Academic research on the field is thriving. Hiring organizations increasingly know what they want to accomplish via executive coaching, and who they want coached. The standards for what makes for an executive coach are increasingly coalescing. Internal coaches are burgeoning at many organizations. Various associations/federations of coaches are cooperating better than ever before. In fact, during 2017 there were at least 8 major coaching conferences held worldwide.

Executive Coaching for Results is the third study of its kind, first conducted in 2005, and again in 2013. The 2018 version includes responses from over 950 participants, our largest response rate ever. Four different groups were surveyed: organization practice managers, external coaches, internal coaches and executives who received coaching. We hope this third iteration continues to provide great insight into this burgeoning profession.

Two versions of this research are available at www.executivecoaching4results.com. The Summary report covers various key findings and trends in the industry. The Full report is an indepth look at all aspects of the research findings.

Many thanks go out to all of our respondents: participating organizations, internal coaches, external coaches and executives who received coaching.  This study would also not be possible without support from the amazing talent at CoachSource and our valued research partner, Seattle Pacific University.

Feel free to contact us with further inquiries regarding this research.

Brian O. Underhill, Ph.D., PCC
Co-Author, Executive Coaching for Results: The Definitive Guide to Developing Organizational Leaders
Founder & CEO, CoachSource

Study Methodology

The present study replicates and extends findings from High Impact Executive Coaching completed by Executive Development Associates and CoachSource in 2005, as well as from Executive Coaching for Results: Executive Coaching Industry Research completed by CoachSource in 2013. The first study examined the coaching industry from the perspectives of external coaches, executives, and organization practice managers. [While the word “executive” may be used to describe a certain level of role within an organization, we asked all leaders who have been coached, regardless of level, to take our executive survey. We typically considered “executives” to be Director, VP, SVP, and C-level, though that can vary by company. Within this report, we refer to executives as leaders.]  In 2013, the study expanded to also include a fourth perspective from internal coaches.

The present study continued with 2013 practices and surveyed organization practice managers, leaders who are/had been coached, and both internal and external coaches. The research team designed the present study based on the 2005 and 2013 studies, as well as their practical and scientific knowledge of the ever-growing coaching market. The following are enhancements to
the current research:

  • Some questions from 2005 & 2013 were eliminated or modified. Modifications included allowing for a wider variety of answer choices, and changing answer choices based on new and relevant trends.
  • Many new questions were added on topics such as the positive/negative emotions of coaching interactions, attractiveness of coaching biographies, coaching supervision and more.
  • To further unravel potential gender and region differences, data mining was conducted.

Almost 1,000 participants responded, which was a substantial increase from the 2013 response rate of 640. The breakdown of participants by rater type is shown in Figure 1 to the right.

The majority of participants were from the US & Canada (70%), and other areas represented include Latin America/Mexico (LATAM) (2%), Asia Pacific (10%), and Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) (17%); see Figure 2 below.

The result of this research is a comprehensive study that covers the important patterns and trends of the executive coaching industry in 2017 while also drawing comparisons to the results of the 2005 and 2013 research studies.

While year-over-year comparisons are interesting, it is important to note that the data were likely gathered from different raters between years, so natural differences will affect the results. Additionally, when comparing between rater groups, it should be noted that the four rater groups are not necessarily matched to each other. In other words, a leader respondent might not necessarily work at the same organization as the organization respondent. So natural differences can be expected. We encourage the reader to bear these facts in mind when reviewing the present findings.


High Level Findings

The survey and data have provided many meaningful findings about executive coaching. This section highlights some of the key themes from the research.

Growth in executive coaching is expected to continue
Eighty percent of organization practice managers expect external executive coaching to increase over the next 3-5 years (along with 83% of external coaches). Fifty-six percent of practice managers expect to increase their company’s use of executive coaches over the next 2 years, 44% plan to continue current use and 0% predicted a decrease in spend. Ninety-five percent of executives surveyed said they would re-hire a coach again when the time was next right for their own development.

Coaching – in all its forms – is expected to mature
Variations on traditional executive coaching – i.e. internal coaching, team coaching, group coaching, millennial-specific coaching, etc. all scored at least 63% likelihood from all rater groups. Indeed, these variations are increasingly prominent in the marketplace, with internal coaching in particular making great strides over the years. Additionally, the #1 future trend identified by all rater groups is the addition of executive coaching to leadership development programs.

The purpose for retaining a coach remains consistent
As with the 2005 and 2013 studies, Leadership Development remains the #1 reason for hiring a coach. Transition coaching makes a large jump from 2013, gaining 13 points from the prior study. Fixing performance problems continues to decline, falling 10 points from 2013. Thus, the use of executive coaches to fix “problem children” on their way out of the organization is decreasingly common.

Organizations are not always measuring the business impact of coaching – but would like to
After a big gain between 2005 and 2013, the number of organizations measuring the business impact of coaching has actually fallen to 32% (from 51%). Sixty-three percent of organizations reported not linking coaching to business results but would like to do so.

Coaching certification is turning the corner toward greater legitimacy
The 2005 study indicated that only 29% of organizations would be More likely to use a certified coach, the 2013 study indicated that 59% of organizations would be more likely, and this year’s results indicated that 71% of organizations would be More likely to use a certified coach.

Please note: This material is copyrighted by CoachSource, LLC.

Our next blog post will be Chapter 1: Coaching Overview, which includes:

  • Length of Organizations' Use of Coaches
  • Who is Receiving Coaching?
  • Purpose of Coaching?
  • Perceptions of Coaching
  • Senior Management Support
  • Coaching's Role in Executive Development

And remember, we plan on releasing the full report, chapter by chapter, over the course of 2018-2019. To be informed of the release of future chapters, please subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address below:

Newsletter Sign Up


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